Speed Tips

One of my goals in starting this blog was to keep a record of my solving times in order to track how my solving speed (hopefully) improves. I’ve seen plenty of places that have good advice on solving crosswords (like Amy Reynaldo’s book,
“How to Conquer The New York Times Crossword Puzzle”), but I haven’t seen anywhere that has advice specifically on improving one’s time. So I’m starting one, which I will add to over time, as I find good suggestions. If you have a tip you’d like to share, I’d love to hear it (Tyler, this means you :) – leave a comment, and I’ll periodically update the list.  Also, if you have any tips specific to online/Across Lite solving, those would be great too.

  • There are a number of techniques you can use to minimize the time it takes to orient your eyes when you switch between the grid and the clues.
  • Leave a finger on the clue you were last looking at. Note: may not work for non-paper solving.
  • Rex Parker advises reading groups of adjacent down clues all at once (by section) and keeping them in mind. Less bouncing between the grid and the clues. Doesn’t work for across clues, since adjacent across clues aren’t adjacent in the grid.
  • Try what Trip Payne calls the “zone approach” – reading all the clues for a given section of the puzzle at once (and only once).  Kind of a refinement on Rex’s advice.
  • Reduces rereading of clues
  • Lets you focus on the relations among the words of a particular section
  • Reduces jumping back and forth between grid and clues
  • Try to avoid looking at/answering clues where only one letter is missing in the grid. The payoff is too low.  If you have a four-letter entry at 1 across, “_L__”, and 1, 3, and 4 down only have the one letter missing, try to answer 1 across rather than answer three separate down clues.
  • In a given section, try to solve first the clues that give the most initial letters for words in the other direction.
  • Sometimes you can fill out a section by only solving the across clues or only the down clues, and it can be tempting to not even bother looking at the crossing clues if the answers look “real”.  But in a competition a single wrong letter can be costly.  Ellen Ripstein always reads every clue in a puzzle.
  • Some top solvers aver, avow, and attest that using letters with fewer strokes (i.e. the one-stroke lower-case ‘e’ rather than the four-stroke upper-case ‘E’) is the way to go.
  • The more uncommon the letter, the more help it is for crossers. If you enter QUIXOTE, work off the Q or the X before you work off the T or the E (JJF, 01-APR-08).
  • Fill-in-the-blank clues are often the easiest in the puzzle. Good for a toehold, if you need one(JJF, 01-APR-08).
  • Know a lot of stuff (JJF, 01-APR-08) and do lots of puzzles by a variety of constructors.
  • [your tip here]

4 responses to “Speed Tips

  1. Tip 1: The more uncommon the letter, the more help it is for crossers. If you enter QUIXOTE, work off the Q or the X before you work off the T or the E.

    Tip 2: Fill-in-the-blank clues are often the easiest in the puzzle. Good for a toehold, if you need one.

    Tip 3: Know a lot of stuff.

  2. Thanks JJF, you’re contributor #1!

  3. I don’t think any top solvers actually do the handwriting thing. It’s more natural to write the way you always write.

  4. I’m kind of dubious myself about that helping, but there was a recent Boston Globe article about Kiran Kedlaya where I thought I had read he did do this. Upon re-reading, it only strongly implies he does.

    It says he practices his “crossword alphabet” before the tournament and then in parentheses says “many puzzlers write in a combination of capital and lower case letters, based on which form of the letter is faster to write”.

    In any case, it didn’t help him beat you :) Any other top solvers want to weigh in on this?

    Btw, thanks for looking up my wrong letter on one of the tournament puzzles.

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