The internet has really grown the crossword community by leaps and bounds. Puzzlers can share favorite puzzles, reviews, opinions, and feedback with fellow solvers, constructors, editors, and publishers at the touch of a button. With downloadable puzzles, online solving, and puzzle apps (like Daily POP Crosswords!), access to puzzles has never been easier.
Entire forums dedicated to solving and sharing a love of puzzling are cultivating a new generation of solvers and encouraging ambitious new constructors. Twitter is a great place to start, there’s a growing community on r/crossword, and on Facebook, you’ve got both the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament group and the Crossword Puzzle Collaboration Directory to keep you informed and aware of all things crossword.
That’s to say nothing of the fact that both solvers and constructors have greater access to resources than ever before. There are reviewers breaking down the crosswords printed by the major outlets on a daily basis, and blogs like Wordplay exploring how to construct and what words solvers and constructors should know. With searchable databases like XWordInfo out there as well, you can hunt down clues, entries, themes, and a huge chunk of the history of crosswords with ease.
But sadly, not all resources have made their way online, so building a personal library of key volumes to peruse and refer to can help boost your solving and constructing efforts.
So today, I thought I’d share a few of my personal favorite resources that I use when constructing not only crosswords, but all sorts of other puzzles, in the hopes that you find them useful as well.
Your mileage may vary, but to me, these books have been invaluable.
Descriptionary: A Thematic Dictionary (Fourth Edition) by Marc McCutcheon
Word Menu, in either book or online form, has long been the gold standard when it comes to building themed word lists that you can trust to be well-sourced and reliable. But when I need a theme idea, I have much greater luck flipping through the pages of the Descriptionary, a cross-cultural theme listing that covers everything from weather to fashion, medicine to crime.
Searchable by topic in the front and individual words in the index, it’s never difficult to find a list I’ve used before or to zero in on a topic as needed. I ended up buying my own copy after checking out the copy from my local library at least a half-dozen times, and I’ve never regretted it.
The Penguin Rhyming Dictionary by Rosalind Fergusson
Whether I’m cluing, looking for rhymes to support a playful theme, or playing with pronunciation for a particular bit of wordplay, The Penguin Rhyming Dictionary is my go-to resource. It’s absolutely loaded with vocabulary, organized by individual rhyming syllables and patterns (as well as near-rhymes). Just look up your word to rhyme in the back index, and then go work.
The Cook’s Essential Kitchen Dictionary: A Complete Culinary Resource by Jacques Rolland
This book is a tremendous resource, running the gamut from food and equipment to cooking styles and common vernacular. Not only are these definitions informative, complete with preparation instructions and suggested dishes for given ingredients, but they add little touches of culinary history to the mix, offering context and greater detail.
The book also features subsections listing varieties of apples, cheese, salt, pasta shapes, and other ingredients. Whenever I need food-related clues or theme entries, this is my first stop.
I’m a sucker for weird words and colorful vocabulary, so I thoroughly enjoy constructing any unthemed puzzle that allows me to play with language. And there’s any number of niche dictionaries out there to bolster your puzzle lexicon and spruce up any word list.
Here’s a list of some of my favorites:
- Mrs. Byrne’s Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure, and Preposterous Words by Josefa Heifetz Byrne
- Murfles and Wink-a-peeps: Funny Old Words for Kids by Susan Kelz Sperling
- The Endangered English Dictionary by David Grambs
- The Word Museum: The Most Remarkable English Words Ever Forgotten by Jeffrey Kacirk
- Informal English: Puncture Ladies, Egg Harbors, Mississippi Marbles, and Other Curious Words and Phrases of North America by Jeffrey Kacirk
- The Great Panjandrum (and 2,699 Other Rare, Useful, and Delightful Words and Expressions) by J.N. Hook
- Stone the Crows: Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang by John Ayto and John Simpson
- I Love It When You Talk Retro: Hoochie Coochie, Double Whammy, Drop a Dime, and the Forgotten Origins of American Speech by Ralph Keyes
- The Meaning of Tingo and Other Extraordinary Words from Around the World by Adam Jacot de Boinod
- That’s Amore!: The Language of Love for Lovers of Language by Erin McKean
- Much Ado About English: Up and Down the Bizarre Byways of a Fascinating Language by Richard Watson Todd
- America in So Many Words: Words That Have Shaped America by David K. Barnhart and Allan A. Metcalf
- The Highly Selective Dictionary of Golden Adjectives for the Extraordinarily Literate by Eugene Ehrlich
- Word Catcher: An Odyssey Into the World of Weird and Wonderful Words by Phil Cousineau
(And, although this book isn’t a dictionary, it includes some terrific vocabulary along the way, so it’s worth checking out: Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages by Ammon Shea.)
Hopefully these resources can aid you in your puzzling endeavors as they’ve assisted me many times over. Are there any offline resources I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments section below! I’d love to hear from you.
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