How to Conquer the New York Times Crossword Puzzle

Wordplay tips & tricks

I’m not a full-on puzzle head (yet). This little book has been a confidence booster with my burgeoning Sunday obsession. There are plenty of helpful vocabulary and practice puzzle books out there, but what this concise guide provides is insight: common Thursday gimmicks (ex; backward spelling), the 300 most-used words broken down by category (ex; misc. 3-letter words: EER? …e’er = a contraction of “ever”); the basics of puzzle construction (FYI, the answers generally come first); and top solver Reynaldo’s step-by-step instructions on efficiently tackling over 60 puzzles of varying difficulty (ex; what to do in the event of a dead-end; when to resort to educated guesses); plus, if you’re still stuck, there are additional clues so you never feel hopeless. If you watched Wordplay, became intrigued with NYT editor Will Shortz and vowed to become a stopwatch-wielding diehard, but still haven’t, the quick takeaways contained within this book will get you going.


-- Steven Leckart 01/13/21


Some nouns that end with the ER can be interpreted another way, as a noun made by adding ER to a verb. For example [French flower] maybe the SEINE River, or something that flows in France, a flow-er. [River tower] might be TUG, as in something that tows larger vessels in a river.

Thursday is called "Gimmick Day" by some NYT crossword aficionados, because this is the day many of the trickiest, twistiest puzzles are published... One popular gimmick is the rebus puzzle, in which the solver must enter multiple letters in a single square, draw little pictures, or write a numeral or symbol in each rebus square...A 2005 Thursday puzzle included the abbreviations for the days of the week as rebuses: MON, TUE, WED, etc. Another Thursday crossword published in 2001 used the @ symbol to replace the letter pair AT throughout the grid. Many rebus puzzles dispense with the requirement for symmetrical placement of theme entries (it is often too difficult to construct a rebus puzzle with strict thematic symmetry).

Unusual sequences of letters can make the solver think, "That can't be right." If the crossings for [Stylish, square-jawed male model] gave you a *QTY** letter pattern, you might doubt that those letters were correct because that letter sequence isn't found in any English words. But the entry is actually two words: GQ TYPE, as in GQ magazine, formerly Gentleman's Quarterly.

Grid-making software streamlines the construction process. Perhaps the best-known program is Crossword Compiler, available for Windows at Crossdown, also for Windows, is available at For Macintosh computers without Windows capability, the shareware program Cruciverbalist can be downloaded at

Crosswords are a meaning-rich game of language, but sometimes a clue strips away a word's meaning and focuses on its individual letters and sounds. [Fan sound] may be the SHORT A in the word fan rather than the roar of a crowd or the whirring of an appliance. [Castle feature?] can be SILENT T, and [Fiddle duet?] could be DEES (the letter D, doubled). This category of crossword entry is relatively new, and may include SOFT and HARD letters, SHORT or LONG vowels, SILENT letters, CAPITAL letters or the spelled-out names of letters.

© 2022