Indie puzzles have a learning curve that can feel intimidating to those not already steeped in them. Since puzzles can be a way to show how clever one can be as a solver or a constructor, I sympathize with the newer solver who holds the (quite rational) fear of feeling Unclever. With that fear in mind, I bring you an ever-growing list of resources that I hope will demystify how I enjoy solving and creating puzzles. I hope you find them useful. If you have any resources you think I should add, please let me know!
How to solve a cryptic crossword
Many puzzles come with a list of instructions. A sudoku is a 9×9 grid where each row, column, and 3×3 box contains the digits 1-9 once each. A word search is a grid of letters where you can find different words hidden in the grid following a line. Cryptic crosswords at their heart are crossword puzzles where the clue has a “straight definition” and a bit of wordplay that confirms the answer. While that one sentence is technically the entire ruleset, the conventions of cryptic crosswords are many and (like most skills) require some practice to get used to. I’ve always described learning cryptics as similar to learning a new language. This can feel intimidating, but that’s what we’re here for!
Guides and one-sheets I love:
The Rackenfracker has a lovely one sheet and a long list of resources. (They also did some really fun short videos on twitter for their Song of The Summer puzzle.)
I find Elderism’s guide is thorough and well separated. (Elderism is also an amazing streamer and asking him a question on stream is a great way to get better.)
If you want something a bit less indie, The Wall Street Journal has a one sheet.
When you’ve read enough and want to start solving solo:
Joe Adultman‘s Cryptics 101 series: If you want to learn by doing, these short puzzles are a great place to start. Each puzzle tackles a different conventional cluing angle: Hiddens, Anagrams, Homophones, and Reversals are all covered.
The New Yorker has a new cryptic every Sunday that I find a great puzzle for people trying to solo solve for the first time.
Ultimately, solving cryptic crosswords is a skill that is niche and has a bit of a learning curve up front. For me, what made me want to solve more of them was solving with someone more experienced. Getting hints is a gift every solver deserves! There are many great streamers who solve cryptics regularly, and generally love explaining how a clue works. Come say hi!
Resources for crossword construction
When I first started building crossword puzzles, I sat in the back of math class creating little 4×4 or 5×5 grids of letters on graph paper. The full puzzles I built were few and far between, and they were… not great. In the years since (we don’t need to talk about exactly how many), things have changed. It turns out computers are really good at looking at large datasets like the dictionary and making suggestions, which doesn’t make creating a fun crossword an easy task, but does make it far less daunting.
Crosserville is free, helpful, free, easy to use, and most importantly: free.
Build your own grid and use the “Find Fill” button to get suggestions on the words that aren’t part of your theme. Or, search for a grid shape that fits your criteria. Crosserville has been used at some point in most puzzles I’ve constructed for this site.
The Acrostic Machine is a tool built by Alex Boisvert that lets you iteratively get a quote into clues. Absolute game changer. Can’t recommend highly enough.
A Dataset of Cryptic Crossword Clues is exactly what it sounds like.
Amuselabs hosts a variety of puzzle types.