How to Solve a Crossword Puzzle Like a Pro

Have you ever wondered how people complete crosswords in one sitting, or how they manage to complete really hard puzzles, even when they’re not that experienced themselves?

It’s all about the setup and the strategy. This page will cover both - if you’d like to solve crosswords like a professional does, follow these directions.

Start by getting yourself set up - important!

Mental dexterity is dependent on how well you’re functioning overall - the best way to get stuck early on a crossword puzzle is by being flustered, uncomfortable, or unprepared.

A pencil, eraser, and pad of paper are the bare necessities. Always use a pencil over a pen - even if you think you have an answer correct, you may find that at the end, your “correct answers” don’t match up and your grid is a now complete mess.

Water, coffee, and comfy things are optional, but recommended. Crosswords puzzles take a while to solve - if you have the luxury of time, make sure you have the tools to dive right in.

How to solve correctly

Scan for the “easy ones”

Do a quick runthrough of the puzzle and look for any clues with familiar terms or categories. Chances are, if something is familiar to you, you will be able to guess the word that corresponds with the clue with relative ease.

Be warned that not all puzzles will have freebies, especially if you’re challenging yourself with one from a more difficult publication.

Solve the short words

There are only so many words that can be between 3 and 5 words. Go after these right away - you’ll get a sense of accomplishment from knocking off a few clues, even without the luxury of having a few freebies.

Check for plurals

If you think something is almost right but it just doesn’t fit, try adding or subtracting a “s”. 

If the creator of the puzzle doesn’t know what he or she is doing, there may be unnecessary or missing plurals throughout. (This usually isn’t a problem with established crosswords made by professionals, like those in newspapers.)

You can also try changing the tense - for example, changing gain to gained - but most of the time, clues will be clear on which tense should be used.

Grind it out on paper

There will come a point when you’re solving… and completely stuck on all of the clues you have thus far. Don’t worry - now is the time to grab your pad of paper and start writing down anything that comes to mind for a particular clue.

This process is sometimes called “brain dumping” - the idea is that when you have everything down on paper, your brain can make connections between words that it couldn’t if you were trying to remember everything simultaneously. 

Ask for help

If you’re a casual player who doesn’t mind getting some help on the answers, ask people around you for their thoughts.

Your help won’t always know the exact answer - it’s difficult to visualize word length on a whim like that - but often, he or she can give you ideas on words that you hadn’t thought of. Either that, or whoever you ask will also love doing crosswords and come over to help you out!

Take a break

Your subconscious will continue to think about the clues, even when you’re not actively working on their solutions. So if you get stuck, try a “brain dump”, and still can’t come up with the right answers, try walking away for anywhere from a couple of minutes to a full day and then trying again. 

There’s no shame in taking more time to solve harder puzzles - some weren’t meant to be solved in one sitting in the first place! You might get the “ah ha” you were looking for when you’re in the shower, or going to bed, or anywhere that a crossword is nowhere in sight.

Just don’t give up - crosswords have a way of being very frustrating, especially to the beginner. Before you look the answers up, always ask yourself: Have you really given it your all?


Most of the time, completion speed comes down to experience and knowing the correct process to use. To solve crossword puzzles in the most effective way (and like an absolute pro), use the above steps for guidance. Good luck!

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