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Crossword Puzzles - How to Solve - Tips for Success

Updated on February 18, 2015

Crossword Puzzles - an Educational Exercise for the Brain

Besides being an educational tool and a very good exercise for the brain*, solving a Crossword Puzzle is a great pastime. This Hub is about 'how to solve the clues in a Crossword Puzzle'. Solving a C. Puzzle comes very handy when sitting in a bus or in a train and is also ideal for a desk-bound employee. I have always had a desk job and have been doing the Crossword for many years (a short break is always welcome). I find it really relaxing since it gets my mind off other more pressing things. Crossword Puzzles are very challenging and one gets a little bit of satisfaction in the end.

* I read somewhere that solving a Crossword Puzzle at least 4 times a week helps to maintain an active brain and to keep away the dreaded Alzheimer's disease.

I have a certain level of experience and can hand down a few good tips and tricks to help the beginner. I will keep adding the most interesting and 'clever' clues to this Hub and show how to solve them.


Solving the Clues of a Crossword Puzzle

First of all, one must approach a Crossword Puzzle with confidence. You do not have to be an expert in the English language because generally the solutions are common words that we use everyday, You just need to have a positive attitude and believe in yourself that you can do it. Preferably one should start with a medium-sized crossword maybe 13 squares by 13 and from the same daily newspaper. This is important at least in the beginning since you get to 'know' the person at the other end. It's like you get used to the way that your 'challenger' thinks.

It does not matter how you start, but usually I start with the 'Across' and maybe solve 5 of them or less. Then I look at the 'Down' starting by the ones of which I have a letter already and carry on from there, leaving the difficult ones for the last or wait until I have a letter to help me.

It is also good to stop if you cannot move along at all and then attack it again at a later time. Do not be disheartened if at first you succeed in doing only a few solutions, just keep at it and you'll gain experience as you go along.

The trick is to read the Clue very carefully; every word for itself and try to guess where the clue is directing you. Sometimes this is not easy. Consider this one:

Eg. Capital letters for a feverish complaint (6)

At first one does not understand what is required but if I put it like this, it is much easier to look into: Capital - letters for a feverish complaint. We are looking for a capital city whose name ends in 'ague' which is the feverish complaint. If we add 2 letters in front, a P and an R we get Prague.

It is also necessary to think laterally that is looking into the different meanings of each word. Think like a Thesaurus and speaking of this book, it is a good tool to have handy.

Eg. the word 'service' in a clue could allude to : voluntary service, civil service, army or navy service, the service in a restaurant or in a hospital, service as in a Tennis match.

Eg. Relief : social service allowance or bas-relief as in clay sculpture.

Eg. Charged: sped swiftly away; charged with a responsibility; charged as in football; charged with a crime; charged as in battery charging.

Crossword Puzzle - Easy Clues First

I am looking at four Crossword Puzzles which I have recently completed, one of them this morning while I was on a rather long bus ride. I will produce here the clues which I consider the most interesting. Some of the crossword clues are really clever and I must here pay tribute to the person/s who come up with them.

Sometimes the solution is right there before our eyes.

Easy Clues 1.

Eg. (1) Parts of the Far East (5) The solution is 'areas' from Far East

Eg. (2) Season that brings no new interest (6). This is 'winter' from new interest.

Eg. (3) The ultramarine part is electric (4). The answer is 'tram' from ultramarine.

Easy Clues 2


Eg. (1) From A Sham BA (7) you get 'Bahamas'.

Eg. (2) From tried (5) you get 'tired'.

Easy Clues 3

Consider this clue: Machine that provides endless health (5)

To arrive at the solution, first drop the 'h' since 'health' is endless. Then build up the remaining letters to produce 'lathe', the machine.

The Language and Syntax of the Clues

One gets used to the language of the clues as one gets more experience through practice. In the clues one almost always finds allusions to :

(1) the various sports disciplines such as Football, Tennis, Cricket and Baseball,

(2) music such as soft and quiet, loud. In the solution you should have a 'p' from 'soft' (piano) and an 'f' from 'loud' (forte) and sometimes an 'ff' when the clue says 'very loud'. The clues may also allude to the notes in the scale, the A B C D E F G but very often it is just the 'E' that is required.

(3) geography/directions when the clue alludes to the Poles, the N, S, E and W.

Right and Left and back or reverse are also commonly used as well as Up and Down.

(4) special wording like 'endless', 'head' or 'headed' and 'hearted' . For example 'egghead' so in the solution you have an 'e' somewhere, 'hardheaded' so in the solution you should have an 'h' or 'hard-hearted' so in the solution you should have the heart (the center) of 'hard' which is 'ar'.

Also tricks like: air terminal - the clue may only be referring to the 'r' which is the termination of 'air'. Another one is : eye opener - the clue may only be requesting the use of the 'e' which is the opening letter of 'eye'.

(5) the Roman Numerals: the X for 10, the L for 50, the C for 100, the M for 1000

(6) simple words from the French, the Spanish and the Italian languages but mostly we only need just the article such as the Italian 'il' or 'la', the 'un' in French and the 'el' in Spanish.

