The making of a Cryptic Word Search - part 1

Category: Cryptic blog

Part 1

A cryptic word search is a combination between a Cryptic Crossword and a Word Search puzzle.

Typically, a cryptic crossword is in a lattice style grid, with lots of individual black spaces separating the cross and down answers, unlike most US "normal" crosswords where words intersect more often. Clues for a cryptic crossword have two parts, a wordplay portion and a definition. When solved, the answers are entered into a grid as you would with an ordinary crossword, with intersecting letters providing a guide for if you're right or wrong.

Standard word search puzzles provide a filled-in grid of letters together with a list of words - usually all part of some theme - that you then circle. In many word searches, the letters that are not circled then spell out a "secret message".

Our cryptic word-searches combine these two concepts. Instead of providing a list of words, we provide a list of cryptic crossword style clues. When you solve the clue, you then search through the word grid looking for the answer, which may appear left to right, right to left, top to bottom, bottom to top or in any of the four diagonal directions. We also place a secret message in the grid, however unlike most word searches where you read the message left to right, top to bottom, ours may be inserted - otherwise.

Most cryptic word-searches are themed, and the title, presented as another cryptic clue, provides a hint to that theme.

Coming up with new and interesting themes can be a bit of a challenge. For the most part, we prefer not to repeat themes from book to book, so each new book needs 40 new themes. There's also the problem that a theme can be too restrictive, that it can make the answers too similar. For example, let's say the theme was "colors". We could get away with "ruby" as a gem (and a color), "ebony" as a magazine, "green" as a vegetable, but since our standard puzzles contain 30 different answers, we'd run out of decent definitions (and probably colors) far too soon.

Ideally, we come up with a list of 50+ answers for a theme. That allows us to go through them and find answers that lend themselves to wordplay, puns, double meanings and all the others tricks we use. 

In part 2, I'll discuss the tech we use with our puzzles, technology that allows us to develop the best clues and with the fewest repeated answers (and sometimes clues), unlike many of the cryptic crossword books currently in print.