I’m cogitating over a new cozy mystery series set in the world of crossword puzzles so I’ve started learning how to make them.
I complete the easy King crossword and the progressively harder NYT puzzle printed every day in the Denver Post. Well, not every day. I haven’t attempted the Sunday NYT and I cheat my way through the one on Saturday.
I’m pretty good at solving the puzzles, so I assumed (yeah, I know) that it wouldn’t be a huge leap to flip it and start creating them.
I begin with a 15×15 blank grid. There are rules you have to abide by. You can only have a maximum of 38 black squares and a maximum of 78 words, only 20 of which can be 3-letter words.
Crossword puzzles must have rotational symmetry, meaning that you can turn the page upside down and the puzzle grid looks exactly the same. Luckily, the software takes care of this chore for me. So if I put a black space in the top row, the fourth from the left, there will also be one in the bottom row the fourth from the right.
The “entries” are the words in the puzzle. The “slots” are where those words go. The “clues” are the hints you give so the solvers can put the right entries into the right slots.
Puzzles usually have themes, whether you see them or not, and they also need symmetry. Say my theme is “Murder.” There are a lot of words for murder: slaughter, assassinate, run through, decapitate, asphyxiate, disembowel, exterminate, pump full of lead. But I can’t use them all. First, because that’s too many and I wouldn’t be able to find entries for the rest of the grid. But also because of symmetry.
“Slaughter” has 9 letters, “pump full of lead” has 14, “assassinate” and “exterminate” both have 11 and the rest all have 10.
Right off the bat I know I can’t use “slaughter” because it has no corresponding length word. You must have a black square after each of your theme words, so here’s what would happen if I tried to pair these two.
And I can’t use “pump full of lead” because it has 14 letters, problematic in a 15×15 grid.
Seems okay …. until you add the black space at the end. No symmetry!
So I’ll choose assassinate, exterminate, run through, and disembowel as my theme words.
That’s the beginning of my puzzle. And my headache. Next I have to start placing more black squares to break up long slots and to make the puzzle look pretty. Then comes the filling of the grid, which takes a lot of trial and error. Mostly error for me. I’ll talk about that more when I get better at it. When you have real words in all the slots, then you write the clues. Punnier, more obscure clues make for a more difficult puzzle, but I don’t know how to gauge the difficulty level yet.
Did I mention this was haaaaard??
How ’bout you? Do you like to solve crossword puzzles? Would you read a mystery series set in the world of puzzling? What clever name would you bestow upon said crossword series?