Crossword Help Glossary

Below is an alphabetical crossword help index enabling you to quickly find what you need on every crossword-related topic I've been able to think of.

Quite a few of the entries have links to other pages on this site where I've written more extensive articles on various crossword help topics.

Even if you're not really looking for any particular type of crossword help, browsing this page can be a good way to find out new things about crossword puzzles.

Ok, let's get started...

Across Lite

A free crossword application that enables you to solve (or some say 'play') crosswords on a computer.

American Crossword Puzzle Tournament

An annual crossword tournament organized by Will Shortz (Editor of the New York Times crossword) first held in 1978, and now the biggest regular crossword tournament in the world.

Auto Fill

A feature of crossword making software, such as crossword compiler, that does the 'grunt work' of creating fill possibilities around theme entries.


A line giving credit to the crossword constructor in a published crossword. For many constructors, seeing your name in print in a respected crossword publication is far more important than the small monetary reward you receive. Despite this fact, not all editors publish a byline.


A term used by crossword constructors to describe a black square that has been added to a grid (usually to get the constructor out of trouble), without changing the word count (a metric that is often important for getting your crossword published!).

Now that programs like Crossword Compiler are available to help fill grids, cheaters are resorted to much less frequently.


See crossword compiler.


See crossword constructor.


An intersection between an across and a down entry. In many modern American crossword puzzles, all squares in a crossword grid are crossings. This is because many crossword editors demand that every square must be part of both an across and a down entry so that the crossword solver has two chances at each square.

"Plenty of clues stump me, but the great thing about crosswords is that ... well ... the words cross!"
Crossword Solving Champion, Dan Feyer

Crossword Compiler

Usually shortened to compiler, a person who creates crosswords. This term is used mainly in Britain, while the term crossword constructor is preferred in America.

Crossword Compiler is also the name of a very popular crossword help application used by many major American newspapers and institutions to aid crossword construction.

Crossword Constructor

Usually shortened to constructor, a person who creates crosswords. This term is used mainly in America, while the term crossword compiler is preferred in Britain.

Crossword Editor

Usually shortened to editor, the person responsible for selecting crossword puzzles and preparing them for publication in a newspaper, periodical, puzzle book etc.

Although a crossword editor may also be a crossword constructor, the two functions are distinct.

Crossword Inker

A fictitious occupation, sometimes shortened to inker, created by animator Michael A. Charles in his hilarious parody of the crossword construction world, Garson Hampfield, Crossword Inker.

(Well, ok... maybe this one isn't strictly speaking a 'crossword help' topic. But you've got to admit, it's pretty darn funny don't you think?)


Highly obscure crossword answers that tend to appear frequently in crossword puzzles because of their handy letter patterns (such as vowel-consonant-vowel-vowel). Some common favorites familiar to regular crossword solvers include ETUI (a small sewing case), ANOA (an Indonesian wild ox), and YSER (a Belgian river).

Whereas Scrabble players delight in such esoterica, they are frowned upon, or at best tolerated, in the world of modern crossword construction, and so the term crosswordese usually has slightly negative connotations.


A crossword enthusiast. Although it is a rather arcane word, serious crossword solvers are usually familiar with it.

Cryptic Crossword

A type of crossword puzzle, much more popular in Britain than in the United States, that relies extensively on word play (such as the use of anagrams, embedded words, homophones, and so forth) for its solution.

Although standard crossword puzzle clues also make use of word play quite often, cryptic clues require much more serious detective work. In a cryptic crossword, for example, the clue [GSEG] might have the answer SCRAMBLED EGGS.

Diagramless Crossword

A crossword puzzle in which all of the squares in the grid are white, and the solver must use the clues to deduce the locations of the black squares.

"...It's like parachuting into the desert without a compass and finding your way home, all at your kitchen table."Dean Olsher


See crossword editor.


A common term for any answer to a clue entered in a crossword grid.


The entries making up the solution to a theme crossword other than the theme entries themselves. These entries are often thought of as 'incidental', being there to support a puzzle's theme. Despite their incidental nature, a good constructor will try to make the fill as original and lively as possible.

Regular crossword solvers will often use phrases such as 'clean fill' (good) or a 'clunky fill' (bad) to describe the quality of a crossword puzzle.

Fill in the Blank

A variety of crossword clue in which the required entry is represented by a blank space (usually indicated by a solid line) in a phrase or expression. For example, [ "___ Christmas!"] might be used to clue the entry MERRY.

Fill in the blank clues are generally easier to solve than other clue styles, and often a good starting point in solving a crossword puzzle.


The arrangement of black and white squares making up a crossword puzzle.


See crossword inker.


