Whether you’re creating your first themeless crossword or if you’ve created them before, you’ll want to remember these do’s and don’ts. Creating themeless crossword puzzles takes quite a bit of time. But they are worth making. By following these tips, you’ll save yourself a lot of stress down the road.
Why Bother Creating Themeless Crossword Puzzles?
Only a handful of publications accept themeless crosswords, and almost all of them prefer themed crosswords. So why make a themeless crossword at all?
First, they provide an extra challenge to you as the constructor. Without a theme, there’s not much of a guidepost for creating your crossword. This means you’ll have to get creative and be extra clever.
Also, some publications do accept themeless crosswords. Just because publications prefer themed crosswords doesn’t mean they wouldn’t accept a well-constructed themeless one. Make sure to go over their guidelines to see if a publication simply prefers themed puzzles or if they don’t accept themeless at all, though.
Finally, you could sell your themeless crossword puzzles on your own. There is a market for themeless crossword puzzle books. By creating and selling one yourself, you could make a profit.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Creating Themeless Crossword Puzzles
So, you’re interested in creating themeless crosswords. How do you go about it? These do’s and don’ts will get you going.
Do start with a “seed entry.”
Many constructors find themed crosswords easier to create because the theme anchors the puzzle. When creating themeless puzzles, you’ll want to anchor the puzzle in one answer. Your “seed entry,” or starting entry, will often go in the middle of the grid or the upper left-hand corner. It will also be a longer answer.
Don’t start with the grid.
Many novices make the mistake of creating a well-constructed grid first, then filling in the answers. This will lead to trouble! Instead of trying to shove words into the grid, build your grid around your selected words.
Do learn about the different stacks.
In crossword construction, there are several kinds of “stacks” to help build your puzzle at the beginning. These refer to where you place your seed entry and how you build off of it. The two most common ones are the triple-stack (with three answers on top of each other in a row) and the stagger-stack. You can see an example of a stagger-stack here.
Don’t forget to add and mirror the black squares.
Once you add your first few answers to the grid, you’ll need to start adding black squares, too. Otherwise, your answers will get mixed together. Then, once you add the black squares, make sure they mirror each other on the grid. To do this in Crossword Hobbyist, log in, select “Create Newspaper Puzzle,” then turn the grid painter from OFF to ON in the left-hand sidebar. It will automatically create symmetry for you (unless you disable the function).
Do watch for common letter pairings.
Oftentimes, constructors will choose answers based on needed letters rather than the word itself. For example, if you have a U in an answer, it’s a good time to see if you can fit in a Q above it for variety. This will help you build unique and clever answers.
Don’t use consonant-heavy words.
This isn’t required for every single word, but the more vowel-heavy words you have, the easier it’ll be to build other words. Use this list of common crossword answers as a starting point for shorter vowel-heavy answers.
Do watch for duplicate words along the way.
Making crosswords takes some time. If you’re not focused, you may accidentally use the same word twice. Keep checking along the way to keep your puzzle fresh.
Don’t fill in the edges first.
After all the hard work you’ve put in to create an excellent seed entry and stack it, it’ll be tempting to move on to something “easier.” While starting at the edges may help some people solve crosswords, it can land you in a lot of trouble when creating them. Instead, after you’ve done your first stack and have a general grid layout, start in the center or in the least flexible part of your grid.
It’s worth noting that these tips could certainly apply to themed puzzles as well. However, they’re particularly important for creating themeless crossword puzzles. Try them out with our newspaper-style crossword puzzle maker today. Then, once you’ve made a few, have your friends solve your puzzles to give you feedback. After you have a great puzzle, submit it to one of these publications that accept themeless entries.
Kristen Seikaly used her artistic background, research skills, and love for the internet to launch her first blog, Operaversity. Now she uses the skills to connect teachers, parents, and game enthusiasts with Crossword Hobbyist and My Word Search. She studied music at the University of Michigan, and now lives in Philadelphia.