Crossword Solving Advice, Tournament-Style!

With the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament looming large, newcomers to the tournament and experienced puzzlers alike are trading advice, looking for ways to improve their solving, and gearing up for the latest edition of the Nerd Olympics.

In a similar vein, Lifehacker recently shared a post with advice for how to get better at crosswords. And I thought, with the tournament a little more than a week away, we’d analyze Lifehacker’s suggestions for sharpening your solving game.

1.) Do puzzles every day.

According to article author A.A. Newton, “the only way to improve at crosswords is to do lots of them, and the best way to do that is to work them into your daily routine.” Now, since there is more than one entry in her list, clearly that’s not THE ONLY way to improve.

But this is still valuable advice, especially with the tournament coming up. You see, a fair number of crossword solvers solve them online, either through apps or website interfaces, rather than on paper. But since the tournament puzzles are solved on paper, it’s a good idea to practice the old-fashioned way for a few weeks before the competition, especially if solving time is a priority for you.

2.) Use an app.

Like I said, access to puzzles is a great thing; being able to solve crosswords for all sorts of skill levels at the touch of a button… you can’t beat it. It exposes you to different cluing styles, theme ideas, and all sorts of clever wordplay.

I’d recommend an app that tracks your solving. Several apps like our very own Daily POP Crosswords app track data like your solving times, themes or categories you excel in, and even streaks of days gone without missing a daily puzzle!

3.) Know when — and how — to cheat

Now, this one is a little bit clickbait-y, since it’s only cheating if you look up answers during actual competition. I don’t consider it cheating to admit defeat on a clue you can’t get or a reference you don’t know, and looking it up in order to educate yourself.

Many apps offer hints — either by offering additional letters or entire words that are stumping you — which allows you to continue solving and get past a roadblock in your crossword knowledge.

And if you’re solving a paper puzzle, there are numerous crossword clue sites on the Internet with databases of previously used clues for you to peruse. Not only does this help you with the troublesome clue at hand, but it shows you the different variations of clues you might see for a given entry, which is helpful in the long run.

Of course, you can’t actually do this sort of thing at the ACPT. (Though you can utilize “Google tickets” at other tournament events like Lollapuzzoola, where instructors will silently provide an answer for you so you can keep solving.)

4.) Study up

There are all sorts of crossword resources out there. The article namedrops a few, like Rex Parker’s blog, XWordInfo, and several online guides to crosswordese.

I would also recommend Wordplay, the companion blog to The New York Times crossword. Not only does Deb Amlen break down each day’s puzzles, but there are articles collecting words that will help you become a better solver. Musical terms, authors, plants, opera terms, French rivers, characters from Greek mythology… the whole series is packed with common crosswordese and little obscurities that crossword solvers have come to know and, if not love, then at least tolerate.

But there is other tournament-specific advice I would offer:

  • Have pencils and erasers handy. Maybe a sharpener as well, though there are a few scattered around the competition space. (And we always have one available for use at the Penny Dell / PuzzleNation table in the marketplace!)
  • Bring a clipboard or other writing surface, since the solving space is often tableclothed, which can interact poorly with sharp pencils and paper puzzles.
  • Talk to fellow puzzlers. There’s nothing better than the experience of other solvers, many of whom are also constructors or tournament regulars.
  • Everyone approaches the actual solving process differently. Some people scan the clues for fill-in-the-blank clues or people’s names and fill those in first. Others read through the clues sequentially and fill in what they can. Some solvers even try to solve using only the Down clues, and then double-check their solve with the Across clues. My advice is to try different techniques and see what works best for you.

Whether it’s your first time attending a tournament or you’ve got a few seasons under your belt, there are always new tricks to learn and new techniques to try out.

Do you have any solving advice we missed? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you!


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The Healing Power of Tetris

Despite the wealth of data out there — and all the “brain-boosting” apps and products claiming they’ll keep your brain in fighting trim — the verdict is still out on whether puzzle-solving can prevent or positively impact Alzheimer’s, dementia, or other age-related mental issues.

But that doesn’t mean that puzzles and puzzle games can’t help in other ways.

Researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden have been treating people suffering from traumatic flashbacks — a form of accident-induced post-traumatic stress disorder — by having them play Tetris.

 Originally, the researchers tested this concept by showing unpleasant videos to test subjects and having them play Tetris for twenty minutes afterward. Their research showed that people who played the game — versus a control group that wrote about how they spend their time — suffered from fewer unpleasant and intrusive flashbacks or memories over the following week.

Apparently, the act of playing the game interferes with how people form the visual component of flashbacks. The gameplay doesn’t interfere with actual formation of memories, simply whether the brain will recall those unpleasant memories.

As it turns out, this might be a quality unique to Tetris or Tetris-style games. The same research team discovered that playing a quiz-style game made the flashbacks worse for those subjects than for the subjects who played no game at all after a traumatic event.

It appears that not only did Alexey Pajitnov create one of the most popular games of all-time, but that his legacy may also include helping the victims of traumatic events with their healing process. Amazing stuff.


Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

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Don’t Be Alarmed! It’s Just a Puzzly Wake-Up Call!

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[Image courtesy of The Huffington Post.]

There’s nothing quite like the grating blare of your alarm clock to rouse you from a sound sleep. But for some people, the alarm isn’t enough.

If you’re adept at whacking the snooze button or shutting off the alarm entirely — intentionally or not, since I’ve definitely done one or both in my sleep from time to time — you might need something a bit more devious to ensure you get up in the morning.

Some place their alarm clock out of reach, so they have to get up to shut it off. One buddy of mine, an adept snooze button-smasher, would return to bed after getting up, so this technique didn’t work.

We found an alarm clock that actually shot a small rocket across the room, and refused to stop beeping until you retrieved the rocket and placed it back on the alarm clock’s launchpad. That seemed to do the trick for him.

But the question remains… how do you make an alarm clock that ensures you’re awake?

As it turns out, puzzles are the solution!

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[Image courtesy of I Can’t Wake Up for Android.]

The app is called I Can’t Wake Up, and it requires you to complete a series of puzzly tasks before the alarm shuts off. These can range from memory tasks and placing numbers in order to retyping strings of gibberish or repeating a sequence of clicks Simon-style.

Essentially, you control the difficulty and complexity of the tasks you’re required to solve. So, if you know you NEED to be up for an important meeting in the morning, you can set the alarm to be louder and more diabolical.

I suspect this will start a trend in puzzly alarm apps, where you have to solve a crossword, conquer a Sudoku, or even decrypt a random message in order to stop your alarm.

Either that, or it will become the perfect tool for vengeful wives, husbands, significant others, parents, roommates, and others who are affected by the unreliable morning wake-ups of others.

In any case, I look forward to hearing about it.

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[Don’t be like this unfortunate stormtrooper… Image courtesy of Pinterest.]


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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!