Tuesday 13 July 2010

How To Put Words In A Crossword Grid

In earlier articles, our guest writer Chaturvasi has enlightened us on how to create a 15x15 cryptic crossword grid, and how to number the clue slots in the grid. In this article, he walks us through the crucial process of putting words into the grid. This will be of interest to aspiring setters as well as general readers.

Chaturvasi, also known as Rishi, has blogged for weeks on Fifteensquared and Big Dave's Crossword Blog and once on Times for The Times. He is a frequent commenter in international forums. He lives in Chennai and is a published crossword setter.

Having a 15x15 blocked grid on hand, let's see how we can populate it with words before going on to write clues and complete a crossword.

The grid is:


Where do we start?

It will not be prudent to do so at the four-letter slot at 15ac or 4dn, though some four-letter words may immediately occur to our minds, dirty as they could be. This is because when once we put down some words in the grid, the word-pattern takes a life of its own and we will have to find entries that fit certain configurations. It might become difficult to find candidates for the lengthier slots.

For instance, if we put some words in 1ac, 10ac and 12ac OR 5ac, 11ac and 13ac, then the first, third and fifth letters for the 15-letter slot at 1dn OR 8dn are in and we have to find a fit that has those letters in those positions. I don't say it is impossible; we may indeed find a candidate, if not a list of candidates from which we can choose one. But it is something that we can - and should - avoid.

It is wise, therefore, to fill in 1d and 8d first. These are lengthy slots and give us an opportunity to put phrases that will be interesting in the first place and also yield themselves to nice treatment when it comes to writing clues. Hmm... Let's put LAUGH OUT OF COURT at 1dn and RESISTING ARREST at 8dn. Even here we need to exercise some caution; if we put LAUGH OUT OF COURT at 8dn, some across words would end in U or O for which we need to find suitable candidates; instead, if we put it at 1d, these letters become the initial letters of words required and that would be easy. Thus:


At 8d, except for the I at 16ac, all other terminal letters are not likely to pose any problem.

Next, it would be prudent to find entries for 16ac and 18ac. Try BARRAMUNDI at the former and a phrase OUTER SPACE at the latter. Luckily, the U at 16ac is enclosed. The next logical step would be to fill 9d and 14d; for one thing, these are lengthier slots and had better be tackled first; for another, each of these already has two known letters. Go for FAST TRACK at 9d and LAMPSHADE at 14d. As we put down these entries, we must always have an eye on the consequences: at 13ac, ?T?????S is not a problem as it ends in S and we can choose from a long list of words when the crunch comes and the second letter T too is promising: with A,E,I,O,S,U as the initial letter, we should have no difficulty in finding something. Similarly, 26a ends amenably in D (many words should end in ED, whatever the other possibilities are) and the penultimate letter at 23a is H and we could perhaps find words ending in HE, HI or HY, not bothering immediately about any other possibility. So:


We now find that we have rather isolated, smaller crosswords at the corners which we can tackle one by one.

Let's go clockwise from top left. Here too, the longest first. Let's try LOOPHOLE. Look at 15ac. Since words starting with U may be somewhat limited especially when some other crossing is already in, let's pay our attention to it next. UNDO, which readily occurs to us, goes in. As the third letter of this is D, at 2d a word starting with O and ending with D should not be a problem. What word beginning with O and ending in D can we put in there? Let's OFFLOAD it, as it were. At 10ac, we will have U?F????. Let's not be UNFAZED by it! At 12ac, we now have H?O???. HOORAY, we've got it! At 4 dn, we have L?D?. Let's grab LODE. In grid-filling there comes a stage when we're left with a certain pattern for a word and thus it is that at 3dn we have H?Z?A?. Looking at the first three characters, HUZOOR comes to mind but then we have to tinker with the fill at 12ac. Let's look elsewhere. Some dictionary look-ups and we see Chambers has HUZZAS. With HOORAY at 12a, we have more shouts of joy and so we will go with it and be elated. Now the grid looks like this:


