Crossword Building Guide – How to make a puzzle


Some designers still use graph paper and an extensive collection of dictionaries, but most of them use software. CrossFire is the most popular choice among professional designers, but there are a number of great options.

CrossFire (paid, Windows and Mac OS X)

Crossword Compiler (paid, Windows only)

Crosserville (free, browser-based, has a good built-in word list)

PuzzleMe (free, browser-based, also offers hosting for embedded puzzles)

You can’t have a play on words without words. These dictionaries were created to help designers find words to fill grids.

XWord Info (may require a donation)


Crossword Nexus


Since it is the backbone of building software, a good word list can make for a better puzzle. Some puzzle makers use multiple word lists while others only use a primary list they create. Most online word lists are configured to work with CrossFire unless otherwise noted, and you should get the rated version. For more information on how constructors use word lists, see the following article.

The Los Angeles Times (guidelines)

The Wall Street Journal (guidelines)

The Universal Crossword That Is Syndicated (Guidelines)

Here are a few more resources for constructing, solving, or researching puzzles.

XWord Info is a lifesaver with a nearly complete archive of crossword puzzles and statistics from the New York Times. is a puzzle info aggregator with data for download. has a list of common theme types.

Wordlisted is a tool for searching word lists. It’s especially useful for finding thematic material.

Squares is a browser-based tool for collaborative puzzle solving.

Patrick Barry’s Crossword Constructor’s Handbook is a great way to learn the basics.

Once a puzzle is released, the solvers want to talk about it. They often have these conversations on Twitter, but there are also some long-standing outlets that provide more detailed feedback.

The following may contain spoilers for the puzzles they discuss.

Wordplay, the New York Times crossword column

7xwords publishes 7×7 grids six days a week, which are slightly more difficult than the average mini crossword puzzle.

Competitive solving is another great way to learn the limits of crossword puzzle construction. There have been some highly acclaimed tournament puzzles over the years, many of which are available in their respective archives. Competitions are also great places to meet other crossword puzzle solvers and designers.

The American Crossword Puzzle Tournament takes place every spring and is run by the Times puzzle editor, Will Shortz.

The Lollapuzzoola crossword puzzle tournament takes place annually on a Saturday in August.

Boswords, a crossword puzzle league, holds tournaments on a regular basis.

The Indie 500 Crossword Tournament has an exciting theme every year.

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