Quick Crossword Solving Tips
As noted above, many clues have more than one possible answer, particularly with short, synonym-type clues. Given this, it can be hard to build up solving momentum, but once you have a few answers in, then the puzzle generally becomes easier to solve until the last couple to place, where solving can again grind to a halt. The frustrating thought of "I've just got one left" is familiar to all crossword solvers, of all experience levels.
The best solving strategy is to have a quick read through the clues at the beginning. Typically this will yield a couple of clues where you believe there is only one possible answer, either because the clue is very specific, or your experience of solving crosswords tells you that "the answer to clue x is virtually always y". Once you have those answers, write them in.
Also make a note of any answers that you are pretty sure have a plural answer, usually because the clue indicates a plural answer: if the final letter is part of another answer, then you can pencil in the 'S' at the end of the word, even if you have no idea what the answer is: this can really help you with other clue/answer pairs.
If you think there are a couple of answers for a clue then just think about those words in your head quickly before moving on. If they both start with an 'E', for example, then you can write that 'E' in and help yourself with the other answer that contains that letter (if one does). Although this might seem quite obvious, many people don't do this and so are making the solve harder than it needs to be.
If the puzzle contains anagram clues, then you can also use these to build solving momentum. If you are good at anagrams you may be able to solve it in your head; if not then you might need some help. Many people find it useful to write the letters out in a circle, so you might want to do that and see if you can find the answer. If an anagram instantly jumps out at you, spend a minute checking that it is the only answer: if the constructor has decided to put the clue as 'rental (anag)' then your delight at spotting 'antler' straightaway might be tempered when, after much head-scratching later, you realise the answer is actually 'learnt'. Consider that a lesson learnt from experience! Note that some solvers uses online anagram solver tools to find all the options rather than doing the anagram in their head - some think this is cheating, others accept it is smart use of modern technology: feel free to form your own view as to which camp you fall into on that one!
Once you have solved several clues, look again at the ones you were either unsure of or you thought had multiple answers: do the crossing letters jog your mind into coming up with an answer, or reducing the options you had for that clue to one? If so, then write in those answers.
You will now make steady progress either all the way to the end, or have a stubborn clue or two left at the end. There is always the possibility you don't know the answer. You might want to just look at the letters and think of words that fit in isolation to the clue - this can spur the mind into coming up with the answer.
If you get really stuck, then you could consider the more desperate final solving step (that some again consider cheating): enter the letter pattern such as A?B?T into an online word lookup tool, and then see which result matches the clue. If you still have no idea, then you probably don't know the answer, or the word isn't in the lookup tool you used, or the compiler has made a mistake (shock, horror).
As a little solving exercise, can you find the two common words that fit the letter pattern A?B?T.
If you have any other solving tips for quick crosswords then please do let us know in the comments section below.
Date written: 30 Mar 2015
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