Getting Started with Crosswords

We spend a lot of time talking about crosswords here on PuzzleNation Blog, and rightfully so.

For more than a century now, crosswords have been the standard-bearer for paper-and-pencil puzzles. From your local paper to The New York Times crossword, from online solving to puzzle apps like our very own Penny Dell Crosswords App, crosswords sit comfortably at the apex of the proverbial puzzle mountain, atop worthy also-rans like word searches, cryptograms, and Sudoku.

[Apparently Puzzle Mountain is actually a place. Who knew?]

But in talking about crosswords, it’s easy to forget that not everyone solves them. In fact, plenty of people find them intimidating, given the mix of trivia, wordplay, and tricky cluing that typify many crosswords these days, particularly in outlets like The New York Times, The LA Times, The Guardian, and more.

So today, I thought I’d offer some helpful resources to solvers just getting started with crosswords.

First off, if you need help filling in troublesome letter patterns, Onelook is an excellent resource. Not only can you search for words that fit various patterns, but you can narrow your searches according to cluing, look up definitions and synonyms, and even hunt down phrases and partial phrases.

Along the same lines, there are websites like Crossword Tracker that offer informal cluing help culled from online databases. For something more formal, there’s XWordInfo, an online database of entries and cluing that also serves as an archive of NYT puzzles you can search for a small fee.

The NYT Wordplay Blog chronicles each day’s puzzle, including insights into the theme, key entries, and more, plus they’ve begun amassing helpful articles about crossword solving. Not only are there sample puzzles to download and solve to get you started, but there are lists of opera terms, rivers, and sports names to know to make you a stronger solver.

And if British-style or cryptic crosswords are your puzzle of choice, look no further than The Guardian‘s Crossword Blog, which frequently posts about various cluing tricks employed by crafting cryptic puzzle setters. Their “Cryptic Crosswords for Beginners” series of posts has discussed all sorts of linguistic trickery, covering everything from the NATO alphabet to elementary chemistry.

For other variety puzzles, our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles offer sample puzzles and helpful solving tips for many of the puzzles in their magazines. For example, you can find a sample Kakuro or Cross Sums puzzle on the page for their Dell Collector’s Series Cross Sums puzzle book, as well as a How to Solve PDF.

Is there a particular puzzle that troubles you, or one you find too intimidating to tackle, fellow puzzlers? If so, let us know! We can either point you toward a solving resource or tackle the puzzle ourselves in a future post to provide helpful solving tips!


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Kubrick’s Game Continues!

Back in September of last year, I reviewed the novel Kubrick’s Game by Derek Taylor Kent, a puzzly adventure/thriller that incorporated elements of Da Vinci Code-style mysteries, film history, conspiracy theories, and a cracking whodunit.

I also announced that a tie-in game was created for readers and puzzlers to tackle. Known as The Game or Kubrick’s Game, this months-long puzzle hunt started quite innocuously, with a poem introducing solvers to the game, and then the following text:

From Ai to the shiNing, from Two thousAnd and one to dr. Strangelove, from sparTacus to lolIta, from Clockwork oRange to pAths of glory, no director in history has given the Cinema more Enigmatic masterpieces than Director stanley kubrick. Over his Turbulent Career, kubrick produced an Oeuvre that gained him the nickname of the Maestro. So what if this Legendary Artist hid a priceless treasure away Somewhere and left clues to the location within his movies, Hidden away in plain sight? KUBRICKS GAME asks this very question and the answer will blow you away.

Once you’ve found the hidden message, it leads you to an encrypted message that directs you to complete a task that will lead you further into the game.

Each puzzle you solve, as well as each additional side task, riddle, and challenge you complete, is worth points (plus bonuses for being among the first to crack each puzzle). A leaderboard tracks the individuals or teams with the top scores as the game progresses.

The players are currently tackling Puzzle #4, and unlike earlier puzzles, instead of getting bonus points for solving the puzzle faster, points will be determined by how few hints the competitors need in order to crack the puzzle.

Only four players have cracked the puzzle thus far, and impressively, several managed to do so without any clues.

I reached out to several of the players for their insights into the puzzle hunt. For one of the players, Rey, this is a particularly intriguing challenge:

This is my first experience doing it as a contest, which really puts the pressure on and actually makes it more satisfying when I solve one of the puzzles. I started off by getting interested in Escape Room attractions and found that it really piqued my interest trying to figure out how all the little clues connect.

So far the last puzzle (#4) has been the most challenging. Definitely took me the longest to figure out. They have all had their own little bits of difficulty that make them different. The Game Masters really know their stuff and are making this a very interesting contest.

[Game Master Bob Glouberman instructs a batch of competitors
in the Fantastic Race. Image courtesy of The LA Times.]

And speaking of the Game Masters, I had the opportunity to chat with mastermind Bob Glouberman about creating the hunt featured in the book.

I have been obsessed with Kubrick since I first saw The Shining in 1980 when it was released. The idea of a Da Vinci Code with Kubrick’s films at its center was enticing to me. Derek wanted to know if I could invent an elaborate puzzle that went through all of Kubrick’s films and I was so eager to jump in, I said, “no sweat.” Of course it was lots of sweat….but fun sweat.

As for how he actually constructed the puzzles for the novel, well…

I watched all of Kubrick’s films (I had seen them all before multiple times) over again. I bought a white board and I started noticing all of the similarities and tie ins that exist between the films. I then wrote in different colored dry erase marker depending on the film, the connection, and the possibility for a puzzle. I connected all the tie ins with lines which was very reminiscent of Dexter Morgan’s blood spatter strings.

I then watched all the movies a second time and added all of the strange symbols in all of Kubrick’s movies that I didn’t quite understand. I figured those symbols would be ripe for clues. Perhaps if they had meaning for the film, they might also have a subsequent meaning for a puzzle.

I then watched them a third time and added all the scenes that didn’t make sense. Random scribbles on a wall. Scenes that faded out for no apparent reason. Lines of dialogue that appeared clunky. Characters that seemed to go nowhere. These seemingly random elements might have been added for coherence to a puzzle.

And the end result, I believe, is a very satisfying series of puzzles that works well with the films. Naturally, Kubrick didn’t intentionally create a series of puzzles… but he might have. And they may have looked like the puzzle system Derek outlined in Kubrick’s Game.

There’s still time to get in on the hunt for Kubrick’s ultimate prize! Organizers are keeping registration open until March 1st!

You can click here for all the details on the Game and to get started. For more info on author Derek Taylor Kent, click here.

And be sure to check out Bob Glouberman’s other diabolical projects: a treasure hunt company called Fantastic Race and an escape-room company called Get the F Out.

Happy hunting, everyone!


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You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!