Let’s Talk About Cheating in Crosswords!


[Image courtesy of Getty Images.]

I think most people who solve crosswords already know this, but for anyone who doesn’t, I’ll make this very simple for you.

Unless you’re in a tournament or competition setting, there’s no such thing as cheating at solving crosswords.

Are we cool? Sweet. *checks watch* Outstanding! Shortest blog post ever.

Okay, I’ll elaborate.

Recently, a high school friend of mine “confessed” on Facebook that she had never completed a crossword puzzle where she “didn’t cheat.”

I replied, “It’s not cheating. It’s learning new words so you can get better later.”

And her mother replied, “Don’t encourage her!”

I was a little baffled.


I mean, obviously you get better the more you solve crosswords, but if you keep coming across the same clues (or various clues for the same word) and you don’t know the word, how are you ever going to learn it if you don’t look it up?

You’re not going to suddenly KNOW a word or a person or a phrase if you don’t know it. As much as crosswords are about building skills like wordplay and figuring out what words fit different letter patterns, it’s also about building a personal lexicon and adding to your arsenal as a solver.

The average person does not know ETUI. If they see the clue “needle case,” they’re not going to suddenly know it. Even having one or two correct answers crossing it is not going to magically impart knowledge of the word ETUI.

It’s not cheating if you look up answers. You’re cheating yourself by NOT doing so.

Sure, in a tournament setting or a timed setting, it’s cheating. But in general solving, it’s just prep work that sets you up for greater success down the line.


So, once more for those in the back or those who really want explicit permission:

Once you’ve tried your best, once you’ve filled in as many entries that cross it as possible, once you’ve wracked your brain, taken time away from it, and returned to try again but not succeeded, I hereby give you permission to “cheat.”

Okay? Okay. Happy solving, everyone!

[Oh, and just for clarification, this applies to solvers. There is absolutely cheating in crossword constructing. It’s called plagiarism, and it will not be tolerated.]

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