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What Makes A Valid Crossword Grid?

What constitutes a valid crossword grid varies from country to country. Here we focus on what counts as a valid grid in the UK.

- Firstly, the grid dimensions should be odd, eg 13 x 13 or 15 x 15; these are the two most common grid sizes. In the vast majority of British newspapers, a quick crossword is 13x13 in size whilst the cryptic puzzle (and general knowledge, if present) is 15x15. There is no absolute reason for this other than convention.

- Secondly, the grid pattern must exhibit symmetry. That is normally rotational symmetry, such that if square one on row one is black then square thirteen on row thirteen must also be black (on a 13x13 grid), and so on.

- Thirdly, it must be possible to move from any white / answer square in the grid to any other answer square in the same grid. In other words no answer, or set of answers, must be isolated from any other answers in the grid. This helps the flow of the puzzle and means that every answer can potentially help with another one. If you had isolated regions, then solving some answers in one region would be of no help whatsoever with solving those elsewhere in the grid.

- Every word must be of at least three letters in length: two letter words are banned by the vast majority of publications. This is mainly because there aren't many of them, and clues would be very uninteresting for them (can you think of an inspiring clue for 'by', 'of', 'in' or 'at'?)

There are a range of other stipulations too that may or may not be imposed by a publisher. These can include a minimum or maximum number of clues for a specified grid dimension. This is usually there to ensure that the clues will fit nicely within the standard space made available for it in the template.

Some publishers might also stipulate that they don't want the grid to have excessive areas of black squares, or in a certain style: for instance a 2x2 block of black squares is usually considered undesirable as it makes that area of the grid look empty; this is why you don't normally see this with published grids.

Very occasionally publishers might stipulate the pattern of crossovers, for instance ensuring that at least every other letter in a word appears in both an across and a down clue, although this requirement is relatively rare.

Finally a publication might have it's own particular set of grid patterns that have been approved for use at some point, and therefore it might actually request you use one of these specified patterns for your puzzle.

Have you come across other stipulations or requirements for your British crossword grid to be accepted as valid by a publisher? If so please do add your experience in the comments section below.

Date written: 07 Apr 2015

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