How to Make a Crossword: Grid and Fill Advice

When it comes to grid building, constructor Ian Livengood considers it “perhaps the most important aspect of construction.” And since building a grid and placing your theme entries goes hand-in-hand, I’ve opted to combine them into one section.

Ian continues, “Try to avoid a pileup of black squares and 3-letter word concentrations. Once you put the theme answers in the grid, manipulate the black squares to avoid any potential trouble spots. Trouble spots are letter patterns that are highly unusual, and therefore, difficult to fill. If, for example, you have the letter sequence ??DK? in a puzzle, the only acceptable fill is VODKA. Well, you better make sure VODKA will work in the surrounding area, otherwise you’ll have to start over. It’s always better move blocks around before trying to fill the puzzle.

“After locking in words with unusual letter patterns, place your longer non-theme entries in the puzzle. You must make these entries ‘pop.’ That is, they really should be interesting. HATCHET JOB or THE JIG IS UP, for example, would be fun entries to fill in. REPOSSESSED, on the other hand, is a total snoozer.

“Minimize crosswordese and try to make the vocabulary accessible. If your theme is a Monday-level easy theme, crazy and obscure names are unwelcome. But if it’s a razor-tough Saturday themeless, a few tough words are okay.”

Crossword constructor Robin Stears suggested an additional step when choosing your entry words and filling the grid: “I check each word against a website called Crossword Tracker, which tracks crossword puzzle words and clues.

“If a word has never been used before, I hesitate to use it. The only exception to that rule is a fairly new word that I want to be the first to use—for a while, it seemed like every other puzzle contained ZZZQUIL, including one of mine.”