— resources for creating crossword puzzles.
Interested in starting to construct your own crosswords? 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.
Most constructors use one of two (paid) 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.
Before you spend money, you should definitely check out some of the fantastic free web-based options, too:
- 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).
- Crosserville is very popular and has a lot of interesting functionality. Definitely worth a play around with and is another of my go-to options.
- Exet is an interesting tool, with some complex functions available, but with some significant limitations. I’ve never used it, but I’ve seen Exet mentioned multiple times, so likely worth a look.
- Phil is a more basic option, but one to try if you just want a quick play around. This is where I started.
- Crossworthy Construct is another basic option, but has a beautiful interface and a few more functions than Phil. Made by Crossworthy’s May and Kevin.
- 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.
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).
Below are some of the most popular general-purpose wordlists for use with your chosen construction software. I’ve ordered these by personal preference/priority during construction. (€) indicates a paid list.
- XWord Info (€)
- spread the word(list) from Brooke Husic and Enrique Henestroza Anguiano.
- “Trimmed Broda”: Mark Diehl’s edited version of Peter Broda’s full list, with calibrated scoring, but some high-quality words have been removed.
- Cruciverb (€)
- Alex Boisvert’s Collaborative Word List Project (now on Github!).
- Peter Broda’s full wordlist (scored and unscored versions).
- Chris Jones’ scored wordlist.
- Crossword Nexus dictionary (that’s a direct download link to a zip file).
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:
- The Expanded Crossword Name Database from Erica Hsiung Wojcik: a wonderfully rich wordlist, constantly being updated with proper nouns of “women, non-binary, trans, and/or people of color”.
- The Juggernaut wordlist from Sid Sivakumar, containing “words and phrases relevant to a global South Asian diaspora”.
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:
- Ada Nicolle’s seed lists (author)
- Brian Thomas’ seed list (author)
- Ricky Cruz’s seed list (author)
- Lyle Broughton’s seed list (author)
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:
- Adam Aaronson’s fantastic ‘Wordlisted’ (upload your wordlist(s) and choose which of the many search functions you want).
- The various tools over at Crossword Nexus (e.g. Algebraic Crossword Script, Wikipedia Regex Search and Double Occupancy)
- The Qat multi-matcher
- Rhyme Desk’s phonetic word searcher and Ben Briedis’ Phonetic Word Search
- The Carnegie Mellon University Pronouncing Dictionary
General construction and publication resources
Need help with your gridding (placement of black squares)?
- The Crossword Grid Search tool from Joseph Robidoux (Ugleh) can help you with grid inspiration. It’s a database of NYT grids, searchable by which squares you want to be black or white.
- Cruciverb’s thematic-based grid searcher is a similar grid helper, this one searchable only by the length of your theme entries (“themers”).
- The Crosserville construction software provides a powerful grid search, useable even if you’re not actually constructing with it.
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:
- Matthew Stock’s frequently updated Crossword Publication Specs sheet is my default go-to.
- Cruciverb’s Publisher Specs page is similarly useful, but I don’t know how frequently it’s updated.
The crossworld is a generally friendly bunch. For constructing, I recommend the following supportive and fun communities:
- Crosscord: the crossword discord server, with various channels dedicated to crossword construction.
- The Facebook-based Crossword Collaboration Group and Cruciverb Group.
- Crossword Twitter: that’s my current follow list, useful as a starting point. There are no doubt some quality Twitter lists of crossword people worth searching out.
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):
- Cursewords (from Ross Trudeau and Parker Higgins) often delves into the Construction Zone on their regular Twitch stream.
- Brian Thomas’ Twitch has a recent construction video up.
- Norah Sharpe’s Twitch focuses on solving, but has done a nice constructing video recently.
- Sid Sivakumar has a great construction video on YouTube.
- Erik Agard (editor of the USA Today crossword and setter over at The New Yorker) also has a crossword construction video on YouTube.
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.