Best Ways to Solve a Crossword Puzzle

Crossword puzzle help

Crossword puzzles are many-splendored things. They’re not even one game, more like a genre: there’s as much difference between a straight and a cryptic crossword as between Boggle and Words With Friends.

There’s so much difference between types of crossword puzzles that there’s no such thing as a list of quick crossword cheats. Instead, we’re providing a strategy, a four-step plan to follow when you need help figuring out the best ways to solve a crossword puzzle. Better yet, this plan will stand you in good stead whether you’re tackling a crossword-like app like CodyCross, your local paper’s daily puzzle or one of those cryptic nightmares British people think are fun.

4 Steps to Crossword Success

Step 1: First Pass Fill-In

This is a crossword trick you should use every time because it makes solving every puzzle easier: start with the answers you just know off the top of your head. For your first pass through the list of clues, don’t even think about the puzzle itself. Treat it like a fill-in-the-blank quiz. Be strict: write down only the answers you’re absolutely certain of. Once you’ve got those...

Step 2: Pick Up Shorties

You’ve got your foundation. Now, build on it. Look at the grid. Start with filling in as many of the short words as you can. The three and four-letter clues are the best way to start since each one adds to the longer answers. More importantly, they show you the puzzle’s structure.

Many crossword puzzles have themes for their answers, running jokes, or self-referential clues: such as “the best friend of 1-Across.” The more short words you can fill in, the more data points you can use to figure out what those themes are. For help, check out WordFinder’s curated list of 3-letter words and build out.

Step 3: Find the Patterns

In Step 2, you used the short words to help you work out the patterns of the puzzle. For Step 3, use the pattern to play big. By now you should have a sense of any themes, rhythms or jokes of the puzzle you’re working on. You know what some of the references point to. Use them.

Not every clue in a puzzle will work to the overarching theme, but every big one will. When a long word flummoxes you, try the longer-letter words on our starts with, ends with and contains word lists. As long as you have at least one letter to work with, they’ll help you out.

Step 4: Rinse and Repeat

The power of this process isn’t that it will enable you to complete every crossword puzzle, every time. The power is that it’s easy to use, easy to remember and can be repeated as many times as you need, whatever kind of crossword you’re solving.

Stumped on a few final blanks? Go back to Step 1. Run down the list and see what you can fill in off the top of your head, now that you have more letters to help you out. Then build. Then think in patterns: what words suit the themes of the puzzle?

A Solid Plan

Crossword puzzles have been around for over a century. They’d never have lasted that long if there were simple crossword cheats that solved every puzzle for you. Most crossword fans love the challenge of the puzzle; they don’t necessarily want a quick fix. However, everyone likes a solid plan. The trick here is to use crossword-solving strategies that apply across puzzles, across types. Use the steps listed above, and you’re on your way to thinking like a crossword master.

Need more help? You got it. Just use the WordFinder search tool, designed from the ground up for word gamers like you. Pop in the letters you’ve already got and we’ll find you words. It’s how we do.


Matt Salter has been a professional writer for over 10 years. He is a gaming and technology expert, and world-class word nerd.

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