How to Finish a Crossword Puzzle

Crossword puzzles are an extremely popular pastime. In addition, they sharpen the brain and increase vocabulary. Graded from "easy" to "difficult", some seem almost impossible to complete. It is recommended that novices start with the "easy" ones and progress, up the ladder, step by step. Get a sharpened pencil or two and an eraser, but first, read on.


  1. Image titled Finish a Crossword Puzzle Step 1
    Solve the fill-in-the-blank clues first, as they're usually easier than the others. Then, you'll have a network of answers from which to work. Solve as many of the squares as you can from the network, and then start at the #1 box, across, then down. Fill in the word if it fits both directions. Then do the same with the next box until you fill in the words you are sure of. If unsure, write your potential letters very lightly inside the boxes. Continue like this, filling in words you are unsure of, but fit into the down and across boxes.
  2. Image titled Finish a Crossword Puzzle Step 2
    Return to the start, making a second pass through the clues. Now that you have a few letters pencilled in, a correct answer might just pop up in your memory. Ensure that the letters fit into the other numbered boxes as well. It is not a correct word, remember, unless it fits perfectly with every box number it touches.
  3. Image titled Finish a Crossword Puzzle Step 3
    Repeat these steps until the puzzle is solved or until completely stumped. Now the fun begins as you start to find the letters for each remaining word.
  4. Image titled Finish a Crossword Puzzle Step 4
    Spend a long time thinking about the "theme" clues. Often, this is key to puzzle solving. For example, if the theme clues are based on famous crossword puzzlers and you do not know much about it, look up "crosswords" on Wikipedia.
  5. Image titled Finish a Crossword Puzzle Step 5
    Study the missing letters. There are only just so many syllables in the English language and only a few letters will work with both of the words that cross. Take guesses and see if they fit.
  6. Image titled Finish a Crossword Puzzle Step 6
    Review the puzzle and the clues you missed or clues you derived without any knowledge of the subject. Put these to memory.


  • Newspapers running crosswords will increase the difficulty as the week goes on: Monday’s puzzle will be the easiest and Friday’s will be the hardest. Harder puzzles often have fewer blocked squares than easier ones. Always start with the easy ones, to get the idea of how it works. Follow with the medium level until you feel ready for the more difficult ones.
  • The words in a crossword are usually composed of all common letters.
  • Words beginning with capital letters are always proper nouns, whether it is a person, place or thing. The answer will reflect this.
  • Expand your knowledge of trivial subjects by watching Jeopardy or reading.
  • The tense of the clue will always be the same as the answer; that goes for plural, past, present, future, etc. Plural answers are nice because 98% of the time the answer ends in “S,” which you can fill in on the puzzle.
  • Crack the code. Look for clues within the clue. If it ends in a question mark, the solution requires an offbeat interpretation (clue: "Mental block?"; answer: RUBIKSCUBE). Clues with questions mark mean the answer isn’t a perfect one, but rather a pun, metaphor, or other figure of speech. Also, difficult answers tend to have straightforward clues; easy answers tend to come from trickier clues.
  • Keep an open mind. Don't get stuck on one interpretation of a clue. If it says "perfect prose," you might be tempted to look for another word for prose. But remember: Perfect can be an adjective (PER-fect) or a verb (per-FECT), in which case the solution is EDIT. Also, answers can contain multiple words, like "INIT" for "what's _______ for me?"
  • Buy a Crossword Book Dictionary for the more difficult clues and words.
  • Remember key words, as some answers crop up all the time. Three- and four-letter vowel-laden words are popular: OLEO ("butter substitute"), OLIO ("hodgepodge"), OREO ("two-toned treat," "Hydrox rival"), AGAR ("ice cream thickener"), and ENT ("ear, nose, throat," "tree creature from Lord of the Rings"). “ORE/S” is a popular answer for anything relating to mining or metals.
  • If you still can't find an answer, you can always search the internet!

Things You'll Need

  • Crossword Puzzle
  • Pencils
  • Crossword Dictionary (optional)

Sources and Citations

  • Wired Magazine - Original source of this article. Shared with permission. Originally written by American Crossword Tournament champ Tyler Hinman.
  • Daily Crossword

Article Info

Categories: Crossword Puzzles