A Gentle Introduction To
Word Puzzles

On this page I've collected a bunch of the most popular types of word puzzles in one place. This should help you understand how the most widely published puzzles work, so you can decide what kind of puzzle suits you.

With each puzzle, I've given you some useful background and a good example to play with - that's really the only way to learn about word puzzles after all.

10 Minutes a Day
To a Big Vocabulary
The Secret To
Winning Scrabble
How To Memorize
Almost Anything
Make Your Own
iPhone Game
Find out why I reckon this program is the most powerful vocabulary builder on the market today.Learn how expert Scrabble players score 50 bonus points in virtually every game.Two time US Memory Champion reveals a technique anyone can use to recall just about anything.Learn how to make and sell your own iPhone game with no programming experience.

Along the way, I've also included lots of links to handy resources I've discovered over the years, including...
  • Great puzzle collections
  • Expert puzzle-solving tips
  • Indispensable puzzle makers and helpers

But I didn't want to limit this page to the all time classics, because I know that some of my Word-Buff regulars are seriously clever puzzle creators. So I've set up a little place where we can...

Publish & Solve Our Own Free Word Puzzles!

Over time, we'll build up a huge bank of high-quality, free word puzzles. And they're the best kinds of puzzles of all ;-)

But right now, it looks like you're still here. And I guess that means you want to know a bit more about the world's favorite word puzzles. So let's introduce them...

Acrostic Puzzles

At first glance, an acrostic puzzle looks a lot like a crossword. There's a grid of black and white squares, for example, and a bunch of clues that have to solved in order to fill it in with letters. Don't be fooled by appearances, though. The experience of solving an acrostic is completely different to that of a crossword.

Take a look at the example below as you read the discussion that follows it. If you like, click on the image to display a printed version of the acrostic to solve with pen and paper while you read...

Word Puzzle - Acrostic

As you can see in my example, the acrostic has three components. At the top is a grid of black and white squares, with rather intimidating looking indexes strewn throughout (don't worry - they're just handy labels). When the puzzle is solved, the letters in the grid will form a phrase (often a famous quote or saying).

Below the grid are two columns. The right hand column consists of very crossword-esque clues, and the left hand column contains the boxes into which you enter the answers to those clues. When all the answers have been completed correctly, the vertical column of shaded squares, consisting of the first letter of each answer (following a very long acrostic tradition!), will spell out a word, name, or phrase. We'll call this the answer key.

The magic of the acrostic-solving experience, lies in the ingenious way that all these components hang together. In particular...

  • The answer key (i.e. the sequence of shaded letters) relates intimately to the phrase in the grid. If the grid phrase is a famous quote, for example, the answer key will typically spell out the name of the person behind that quote.
  • Obviously the clues help you fill in the grid, but as you make headway into the puzzle, things can happen the other way around - certain combinations of letters in the grid (e.g. TH_) enable you to make a good guess at certain letters in the clue answers, which then helps you solve the clues.
  • Sometimes it happens that you can work out the answer key before the puzzle is finished. That can help you fill in the grid, which in turn can help you solve your unfinished clues.
So the Clues feed the Grid which feeds the Answers... and so on until finally you sort of spiral in on the full solution and get rewarded with that 'Aha!' moment ;-)

Crossword Puzzles

No surprises here - these word puzzles have made their way into just about every major newspaper in the English-speaking world (and beyond!).

So I'm not going to insult your intelligence by telling you what a crossword puzzle is. Instead, I'll just point you to Word-Buff's Crossword Puzzle Guide, where you can find out much more about them.

Cryptogram Puzzles

Cryptograms are word puzzles in which your primary task is to decode a block of cipher-text. You are faced with a sequence of characters that looks like gibberish. The characters can be letters, numbers, or any other symbols you like. The idea is that each character represents a letter of the alphabet, and when all the characters are replaced with their corresponding letters, the gibberish turns into something meaningful and (hopefully!) recognizable.

Here's an example of a cryptogram that has been embellished with a theme and an author of the encrypted phrase - just to spice things up a notch...

Topic - Realism

In this example, I've given you a toehold into the grid by telling you that the number 22 represents the letter T. The cryptograms you meet won't necessarily have hints, or themes for that matter (though the themeless cryptograms seem a bit dry and academic for me).

As you work your way through the puzzle you make educated guesses at the letters being represented by certain characters by focusing on key word patterns. I'll let you have a go at the one above to get a feel for what I mean by 'key word patterns' here.

