How to Make a Crossword Puzzle

Puzzle for Slavery in the Roman Empire

I love crossword puzzles, the harder the better. It takes real talent to lay out a densely packed puzzle like those in the Sunday paper by hand, but anyone can make a crossword with fewer than forty words without using an online puzzle generator. Where’s the fun in that?

I know how easy and fun it is because I’ve been making them for each of the historical articles at my history-and-author site, Life in the Roman Empire: Historical Fact and Fiction by Carol Ashby .

I’ve developed a system that makes it a piece of cake to make a 35-word Latin puzzle in less than 3 hours, including look-up time with a dictionary to find the Latin words. In English, it might take less than two.

If I can do it, you can, too!

The only materials you need to make one are a pencil with an eraser and paper. You could use regular paper, but it’s much easier to use a couple of sheets of graph paper so the block grid is already made for you.

Here’s how I do it:

  1. Pick the words you want to include in the puzzle.
  2. On the graph paper, make a list (one word or phrase per line) of the words and definitions. I put the definitions first to make the next steps easier.
  3. Label the columns to the right of the words with the main consonants (v b g c l f h p d q r n s t for Latin. Add w and z for English).
  4. For each word, check the boxes for the consonants in that word.
  5. Select one of the longest phrases or words and write it down the middle of a separate sheet of graph paper. If it’s very long, start near the top. If it’s medium length, start near the middle. Leave a few lines above for any words that might go above the original word’s starting line.
  6. Using the grid that shows which words have which consonants, select the longer words that can cross the starting word and each other to make an open skeleton. Space them out to make room for other words to cross them. That leaves places for you to add the shorter words to this skeleton of across and down words.
  7. Fill in the spaces with the rest of the words. I try to add the longer ones first, but it depends somewhat on the exact words. Here’s where you might need the eraser to adjust where you placed some of the earlier words as you try to put in the last ones.
  8. Starting at the top and working left to right, number each box where a word begins.
  9. Write the number for each word to the left of the definition in the definition/word list you made at the beginning.
  10. Make a two-column list with one column listing the numbers for the words going across, the other column for words going down.
  11. Enter the definition for each word by the number in the two-column list.
  12. Make a new copy including the definition clues but with the letters removed. The original with the letters is your answer key.

You now have your crossword.

You can stop at this point, but if it’s a puzzle in a foreign language or with new words that your students are learning, you can add a list of possible words at the side or bottom of the page.

I include the Latin words that are in the puzzle plus a few more related to the topic. I place them on the paper such that a flap can be folded over to hide the words for people who want to try solving the puzzle without that extra help.

I hope you have fun making crosswords now!

Latin crosswords that you can work whether you know Latin or not

If you’re interested in ancient history or historical novels set in the Roman era, please check out Life in the Roman Empire: Historical Fact and Fiction by Carol Ashby