Lessons I’ve Learned Doing Crossword Puzzles

Michael Maupin
2 min readMay 10, 2016

I was never a huge fan of games or puzzles: card games, jigsaws, Sudoku — or crossword puzzles.

Of course we grew up with board games like Battleship, Monopoly, Life, Mousetrap — and those were some fun times — but you’d think as a word person I would’ve been all over crossword puzzles right from my mother’s knee.

Probably less than 10 years ago I started doing them as a way to kill time on the bus and train commute to the office.

I discovered that sweet dopamine rush you get when you’ve fully completed the puzzle.

And got there by making few if any mistakes.

So it occurred to me there’s perhaps more to it than that.

Here are some solid life lessons I’ve learned from doing crosswords:

1. Start anywhere

Most people will begin in the upper left corner, with clues 1 Across or 1 Down. All in order, proper form, by the book.

But the fact is you can start anywhere you want. There’s no Crossword Police to bust you for suddenly veering down a back alley.

The thing is Just. Start.

2. The beginning is always more difficult

Sort of a no-brainer, but if it seems harder at the beginning, that’s because your empty clues are not yet supported by completed clues.

Once you start getting some answers filled in, the load lightens. Answers become clearer.

So you gotta be patient. Stick with it. Don’t put the damn puzzle down.

Still, I’ve hit roadblocks and didn’t know how to get through them. I was totally stumped. The puzzle seemed to have defeated me.

That’s when I learned…

3. What to do when you’re stumped

Just go to another section of the puzzle. You can always come back to the hard bit later. And as more pieces of the puzzle get filled in, the correct answer starts to come to light.

But don’t be too quick on the draw, because crossword clues often have multiple meanings.

That’s why you should never…

4. Don’t assume you have the correct answer

I can’t tell you the number of times I went for the first answer and got it wrong. “You big damn dummy — try again!”

Could the correct meaning be found by being a bit more patient and coming back to it later? (See Number 3 above.)

Hey, if you’re not into crossword puzzles, I get it. I’m not a numbers person and Sudoku leaves me shaking my head.

But then I remember a time when I wasn’t a crossword fan…

And look where that got me.

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Michael Maupin

Writer, editor, and media maker. Blogs at Completely in the Dark (www.completelydark.com) and lives in Minneapolis, MN. I notice things.