Jumble Word Puzzles

At its simplest, jumble word puzzles are about anagrams. In case you've forgotten, an anagram is just a sequence of letters that you have to unscramble to form a word or phrase. But an anagram - even a really tricky one - is hardly inspiring enough to warrant a place on this prestigious word puzzles list, right? That would be like a crossword puzzle with just one clue.

As with most word puzzles, a good word jumble should have several mini puzzles, tied together with a theme - preferably something curious or chuckle-worthy. And that is exactly the kind of jumble puzzle that became famous in newspapers around the world in the 1950s.

Like this one - let me explain how it works...

On the left had side of the puzzle you can see four horizontal rows of squares. These are basic anagram puzzles. See how some of the squares have circles inscribed?

These letters form the basis of a fifth anagram puzzle represented by the row of squares with circles inscribed at the very bottom of the puzzle.

Now the anagram at the bottom of the word jumble - technically, the solution to the puzzle - is often a phrase, and obviously requires a clue. Where is it?

In this example, the clue is the cartoon. The answer to the final anagram should make the text of the cartoon make sense, and will usually be something funny. Well ... ok ... groan-worthy at least ;-)

To see what I mean, have a go at solving this puzzle. When you're done, you can check your answer by clicking on the image.

So you can see here how a good word jumble goes well beyond simple, unconnected anagrams. A theme, usually humorous, is provided, often in the form of a cartoon or riddle, and this theme ties all the small puzzles together into a meaningful whole. The result is that small-but-satisfying 'Aha!' moment that signifies the puzzle maker has done a good job.

Wordsearch Puzzles

Word Searches are perhaps the simplest of the classic word puzzles. Not that they are necessarily easy to solve mind you. A tricky one can take hours! But the idea is ridiculously simple...

You are presented with a list of words and a grid filled with a random-looking arrangement of letters. Your job is to find each word in the grid such that the letters in the word form a straight line-segment (horizontal, vertical, diagonal, forwards, or backwards). Here's an example of a wordsearch puzzle I created for spelling bee practice. To get you started, I've highlighted the word PRIVILEGE, so this one no longer appears in the list of unsolved words.

NOTE - The example word search puzzle below is not printable. Even better! You can solve it online right here using your mouse and keyboard. It's all pretty intuitive, but if it doesn't seem to be behaving for you, just click Help.

Go on. See how long it takes you...


You must use a Java enabled browser to solve this puzzle.

As you might gather from this example, wordsearch puzzles are particularly good for reinforcing spelling. The reason for this is that you have to scrutinize each letter and its successor in the grid, rather than just glancing at letter sequences as we do when we read. You are forced to notice explicitly that COMMITMENT has two Ms rather than one, because if you search for that word spelled with one M you simply won't find it. You'll be forced to go back to your list, re-examine the word, and consciously register the double-M.

The use of themes, rather than ad hoc word lists, can also be used to improve vocabulary and general knowledge. If the theme is 'Christmas', for example, the solver may come across a new word, like YULETIDE, and remember forever after that this word is closely connected with Christmas. It's not as good as a definition, but it's certainly better than having no idea at all, right?

Want to Publish Your Own Word Puzzles?

Maybe Word-Buff can help. You see, I want to help innovative word puzzle creators find an audience. And I also want to help my puzzle-hungry visitors find high quality, free word puzzles. So...

I'm going to let you publish your word puzzles here for free and get tens of thousands of eyeballs on your work every month! As long as your puzzles are original, clearly explained, professional looking, and fun to solve, I'll publish them here for you.

Interested? Great! Let's do it...

Word Puzzles Other Visitors Have Published

Click below to see the word puzzles submitted by other Word-Buff visitors...

Word Permutation Puzzle (ERG) 
I created a word puzzle with nine words in three phrases that can be reassembled to create new and different phrases. The neat thing about these phrases …

A Niwuzzle is a nine-letter word puzzle. Each of the nine individual puzzles contains a nine-letter word. They can start with any letter, but subsequent …

The word Erg means 'work', according to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary . This poetry puzzle is designed to spur motivation, encouragement …

Alphabet Puzzle 
Using each of the letters of the alphabet, replace each blank with a letter to make a word. The words have no logical connection with each other. Remember …

Click here to write your own.

10 Minutes a Day
To a Big Vocabulary
The Secret To
Winning Scrabble
How To Memorize
Almost Anything
Make Your Own
iPhone Game
Find out why I reckon this program is the most powerful vocabulary builder on the market today.Learn how expert Scrabble players score 50 bonus points in virtually every game.Two time US Memory Champion reveals a technique anyone can use to recall just about anything.Learn how to make and sell your own iPhone game with no programming experience.

Return to Word Games Home from Classic Word Puzzles

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