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Tips On Writing Crossword Clues

Writing crossword clues is a difficult art form, and there is no doubt that lots of practice is essential to getting it right. It is also worth noting right from the start that the style and balance of clues you write will depend very much on the type of puzzle you are creating.

- Quick crosswords tend to have short clues, many of which are simple synonyms for the answer. They often also have one or two anagram clues per puzzle.

- General knowledge crosswords tend to have some longer clues, partly because more words are required to explain clearly the answer you are looking for, particularly when that answer is a fact or piece of general knowledge.

- Cryptic crosswords tend to have a mix of clue types, and thus a mix of clue lengths. The words in the grid are often more obscure than with other puzzle types, and quite often you will encounter answers you haven't heard of before. Answers can be a mix of words that you might find clued in either a quick or general knowledge puzzle: for instance the answer could be a standard dictionary word or a place you may or may not have heard of.

So the first thing to decide when writing the clues for a puzzle is what type of puzzle you are planning to write: a decision you will probably have already made during the grid-filling process! If the answer is that you are writing a cryptic crossword, then please read our article on clue writing for cryptics.

Here we are going to focus on the quick crossword.

With quick crosswords it is a good idea to get a balance between clues that point clearly to one answer, and those where there are more than one answer and therefore the solver must rely on crossing answers in order to whittle down the options to the one that will fit. Be sure to check that there is only one obvious answer that will fit each answer when all the crossing letters are in! Of course as a human you might not think of all possibilities so occasionally a puzzle will admit of multiple answers, but do have a quick think as to whether other answers will fit a placement, particularly where similar words with similar meanings only differ by one letter, such as SNORE and SNORT: if the last letter for either of these answer words is uncrossed then both could fit some clues (bearing in mind SNORE is defined as "a SNORTing or grunting sound").

When writing a quick crossword it is often considered a good idea to have an anagram or two to vary the clue types a little. When creating anagrams, some solvers prefer to look for full-word anagrams (usually using an online anagram finding tool, although old school creators often used scrabble tiles or similar), however others take great delight in finding a witty phrase of two or more words that is an anagram of an answer, with bonus points if it is in somehow cryptically related to the answer. But generally it is considered unfair to create an anagram for an answer that consists of more than one word, so you might want to avoid that.

When creating your clues, try to avoid any reference to the word you are clueing: although this sounds obvious, it can very easily be done without realising it: for instance the word LEAPFROG was recently clued as 'a game where one player leaps over another': this is clearly not ideal!

Also try to avoid at all costs using words that appear in other answers in your clues: although this seems to happen quite often these days (and strangely in cryptic crosswords which are virtually always handwritten whilst many quicks are computer generated), it is considered unfavourable. Thus if the answer to one clue is HUNGRY, try to avoid using that word in one of your other clues.

When you are handwriting clues, it can be a nice touch to reference other clues in the grid, where relevant. This can occur, for instance, if you spot that one answer can be used to refer to another. Thus, as a very simple example, if the answer to 1 Across is NORWAY which you have clued as a Scandinavian country, and another answer so happens to be OSLO, then you can clue this as "Capital of 1A" rather than making no reference to NORWAY and simply clueing it as a "European capital city".

Once you have finished writing the puzzle, print it out and solve it by hand. Check carefully all your spellings and answers, and if there are any hyphenated or multi-word answers, ensure you have entered the clue length correctly. Also check any anagram clues to ensure they are correct.

Finished doing that? Well done, you've just created a quick crossword!
Date written: 04 Apr 2015



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