(7) the use of the word 'love' and 'duck' in the clue. Somewhere in the solution you should have an 'o'. 'Love' is Tennis language, for example ... 15 Love ... meaning 15... zero. (see clue 14 below)

Analyzing the Crossword Puzzle Clues One by One

If you catch the 'meaning' of the Clue, more often than not you'll arrive at the solution. Once in a while I end up with a clue which I cannot solve, no matter how hard I try. It is only because I cannot understand what is wanted and this is the 'fun' of the clues. They are cryptic... you have to wrack your brain to arrive at the answer. Clue 2 below, gave me some trouble to fix it :

1. Effortless flight (9) My first thought was of a glider flying soundlessly on the wind currents. Then I considered a flight of birds and also of a kite-glider, but found no solution. I had to wait until I had some other letters to help me. Finally I arrived at the solution - an effortless flight of steps : escalator

2. Well-grown youngster, but chesty (7) This one is a whole word of 7 letters, but made up of two; that is the well-grown and the youngster. We have also to consider the chesty. At first I started to think of a well muscled individual when thinking of well-grown and chesty. Eventually I realized that the well-grown is tall, the youngster is boy and that the chesty is alluding to a chest of drawers or similar.

3. Comes out right, nowadays, for one's associates (8)

Comes out + Right + nowadays and we need a word which stands for associates.

Comes is part in the front and part at the back of the word so that it comes out. Right is just an 'r' while nowadays is 'ad' and the solution means associates.

Hence Com, Com.. es. The solution is Comrades. A very nice clue in my opinion.

4. Where to come when you make a hit with a girl (6)

This is not so difficult although at first glance you start thinking of a place. The solution is only made up of 'hit' and 'her' and we arrive at the word 'hither' which means 'here' but this word is not so much in use any more.

5. Historic barbarian, a hard-headed French one (3)

We can arrive at this without a clue almost. We have all read about the huns in our History books especially Attila their leader. But the clue is exact and follows the Crossword language that I mentioned above.

Since 'hard-headed', the solution starts with an 'h' and French one is 'un'. So we get 'hun' as the solution.

6. Offence of a hard-hearted youth?(5)

When there is a question mark at the end of the clue, it means that this is not necessarily true. The clue is directing us towards 'offence'. So as we have already said above from 'hard-hearted' we get 'Ar', while youth can be boy, lad, son. We choose 'son' and we get the solution 'Arson'.

7. By the way can you solve this one yourself ???? It is rather simple:

Looking back one finds sweetness in asparagus (5) The third letter is 'g'.

Please leave your answer in the Comments.

Learn Your Crossword

Other Clues to study:

8. Extinguish a current measure in drink (5,3)

This one took me some time to solve. I had an 'a' as the center letter of the first word and a 'u' as the center letter of the second word. Since there is 'drink' in the clue, I imagined a 'cup' as the second word. But the solution should mean 'Extinguish', so I thought maybe "drain cup" but no, I did not like it cause I could not see the 'current measure'. So what is a 'current measure'? 'Current' here refers to electricity, so Watt or Ampere or Amp? Yes 'amp'.

So I got the first word 'Stamp' and the second word must be 'Out' not 'cup'. So 'Stamp Out' = 'Extinguish' but where is the 'drink'? Yes, right there ...St ... amp...out. It is 'Stout' a kind of somewhat thick beer.

9. Very keen to make a comeback as a singer (4)

The meaning of 'keen' is sharp, cutting, honed, acid, avid, interested in something ..... Then there is 'comeback' in the clue, so if we take 'avid' from the back it becomes 'Diva' a star singer or whatever.

10. Hot-looking athlete or climber (7,6)

The 'or climber' indicates what the solution should mean. We need a person who climbs mountains or a climbing plant. The latter is more probable. So 'hot-looking' brings to mind: red-faced, blushing, sweaty, scarlet. And 'athlete' is runner or jumper or swimmer, etc. but when thinking of 'plants', runner is the most adequate. Hence we arrive at "scarlet runner" which is a climbing or scrambling plant.

11. Sharp enough to help out with credit (5)

The answer is "acrid" which means a sharp smell of something, I believe. How do we arrive at the solution? We need a word that means 'sharp' not keen like a sharp knife, not a 'sharp' tongue, not a 'sharp' brain (intelligent), but a 'sharp' (strong, unpleasant) smell. That's the trick, one has to look at all the 'meanings' as we said above.

The clue says 'to help out' and 'credit'. Credit is "cr" in crossword language, so the solution must have 'cr'. Now 'help' is 'aid' and it is 'out', that is part of it at the beginning and in the end; thus ""

12. Meets up with an Egyptian leader in high regard (6)

The solution here is somewhat difficult because we have to guess the 'direction' first of all. It could be (1) 'Meets up' like rendezvous, date, appointment. It could be someone like a (2) Pharaoh, or (3)in high regard. So by elimination, (2) not likely and most probably (3).

So 'meets up' .... we try to change it .... with 'high regard' in mind plus the 'Egyptian leader' . And we arrive at 'steem' reading it from the end upwards plus we get an 'E' from 'Egyptian leader'. The result is "Esteem" which means 'in high regard'.

13. Required and rang to get (6,3) This is not so difficult, I think. "Rang to get" is 'called for' which means 'required'.

14. Where to shoot duck in the West Indies (6). After some thought you understand that the emphasis is on 'where'. I had some letters already the 'T' and the 'a', so I tried "Tobago". But why? It is quite simple really. To....bag...o. Bag is to shoot or catch and the 'duck' in the clue requires an 'o'.

15. Kept getting washed down out of turn (6). Not easy this one. The answer is 'housed'. Because the emphasis is on 'Kept' which is 'housed' in a way. "out of turn" indicates that we have a 'u' and outside it or around it. What is around it is 'washed down' which is 'hosed', that is washed down with a water pipe. In that way we get 'ho ....u...sed'.

As I said above, some of the clues are really clever and it is fun to follow them carefully and arrive at the solution.

Try to Guess Clue 7 above and leave your answer in the Comments.

I will continue to Add new ones so Look In again. Thanks.


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