Solving DC's Faster

Why should it matter how quickly you complete a Double-Crostic?  Do you rush through a fine meal?  Buy the shortest version of a symphony?  Watch "Citizen Kane" on fast-forward?  Of course not.

D-Cs are among life's small but rewarding pleasures, and we should consider strolling leisurely between grid and clues, appreciating the well-selected word here and the clever clue there.

"Well, Mr. Six-to-Eight-Minutes!" some of you might be thinking.  "If that's the case, why do you rush to finish each puzzle so quickly?"

There are a couple of reasons for this bit of "Do as I say, not as I do."  First, as a professional D-C and crossword constructor for more than 20 years, I don't need to prove I can *solve* any puzzle. Speed is the only quantitative factor I can go I go for it.  

Also, while I don't find puzzles a guilty pleasure, some other aspects of my life (wife, children, career--the usual) deserve more of my time.  So the quicker I can finish a puzzle, the quicker I can get to more important things....or play another game of solitaire;-)

Perhaps that's your motivation, too.  In any case, here are some techniques that may help trim a few minutes off your time:

1.  First fill in all the list words you know for sure.  Don't fill in a few, then see if any words are shaping up in the grid. And I say "for sure," because guessing at a word may foul up your grid and lead you to make mistakes there--which of course will lead to more problems in the rest of the list words.  Sue's system of instantaneously entering list and grid letters is great.  Its only drawback is that you can't enter letters for words you're not sure of in a lighter or smaller print than others.

2.  Entering new letters in the grid, type through existing letters, even if your new ones are 4-5 spaces apart.  This is faster than moving the cursor to the blank spots.

3.  Think like a constructor.  When I construct, I often try to get rid of surplus S's or K's or whatever in one word.  So look for words that have repeated letters (ASSESSOR, BOOKKEEPER, CHUKKER, PEPPERPOT, etc.)

4.  Play the odds.  If you're stuck, guess that T - - will be THE, and A - - will be AND.  In longer words, a terminal G is almost always preceded by an N.   - - G - T will probably end in GHT.  A pronoun beginning a sentence will probably be followed by a verb:  THEY  - - -  is likely to be THEY ARE, THEY HAD or THEY DID.

5.  Use references.  Do you feel this is kind of cheating, like looking at the answers in the back of the book? Would you rather leave a puzzle (gulp!) unfinished rather than go to a dictionary? Or do you feel that all's fair in love, war and puzzles, and that if God didn't want us to use references he would've had Noah Webster become a blacksmith?

If you're in the second group, I'm with you. References were made to be referred to, and in doing so you might learn some things. One of these things is how to use reference works--a valuable skill that can help in other areas of your life. The other things are unpredictable, as your eye might come across an interesting word that could lead your mind onto new paths. (Don't let it if you're solving against the clock.)

Hey, we constructors use reference works when we make up the puzzles, so why shouldn't solvers have the same advantage?

6.  Use the acrostic feature.  See how the author's name and the work are shaping up in the list words.  e.g., a name beginning J - H is probably John.

7.  When to quit.  There are just two principles:

            a.  Don't give up!  No rule says D-Cs must be completed in one sitting or within a certain time limit.  Your frustration is only temporary.  Take a break.  Take a walk.  Let your unconscious mind work.  You can leave a grid or a list for a while, then suddenly come back to it with the solution suddenly in mind.

            b.  Give up!  Maybe this particular puzzle is beyond your present abilities.  No harm; no foul.  Give it up and get on with life--or at least with another puzzle.  Don't take it too seriously; it's recreation, not work.  Some people claim they manage to lead productive, rewarding lives even if they don't finish every puzzle.

copyright by Barry Tunick, July 7 2002

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Page copyright by Sue Gleason July 7, 2002; Last modified: July 7, 2002