To convert a crossword puzzle into the Across Lite format, so it can be solved on a computer, as in "Today's crossword hasn't been Litzed yet".


A fill in the blank style crossword clue in which the missing letters form part of a phrase, rather than the entire phrase. The clue [What ___ here?], for example, might have the answer HAVE WE.

Because partials do not usually make sense by themselves (if they did they wouldn't be clued as partials!) they are not considered to be particularly elegant and their use is usually limited to necessity.


Describes a clue that makes use of wordplay and is usually intended to raise a chuckle (or, for some, a groan). The answer ROLLER COASTER, for example, might have the punny clue [It has its ups and downs].


A crossword puzzle in which some of the squares are to be populated with a symbol or picture representing more than one letter. The symbol '@', for example, could be used to represent the word AT so that the nine-letter word STATISTIC would appear as the eight-letter entry ST@ISTIC.


An entry that turns up very frequently in crossword puzzles. The reason for the frequency is that the vowel-consonant pattern of some words make them particularly 'grid-friendly'. Many repeaters are everyday words like AREA, while a smaller number are obscure words like ETUI. Obscure repeaters are often referred to as crosswordese.


Any sequence of squares in a crossword grid corresponding to an entry. In other words, an entry is the sequence of letters populating a slot.

This terminology is useful when you want to talk about the grid itself, rather than the letters that will eventually fill the grid.


A set of entries of the same length appearing as neighbouring (parallel) entries in a crossword grid.


Sometimes used to describe an American style crossword, to distinguish it from a British style cryptic crossword.


A crossword grid is said to have symmetry if the pattern of black and white squares remains unchanged when the grid is rotated through a certain angle.

Many crossword editors insist on some type of symmetry. The New York Times, for example, specifies that its crosswords must always have 180 degree symmetry, which means that the grid pattern remains unchanged when the crossword is turned upside down.

Syndicated Crossword

A crossword which appears in more than one publication. It is not uncommon for crossword puzzles to be syndicated to dozens of newspapers, with each newspaper paying the original crossword owner for the right to republish the puzzle. The New York Times crossword, for example, is syndicated to over 300 other publications!

Theme Crossword

A crossword in which several (usually longer) entries are related together in a way hinted at in the title of the crossword (although some harder themed crosswords don't have a title).

Although themes are sometimes transparent (such as 'Dog Breeds' or 'Colors'), such themes are nowadays considered to be dull and amateurish. Better themes are usually more clever and subtle, requiring an element of wordplay. An example is the use of 'letter drops', which means taking a letter or letter sequence, and removing it from all of the theme entries.

Merl Reagle, one of the most talented theme-developers in the game, gives the example theme title 'The First Commercial-Free Crossword' for a puzzle in which the word AD has been removed from all theme entries. I'm sure you can come up with others ;-)

For a very thorough and readable discussion about crossword themes you should check out Chapter 7 of Matt Gaffney's excellent The Complete Idiot's Guide to Crossword Puzzles and Word Games.

Theme Entry

In a theme crossword, the theme entries are the ones related together in a manner hinted at in the crossword's title. Usually the theme entries are the longest entries in the puzzle.

Themeless Crossword

Any crossword puzzle that doesn't have a theme (usually indicated by the absence of a title for the puzzle).


A commonly used abbreviation for unchecked square.

Unchecked Square

Any square in a crossword grid that is constrained by only one clue (either across or down, but not both).

Many crossword editors, particularly in America, do not allow unchecked squares, since they do not give the solver a second chance at a square if they can't solve one of the clues. This practice also reduces the likelihood of a crossword having more than one valid solution.

Unkeyed Square

An alternative term for unchecked square.

Word Count

The total number of entries in a crossword puzzle. This is important because many crossword editors specify rules about the word count.

Word Cross

The original name for the word puzzle that eventually became known as the Crossword.


An imprecise term referring to clues that require some kind of play on words for their solution, rather than a straightforward definition.

In American-style crossword puzzles a clue is often followed by a question mark to signify that wordplay is lurking. In British-style cryptic crosswords, no such indicator is necessary since every single clue would need to be so marked!

As an example of wordplay in action, Peter Gordon, a renowned American constructor, once created the brilliant clue [Bolt with no threads?] for the entry STREAK, making use of the synonyms 'bolt' for 'run' and 'threads' for 'clothes'.

No, it isn't a typo. I've included the single letter X just to remind you that cruciverbalists often use it to denote the word CROSS, most often in the word XWORDS. It's obvious once you've been told, but things like that can look a bit confusing when you're new.

I'm constantly adding crossword help entries to this index, so you might like to revisit this page from time to time.

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