how to make a crossword puzzle
TAUSIG: The key to humor in a punny crossword entry is the distance between the original sense of the phrase and the meaning of the phrase as you clue it. That usually means placing the first themer in the third row. What’s cool about that is that the theme will become apparent only after the solver has filled in a couple of the theme answers. TAUSIG: It’s a solid foundation. I thought we just plug our lovely theme answers into a piece of software and, voilà, a beautiful crossword emerges. LAST: Well, I like the idea of having what’s now 25-Down contain the Z. A to Z Teacher Stuff Tools :: Worksheet Makers, Word Search Generator, Custom Handwriting Sheets, Crossword Puzzles. STEINBERG: With that covered, let’s start placing the nontheme entry blocks! And some changes are bigger — as I said earlier, we could attempt to remove the black square that’s giving you ulcers. My thinking is that a five-letter word that ends in U (at 24D) is the lesser evil here, since on the other side of the grid, it lets the C and K (at 27A and 28A) start rather than end words. LAST: I still feel bad about placing a black square underneath the U of PUZZLE PIECE, because we told readers that doing this would make the fillers’ lives more difficult. A free crossword puzzle maker can be used to create educational materials or for fun. It would be even funnier if it did, but there’s no sense of “tenure” outside of the professorial one that is common enough for us to use.
What are some puzzle phrases?
Even though The New York Times publishes a wide variety of constructors and themes, there are striking similarities between grids by day of week. VIGELAND: Good point. Editing your grid in the “Summary” tab lets you see how many words and black squares — also known as blocks — you have as you’re working (remember, the maximum for a 15 by 15 in a New York Times crossword is 78 words/42 blocks). The crossword puzzles that solvers dig into every day are a combination of sweat, creativity and a knowledge of the basic rules of constructing, which is what making a puzzle is called. For example, the clue “Song for a crossword solver?” for PUZZLE PIECE reworks the original meaning of the phrase to funny effect. VIGELAND: Some other “song” synonyms are RECORD, TRACK, NUMBER or even SONG itself, if we can find a phrase that uses SONG with a different meaning. Maybe if we name a few toys, we’ll find another seed entry, one we can build on. LAST: Agreed. VIGELAND: Can’t wait to see how this puzzle gets built up by the next team.
Deb Amlen contributed reporting. CrossFire also works on PCs.
STEINBERG: Yup! VIGELAND: Any thoughts on some good AIR-ending phrases?
To make a consistent theme from this, we would need to find at least three phrases with the name of a game company in them. STEINBERG: And now we can figure out how to close off the middle left. All Rights Reserved.
LAST: The long answers aren’t great either. Looks very cool, although I’ll confess I haven’t played around with it much.
VIGELAND: Dad jokes are so second nature to me, I don’t notice them. Something like, “Song when reading a British raincoat catalog?” What do you like, Finn? LAST: That’s a great point! STEINBERG: There are a few ways to make a crossword puzzle, including the good, old-fashioned graph-paper-and-pencil method, but there are several excellent software programs that … This is a solid entry, just like PUZZLE PIECE, because the sense of “track” changes, and it does so in a way that takes us far from the original meaning of “track.” I will note, however, that the sense of “tenure” does not change.
TAUSIG: Yes! It’s a little more obscure than the others, and stylistically specific, but it still works. He also put the letter count in parentheses. LAST: A thing of beauty! The biggest downside to Crossword Compiler is its price — if you want the full Professional Bundle, it will set you back $169. If you’re on a Mac like me, I highly recommend CrossFire, which has a nice grid-filling environment and, at $50, it won’t break your budget. Now we have a phrase unrelated to toys, and yet it contains toy or game words. Bonus words are typically lively, and they’re a great way to add sparkle to a fill!
But that is not the best, because that model does not provide the funding for continual improvement or support in case of a problem. First, all of our entries are paired in length, so they can be placed symmetrically. JIGSAW PUZZLE, PUZZLE PIECE, PUZZLE COMPETITION … PUZZLE PIECE (11) is kind of interesting, because it could be reparsed (punnily) as a piece of music played while solving a puzzle. Alas, though, the other entries were going to be weaker. But we should not be sad about this failure!
Let’s work in CrossFire since we both use it. It’s all about letting your mind wander to the right places. I think it will be most instructive to show readers how to develop a theme, rather than tell them, so let’s allow our minds to wander and see what we come up with. Note that Finn put the name of the theme-answer-to-be, TRIXIE MATTEL, in all-caps, which is a common convention. At what is now 37-Across above, I’m a little worried it might be hard to find a word or phrase that crosses our long fill at 27-Down and sits in top of PUZZLE PIECE. LAST: Yup! STEINBERG: Me too!
We might, for example, clue this as “Song for when you match someone’s poker bet?” That makes sense, and yet it’s utterly distant from a CALL NUMBER in a library. The asterisk before NUMBER asks the database to show us all phrases that end with NUMBER and begin with anything else. TAUSIG: There’s a bit more to work with here: UNO PIZZERIA (11) would be good. NATAN LAST: Wait, practice? TAUSIG: One option might be MACBOOK AIR. And we can use a “stair step” set of squares to get ourselves out of this corner.
