how to make a crossword puzzle
And which software do you use? This is a solid entry, just like PUZZLE PIECE, because the sense of “track” changes, and it does so in a way that takes us far from the original meaning of “track.” I will note, however, that the sense of “tenure” does not change. We might, for example, clue this as “Song for when you match someone’s poker bet?” That makes sense, and yet it’s utterly distant from a CALL NUMBER in a library. All it takes is a few guiding principles and lots of practice. TAUSIG: One option might be MACBOOK AIR. LAST: Right! That’s Mr. Tausig’s and Mr. Vigeland’s challenge. We’d want to have some sort of title or “revealer” theme entry that ties it all together — to explain in a funny way why we grouped all these phrases together — and I can’t think of one. Finn Vigeland is a graduate student in urban planning who lives in Somerville, Mass. I just enter “*NUMBER” in the query and a whole lot of phrases pop up. STEINBERG: Here’s the ambitious version of our final grid, without the test AutoFill: LAST: Great. STEINBERG: Before we do that, though, let’s back up a little. VIGELAND: This is the same principle we had earlier when we were going down the game manufacturer or toys route, but we have a reason for moving this theme forward: punny clues. Editing your grid in the “Summary” tab lets you see how many words and black squares — also known as blocks — you have as you’re working (remember, the maximum for a 15 by 15 in a New York Times crossword is 78 words/42 blocks). And since I have young kids, most of the “stuff” in my world (or my apartment, anyway) is toys. STEINBERG: Well, we could put PUZZLE PIECE in the third row, but then we’ll have a bunch of three-letter words clogging up the grid. A theme entry set with two (13)s and one (15) would still have symmetry if the (15) ran in the middle row. LAST: Not just any people. I think it will be most instructive to show readers how to develop a theme, rather than tell them, so let’s allow our minds to wander and see what we come up with. For example, the clue “Song for a crossword solver?” for PUZZLE PIECE reworks the original meaning of the phrase to funny effect. VIGELAND: Speaking of toys and games, I was just watching the finale of “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars,” which was won by TRIXIE MATTEL (12), and Mattel is of course a game manufacturer. Natan Last lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. He’s a member of the International Rescue Committee’s innovation lab, working on humanitarian response and refugee resettlement. Some of those are small tweaks — you could move the black square below the second A in MACBOOK AIR down one, if you wanted to minimize three-letter words and didn’t mind, I don’t know, UMAMI in the center of the grid. Once the grid is loaded, you’ll see a screen that looks like the one below. As a reminder, those entries, with their letter counts in parentheses, are: LAST: Black squares will be placed after our theme answers to separate them from other entries. That’s something we’ll want to keep track of while we brainstorm. Among others, I got PRIME NUMBER, FAX NUMBER and WRONG NUMBER. Namely, the “game” aspect of our theme is in the word MATTEL. LAST: The long answers aren’t great either. The MATTEL in TRIXIE MATTEL has nothing to do with the company, which would have made her an excellent entry in this theme set. Press “Make My Crossword Puzzle!” to generate a crossword puzzle using as many of the clues as possible. DISTURBERS is awfully boring, unless it’s a band I’m unaware of, which is unlikely given how many times I say the word “Brooklyn” on any given day. Q.E.D., quality joke. ?.” I’m definitely glad we have our robot overlords to do those sorts of searches for us now. That usually means placing the first themer in the third row. Sadly, I suggest that we move on. A third, brand-new option is Keiran King’s free, web-based crossword construction program, Phil. And that exact sort of thinking will inform the rest of our black square placement. You don’t want to get too attached to any one concept, because there’s often a better idea around the corner. BEN TAUSIG: Ah, themes! And those symmetry rules mean theme entries must be arranged symmetrically. TAUSIG: It’s a solid foundation. That is Mr. Steinberg’s and Mr. Last’s challenge. TAUSIG: Yes! That’s always a good thing for consonants. Deb Amlen contributed reporting. After all, there are a few promising toy words, but not a lot. VIGELAND: I like this idea in principle, but it could run dry. In Part 2 of the Wordplay series, the puzzle makers David Steinberg and Natan Last design a crossword grid around our theme set. In any case, we now have a draft set: PUZZLE PIECE (11) TENURE TRACK (11)CALL NUMBER (10)MACBOOK AIR (10). If you’re on a Mac like me, I highly recommend CrossFire, which has a nice grid-filling environment and, at $50, it won’t break your budget. Then, make a word list with an answer and a clue on each line. LAST: Now that we’re up and running, the first thing we need to do is place our four theme entries in the grid. LAST: That graphic is great! Follow along as pairs of published New York Times constructors pass the creation of a crossword puzzle from hand to hand, taking us through the process of developing a theme, designing a workable grid, filling the entire grid and writing the clues. This will show you your existing templates and provide you with a bar to search for templates online. TAUSIG: Thanks for straight-up ignoring my dad joke in the comment above, Finn. Natan, what are your thoughts on manual construction? I thought we just plug our lovely theme answers into a piece of software and, voilà, a beautiful crossword emerges. VIGELAND: But I like this toy and game idea. There are many ways to make a puzzle, of course, but this series will highlight the basics. TAUSIG: Agreed — great lead for a theme. We’d have two options if we went that route. It’s all about letting your mind wander to the right places. To answer your question, I use CrossFire — although I got my start with pencil, graph paper and online dictionaries. “How to Make a Crossword Puzzle” is a response to reader questions about how constructors move from an idea to a completed puzzle that is ready for submission. And we can use a “stair step” set of squares to get ourselves out of this corner. Then, make a word list with an answer and a clue on each line. Let’s work in CrossFire since we both use it. She never wanders too far from @NYTimesWordplay. That’s life, but it’s a bummer. LAST: Well, I like the idea of having what’s now 25-Down contain the Z. I’m feeling better already. How about this? There are way fewer three-letter words than four-letter words, which means our colleagues won’t have a great choice of fill, so let’s go with one of our other themers.


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