Constructing

— resources for creating crossword puzzles.

Introduction

Interested in starting to construct your own crossword? Looking for some useful resources? Then you’ve come to the right place! On this page I’ve summarised some popular and useful tools and guides: (a) general construction advice; (b) construction software; (c) wordlists; (d) word tools; (e) general construction and publication resources; and (f) community resources.

General construction advice

As with most things in life, the first thing you should do is read-up on the theory before jumping in to practice. For crossword construction, that means these must-read introductory resources:

  • The New York Times’ How to Make a Crossword series. This may be the definitive starting place for crossword construction. Read it first.
  • Cruciverb’s Sage Advice series is similarly worthwhile preparation, written by various well-known constructors.
  • It’s now time to invest: an absolute must-read is Patrick Berry’s Crossword Constructor’s Handbook. For $10 you get his book (fun fact: it used to be a For Dummies book) and a bunch of companion puzzles.
  • Cruciverb’s reference page on the various theme types. Developing themes is often the most difficult part of construction for beginners. This should help you get the lay of the land and guide your thinking.

Construction software

While there are free options (see the web-based options below), most constructors use one of two purpose-built standalone apps:

Both obviously have their pros and cons, but the best advice is to just look at their websites and see which you prefer. Me? CrossFire.

Looking for free web-based options?

  • Crosshare is my favourite: it’s got an active developer, positive community and allows you to embed your puzzles on your own site (like I do here).
  • Phil is another popular option: this is where I started.
  • PuzzleMe from AmuseLabs (free with premium options) is feature-rich and is also a very common platform for embedding puzzles on various indie and mainstream sites.
  • Crosserville and Exet are another couple of options, but I’ve never used them. I’ve seen them mentioned multiple times, so likely worth a look.

Once you’ve filled your grid, it’s obviously time to start clueing your entries. For inspiration, a clue database is highly recommended.

  • Matt Ginsberg’s Cluer is basically the standard. It’s a standalone app that also integrates wonderfully with CrossFire and Crossword Compiler.
  • Crossword Tracker and Wordplays are both good online options, but obviously lack integration and the additional details of Cluer.
  • XWord Info offers a powerful site for NYT-only clues and answers. Searches are limited for free members (or those who don’t clear their cookies regularly).

Wordlists

Below are some of the most popular general-purpose wordlists for use with your chosen construction software. I’ve ordered these by personal preference. (€) indicates a paid list.

The above can be thought of as general purpose wordlists. It’s definitely worth supplementing these with other topic-specific wordlists where the above are likely weak. The two that I think everyone should use:

Some very generous souls in the crossword world (“crossworld”) have also provided their ‘seed lists’ for free. These are small lists of words that an individual prizes (somewhat) highly and would not hesitate to include in a puzzle. Typically these are kept close to constructors’ chests, akin to proprietary information, so you won’t find many of these. Grab ’em:

Word tools

Need help finding potential fill words, searching for possible theme entries, or other complex word tasks (letter replacements, category searching, pattern matching, etc.)? These tools will become invaluable as you progress in constructing:

General construction and publication resources

Need help with your gridding (placement of black squares)?

Ready to publish? Let’s do some final construction checks and formatting:

  • Crossword Nexus’ Clue Deduper is extremely valuable. Checking your completed puzzles for ‘dupes’ (words duplicated in your fill entries and/or clues) is always a good idea. While not necessary a puzzle-killer, some venues frown upon dupes, so it’s worth checking and making amendments.
  • Nam Jin Yoon’s formatting tools are great for generating PDFs of your puzzles (and there’s one especially for NYT submissions).

Now looking for how and where to submit your completed puzzles? Then check out the publication specifications for various outlets:

Community resources

The crossworld is a generally friendly bunch. For constructing, I recommend the following supportive and fun communities:

A few people also live-stream their crossword construction process; always good for some light entertainment and education. Some streams or individual videos worth checking out (look in the archives):

Suggestions?

I’m always looking to expand and improve this overview of helpful resources for crossword constructors new and old (in experience, not age!).

If you have any ideas or suggestions, please feel free to get in touch.