LAST: Right! DAVID STEINBERG: I’d say grid design is the hardest part of the construction process to get the hang of, but we believe in all the aspiring constructors out there! She never wanders too far from @NYTimesWordplay. Follow along as pairs of published New York Times constructors pass the creation of a crossword puzzle from hand to hand, taking us through the process of developing a theme, designing a workable grid, filling the entire grid and writing the clues. SLEAZEBAGS, SSNS, and RENEES are also less than ideal. This will show you your existing templates and provide you with a bar to search for templates online. STEINBERG: Fair enough. This set is good! All you do to add a symmetrical pair of blocks is press the period key in one of the two squares (or in the exact center, if we’re being precise). That’s Mr. Tausig’s and Mr. Vigeland’s challenge. It doesn’t have as many bells and whistles as the Windows-only Crossword Compiler, though. The MATTEL in TRIXIE MATTEL has nothing to do with the company, which would have made her an excellent entry in this theme set.
In Part 2 of “How to Make a Crossword Puzzle,” which will run May 11 on Wordplay, the Times constructors David Steinberg and Natan Last take the theme set Mr. Tausig and Mr. Vigeland constructed and build a grid around it. If we want to avoid blocky three-letter word regions, our only options are under the N or U of NUMBER — while there are words that end with U, there are way more that end with N. So that’s a good place to go. Back to our theme! Natan Last lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. He’s a member of the International Rescue Committee’s innovation lab, working on humanitarian response and refugee resettlement.
Any words or phrases on your mind today that we can start with?
And since I have young kids, most of the “stuff” in my world (or my apartment, anyway) is toys.
Follow him on Twitter at @datageneral. For every great idea, there are usually a bunch that get tossed out. Jumping back to our toys, maybe we could make a theme around “puzzles,” since we are, after all, teaching people how to make a crossword puzzle. The phrase TENURE TRACK has a funny surface sense as a song about getting job security as a professor.
After all, there are a few promising toy words, but not a lot. STEINBERG: Nice! Mondays are generally closed off (note all the black squares around the edges), which tends to lead to smoother fill. Crosswords make great personal gifts for weddings, family reunions, and holidays.
DEB AMLEN: In Part 1 of “How to Make a Crossword Puzzle,” the puzzle makers Ben Tausig and Finn Vigeland developed a theme for a crossword puzzle by bouncing ideas back and forth until a cohesive set that follows the rules of constructing came together. So once we lock in MACBOOK AIR, we have to stick a theme entry with the same number of letters in the opposite, lower-right slot. LAST: O.K., O.K., I’ll take three orders of the software, and a Shamwow to boot. STEINBERG: We’re going to create a new grid with the default size of a daily puzzle (15 by 15), but switching to a Sunday-sized grid is simply a matter of changing the 15s in the “horizontal” and “vertical” boxes above to 21s. How about this? Namely, the “game” aspect of our theme is in the word MATTEL. But there is a third option — trying to get two long bonus answers, one with the U and one with the Z!
Let’s leave that black square question up to our fill wizards, Kevin Der and Paolo Pasco. Follow him on Twitter @dsteinberg49. A 14-letter theme entry is not ideal in a 15 by 15 grid (the black square that would accompany it in the 15-letter-wide row limits where the entry can be placed in the grid), and while BACON NUMBER is quite funny, the base phrase’s meaning (how many degrees of separation you are from the actor Kevin Bacon) might not be familiar to all solvers, so let’s try CALL NUMBER. Because of the consonant-heavy nature of the English language, it helps to have consonants doing double duty: If you have JACOB in your grid going across, better to place black squares so the word crossing it begins with J, rather than ends with J. STEINBERG: Now is also a good time to mention a couple more rules. © 2020 A to Z Teacher Stuff Tools :: Worksheet Makers, Word Search Generator, Custom Handwriting Sheets, Crossword Puzzles. That’s life, but it’s a bummer. VIGELAND: That’s a nice idea, and I’m definitely laughing at the idea of a “mac book” to buy one’s raincoats, but that would be inconsistent with our other themes, which don’t split up the non-song word. Natan, what are your thoughts on manual construction? Sadly, I suggest that we move on.
For example, Crossword Compiler has much more user-friendly environments for searching and editing word lists.
And we’re adhering to both Times standards (this grid has 78 words) and our own (CrossFire is telling us we have 14 three-letter words, which isn’t too many). Ben is a professor of music when not editing or constructing.
We have other options that amuse me more: CARDINAL NUMBER (14), BACON NUMBER (11) and CALL NUMBER (10). But to close up the middle left, we’ll either need to put black squares underneath the U of PUZZLE PIECE or create three-letter words by putting them above the P and the U. STEINBERG: True. Follow him on Twitter at @fvigeland.
STEINBERG: This is shaping up. That’s why it really … sings. Plus, it’s also 11 letters long, which matches PUZZLE PIECE and thus advances our grid symmetry mission. VIGELAND: This is the same principle we had earlier when we were going down the game manufacturer or toys route, but we have a reason for moving this theme forward: punny clues.
Then, make a word list with an answer and a clue on each line.
Let’s take a quick aside to talk about mechanics. LAST: Yup, nice.
I’m going to list shorter toys that could be part of a longer phrase. TAUSIG: Fair point. That is Mr. Steinberg’s and Mr. Last’s challenge. Take it away, grid developers!
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