Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved puzzles of all sorts — except for crossword puzzles. They were confusing, complicated, and impossible for 10-year-old me. I didn’t know who France’s prime minister was, and I had no idea what intuition meant. So for many years I abandoned crosswords.
Not long ago, I stumbled across the New York Times (NYT) Mini Crossword. After doing a few, I tried a fully-fledged crossword. Surprisingly, it was doable! A little confusing, maybe, and I certainly needed Google by my side. I was born in 2003 — how am I supposed to know the name of Ronald Reagan’s attorney general? But, I completed it! And boy, it felt amazing!
Now, I won’t lie, the crossword community certainly is dominated by people much older than myself. It’s also dominated by American crossword authors for American organizations, which leads to cultural differences. That means there are usually at least a couple trivia clues in each puzzle that I have absolutely no knowledge about. But, as I improve, I’m able to make better educated guesses. Or I simply force my way through the last letter or two that I cannot figure out. However, if I’m really stumped, I don’t think there should be any shame in using the resources at my disposal. Especially for clues I have no chance of getting.
Crosswords let me warm-up my brain and sharpen my vocabulary while posing a fun challenge. As well, I would love to see more people my age puzzling. So, if you’re looking for a new hobby or a casual past-time, here’s how to get started!
The gold standard for crossword puzzles is the NYT crossword. A new puzzle is published every day, increasing in difficulty throughout the week. If you’re looking for a good place to start, Monday puzzles are your best bet!
The NYT also has a catalogue of thousands of old puzzles. While it requires a subscription, I find the pricing pretty affordable. For a games-only subscription, it’s $3 a month. Compared to other hobbies, I call that a steal of a deal! There are also tons of free online crossword puzzles. The Washington Post has great free daily crosswords as well! Or, if you prefer pen and paper, crossword compilation books work great too.
One of the most intimidating parts of starting a crossword puzzle is trying to decode the crossword lingo within the clues. Remember this basic rule that applies to many kinds of clues: the clue and the answer will usually match! This applies to verb tenses (a past tense clue will mean a past tense answer), plurals, languages (a French clue will have a French answer), and language style (if it seems like a boomer trying to imitate gen Z speech, it’s probably a texting acronym). If the clue has quotation marks, it’s going to be a figure of speech or common phrase of some sort.
The hardest clues are usually those that end in a question mark. This indicates there’s wordplay involved in the answer. If it’s not clicking for you right away, try coming back to it later.
There are many strategies for tackling a crossword puzzle. I like to go through each clue and fill in obvious ones I know, and then I just keep circling through. If I get really stuck, I identify trivia clues I don’t think I’d ever be able to figure out. I look up those clues to start getting some crosses on blanks I think I stand a chance on.
But if you’re really stuck, try stopping! Seriously, taking a break and doing something else to recharge your batteries can really help. And then, coming back to the puzzle with fresh eyes can lead to a whole ‘aha!’ moment.
However, the easiest way to start puzzling is to do exactly that: start puzzling! I would recommend the NYT Mini or the USA Today Easy Crossword. And don’t get caught up if you’re struggling to finish or if you need to employ a little Google. It’s about building up your skill. If you keep at it, you’ll see major improvements in no time! Happy puzzling!