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Tips On Filling In A Crossword Grid

Writing a crossword is one of those many tasks in life that may seem very easy - until you come to do it! And many don't even think about the grid-filling part, simply the clue writing. Here we look at filling the grid, which must be done before you come to write the clues.

There are two broad ways of constructing a puzzle: on paper, or using a computer. In the latter instance, you can use the computer to fill the grid automatically from a list of words you or it provides, or fill it manually.

Since very few people create a grid by hand these days, then this article will assume that you are using software to create your puzzle, but only as an aid: that you are filling the grid with words you pick by hand as you go along.

The first thing to say, then, is that it varies what type of puzzle you are looking to create. If you are looking to create a themed puzzle, then the best place to start is with the themed words. Themed words are typically, although not always, longer entries, and therefore fitting these into the grid is the first place to start. And, if you do have words you want to fit in, then you will need to pick a grid pattern that will accommodate those words and ideally in prominent locations: most software come with a range of grids for you to use.

If you need to create your own grid pattern, then remember to make it symmetrical as this is what is expected of any mainstream crossword grid these days. A lot of software will automatically fill-in the symmetry for you as you go along. Try to avoid any words of less than three letters, and ensure that the grid you construct enables you to move from any answer square to any other answer square in the grid: do not isolate any answers from the rest of the grid. Also try to have at least two crossover letters per entry: this reduces the chance of multiple solutions whilst also making it more likely the solver will be able to find the answer to a tricky word and/or clue for that word.

Once you have picked your grid, and put in any themed words you require, the next step is to fill around the grid. As we are assuming that you are doing this by hand, then you should try and look at the most restricted areas of the grid and fill in words here first. Generally these can be spotted either by unusual crossing letters or simply runs that have the most letters already dictated by answers that you've written in.

If you can't find any words that fit a particular pattern (and most people use a dictionary wildcard look-up tool to find these) then you will have to either change a word in the grid, or really rack your brains and see if there are any phrases or multi-word answers that could potentially fit. Remember that cryptic crosswords generally allow much more obscure answers than quick crosswords, partly as they are generally considered harder, and also because the word play part can more clearly point to the answer: therefore a word you have to reject for a quick puzzle may be fair game for a cryptic crossword.

Modifying a grid is part and parcel of setting a puzzle. If filling by hand it helps to try and ensure you have relatively common letters at crossover points with other runs, and to avoid forcing nasty pairs of consonants or vowels together.

You will usually want a wide range of words to add interest to the puzzle, and obviously you will want to avoid different parts of the same word or different tenses: for instance having 'eat' and 'eats' or 'food' and 'fed' in the same grid is not ideal.

Once you have your grid fill, you will need to then write your clues for the grid you've created: see our Wordy Puzzle blog entry on clue writing for tips on that part of the process.
Date written: 03 Apr 2015

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