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Crosswords are letter games (and thus a form of mind sport). Modern crosswords take the form of a square grid of black and white squares; the aim is to fill the white squares with letters, forming words reading across and down, by solving clues which yield the words. The black squares (commonly called 'blanks') have no letters, and are used to separate words (all contiguous blocks of white squares spell words). Squares in which words begin are numbered, left to right, top to bottom. The clues are then referred to by these numbers (ambiguities are resolved by the common practice of referring to clues by both number and direction - for example, "1 Across" or "17 Down"); at the end of the clue the total number of letters is given for the convenience of the solver. In almost all cases, the grid is rotationally symmetric.

(I'm not particularly happy with the above paragraph, I'm sure there are ways to explain it more clearly in words; however, I think the example below helps a lot)

A small example, to illustrate the format:

1 2.
3   4



1. Sheep sound (3)
3. Neither liquid nor gas (5)
5. Humour (3)


1. Road passenger transport (3)
2. Permit (5)
4. Shortened form of Dorothy (3)

The solution to this crossword is:



(to be added, when I've checked my facts)


  • evolved from "word squares"
  • diamond shapes
  • dates (find them out)
  • tradition of pseudonymous compilers
  • D-Day landings


A notation has evolved to allow crosswords to be rendered compactly, and enjoyed by the blind or partially sighted[?].

It consists of giving the locations of the black squares in each row as letters (A=1,B=2, etc.), eg for the example crossword above:

  1. D E
  2. B D E
  4. A B D
  5. A B

Although the numbering scheme could be consistently applied from this information, it is customary to quote the starting square of each clue in (number-letter) format to assist the solver.


Several variant types of crossword now exist, including:

  • Cryptic crosswords or cryptograms.
  • Puzzles with no black squares; instead, bold lines between squares indicate word boundaries.
  • Circular puzzles, with radial and tangential clues.

The game of Scrabble is based in part on the crossword concept.

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