On to top right. At 13ac, one of the two longer slots in this area, let's put STETSONS, the word bobbing up with ST being a possible start and the useful plural form S at the end. At 7dn we have ????O?N. Without dragging on, we can enter DRAGOON. At 5ac, ???D?R should not be a problem. LEADER suggests itself. At 11a we have A???A?S - with the S ending, we can clear the ARREARS. Now, we are driven to the inevitable corner. Look at 6dn: E?R?T?M?. Here, we do have to resort to dictionary lookup. E?R..... suggests that a word beginning with EUR might be found. Chambers has EURYTHMY - which is actually an alternative spelling of 'eurhythmy' but having painted ourselves into a corner, let's go for it, taking care of the alternative/American spelling while writing the clue for the word later. At this stage, the presentation of the grid is:


Moving on to bottom right, let's first consider 29ac. Shall we look for a phrase? Let's exert ourselves to the utmost. Ah, BUST A GUT. At 25d, a four-letter word with U as the last letter should not be a problem. How about GURU, to whom we may pay our tribute. At 27ac, with U?????E, we may UTILISE the chance. At 21d, ????I?G should not be a problem at all with the -ing termination. We shall not be LETTING it go. At 22d, we find ???I?T, where a word ending in –INT or –IST should be possible. Ignoring these, we will go for SOVIET. Luckily, here we have not reached any impasse, for we have ?O?T?R and ?L?G at 20a where we may put down MORTAR and FLOG respectively without resort to any external aid.

The grid now emerges as:


Now we come to the last of the quadrants.

Here we look at 23ac C?????H?. Let's first tackle this so that we don't run into any problem later. No word leaps to our mind. The termination -HT is possible. With C as the initial letter, how about CATFIGHT? Cat? What about big cat? Ah, CHEETAHS. At 26ac a UN- beginning and a -ED ending is possible. In goes UNOWNED. At 17d, ?R?T?N?? does not seem to be insuperable. A CR- beginning is possible, the third letter will of course be a vowel... CRET????. CRETONNE, it shall be.


With the grid position as above, I invite you to suggest words for 28ac and 19dn.

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Shuchi said...

Thanks a lot for the very informative article. For me putting words into the grid has been like a "black box", as the IT people call it. It's great to have the process explained, that too in such an entertaining style.

My suggestions for the two open slots: TREMORS and TASSEL.

I won't be surprised to learn that when solving, setters first run through words that fit the slots and then look at the clues :)

pavalamani pragasam said...

For 19dn TREMORS fits like a T. For 28ac TESTED, TASTED & TASTES are also suitable.

Shuchi said...

Sherlock Holmes might have deduced a lot about setters from the words they filled into the grids.

After a recent shopping expedition I have been thinking that tassels on bags are in this season, so that was the first word to come to mind. Have you been cooking or checking students' exam papers, Mrs. PP? :)

What words would C'Vasi have put?

VJ said...

Nice article... Very interesting and informative.

My suggestions...



Richard said...

Hi, I congratulate both Chaturvasi and Shuchi (as publisher) on this masterly write-up. Wish it had come a few years earlier and I could have fulfilled my ambition of becoming a setter.



The third option of TREMORS is already suggested by pp. It can go with TUSKER.

Any prizes for the best entry?

VJ said...

There's an error in my previous post.

As my pick for down clue was TREMOLO, my pick for across clue would not fit.

For down clue, I pick TROVER

Col_Gopinath said...

I found a TIDIER 28A for a TOEHOLD in 19D

pavalamani pragasam said...

lol,Shuchi! You don't qualify to Sherlock Holmes job! I've not been correcting exam papers. And does taste get associated only with cooking? Why wouldn't you think of me as a connoisseur?(: Of course, I enjoy cooking and am a tolerably good cook!
Glad to see so many nice words!

Bala said...

How about trefoil and toluene?

Bhavan said...

I'd dig in a TROWEL for 28A and paint a TIEPOLO for 19D

Anonymous said...


Great article,Sir.

Venkatesh said...


Anonymous said...

My first response was TREMORS and TASSEL, but seeing these were taken, I put in my previous post, but missed on the crossing. Rectified to TIEDOWN and TENNER.