Ever since its beginning in 1941, The New York Times’ crossword puzzle has become a ritual for Americans everywhere. It’s not easy! Even the Monday puzzles, the easiest of the week, can prove quite difficult for newer crossword fans. Here are some tips and tricks to help you understand this puzzling puzzle that’ll help you solve – and even make – any crossword puzzle you’d like.
How to Solve The New York Times’ Crossword Puzzle
Start with the Monday Puzzles
Even if a Monday puzzle feels difficult to you now, they are the easiest to solve of the week. Many of the most challenging clues are reserved for Saturday puzzles. Monday puzzles, on the other hand, feature straightforward clues with less wordplay and more direct answers.
If the Monday puzzle still feels like too much at first, try the mini puzzles; they still follow the week rules of difficulty, but most remain within a 5×5 grid rather than the standard 15×15. Saturday minis are the exception, with a slightly larger 7×7 grid.
Use the Grid
American crossword puzzles are “checked,” meaning that by solving all of the “Across” answers of a puzzle, you’ll have all of the “Down” answers by default. Therefore, if you’re stuck on several Across clues, try solving the Down clues first in the same area. The answers will give you at least a few letters to work off of for the Across.
Solve the Easy Answers First
“Easy” will be subjective, but some answers will come to you faster than others. Clues with a fill-in-the-blank, for example, are easy to spot and often the easiest to solve. Feel free to skip around and answer those clues first. You can then start working on a section where you already have a few letters to help you out.
This helps when a clue could lead to several different answers as well. The clue “Detective” could mean the answer is a synonym or the name of a specific detective. The best way to answer a vague clue like this one is to find some of the answers that intersect. Then you’ll have some letters to work with, making you a real SLEUTH.
Answers will Agree With the Tense of the Clue
Those newer to The New York Times’ crossword puzzle often miss this important element. An answer will seem obvious, yet there are one or two spaces at the end unfilled. In this instance, check to see if the answer needs to be plural, in the past tense, or agree with the clue in some other way. Clues and answers will agree in the following ways:
For example, if the clue says, “Ladder’s counterpart in a board game,” It would be easy to assume the answer is CHUTES because of the game’s title, Chutes and Ladders. However, the clue stated a singular ladder, meaning the answer would be a singular CHUTE.
Know the Common Answers
Some words appear in the crossword more often than others. These words are known as “repeaters.” Words that appear frequently in crosswords but infrequently in real life are known as “crosswordese.”
Many of the reoccuring answers are smaller words as they are needed to fit into tightly-checked sections of the puzzle. The most common repeaters contain the most common letters and often two vowels. That is why ERA or ORE appears more often than FOX or RUG. Learn more about some of the most common crossword puzzle answers here.
Look Out for Homonyms
Many of the clues that focus on puns or wordplay feature homonyms, or words with the same spelling but double meanings. Watch out for this with single-word clues in particular, as sometimes the clue could refer to two different ideas. “Book,” for example, could be a noun or a verb.
Beware the Question Clues
Most people see a question and want to answer it directly. However, in The New York Times’ crossword puzzle, clues in the form of a question are often a type of wordplay or pun. This “Good looker?” clue provides a good example. The answer will not be someone who looks good. Instead, it will be someone or something that is good at “looking,” like an EYE.
There’s no need to power through the puzzle in one sitting, especially if you’re just getting started. Drink a cup of tea, go for a walk, clear your head in some way so you can come back to the puzzle refreshed and ready to solve again!
The New York Times’ online version runs a timer as you solve the crossword puzzle. Even though you can pause the puzzle, the timer may be an off-putting feature. Newer solvers may want to print the puzzle or solve it in the physical paper. You can also turn off the timer in the settings of the online version.
Watch How Others Solve It
Rex Parker runs a blog specifically for solving The New York Times’ crossword. He will define difficult words, highlight his perceived difficulty given the standard difficulty of that day, and provide other tips that might be helpful to a new solver. Many people also solve crosswords on YouTube for you to watch and observe their technique.
Similarly, solve it with a friend. A family member from another generation is especially helpful, offering different knowledge of recent history and pop culture. If your solving buddy is an expert solver, you can also pick up on some common practices.
Practice, Practice, Practice
The best way to solve any puzzle is to solve the puzzle! The more you solve The New York Times’ crossword, the easier it will become. Fortunately, The New York Times has archived many of their puzzles online for easy solving. Fans can also purchase books of previously published puzzles through various booksellers.
Solve the Puzzle in Your Own Way
Many people search for the answers to this famed crossword, and while that might be considered cheating, this puzzle is ultimately for you to enjoy! Decide what your goals are and use whatever help you need to achieve those goals.
Solve the crossword with your preferred tools, as well. Some believe that a ballpoint pen makes the best writing tool for crosswords. Others prefer the flexibility of a pencil. Neither is right or wrong. It’s all about personal preference.
Many fans of The New York Times’ crossword puzzle move on to making their own crosswords after some time. Consistent solving gives budding cruciverbalists a strong understanding of construction; they’ll understand types of clues and answers, common grid layouts, and more. Once you become comfortable with how to solve The New York Times’ crossword puzzle, try making your own with our newspaper-style crossword puzzle maker by signing up or logging in, then visiting your “My Puzzles” page.
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.