By Ronda Simmons
Originally posted January 17, 2020
Like many people, I love crossword puzzles. Lately, I’ve been wondering if it would be possible to make a living as a cruciverbalist, a crossword puzzle maker, so I did some digging to find out.
The short answer is: No.
But, a person could make a little extra money on the side and have a whole lot of fun in the process. Here’s how to get started:
Know the Rules
Like everything else in the writing world, there are rules:
Use a standard grid size: 15×15, 17×17, 19×19, 21×21, or 23×23.
Your puzzle must have rotational symmetry, that is, whether you hold the puzzle right side up or upside down, the black spaces will be in the exact same pattern.
All characters must be used both horizontally and vertically.
No one or two-letter answers. Use three-letter solutions sparingly.
Isn’t the symmetry beautiful?
It’s all about the theme.
Creating a crossword puzzle is like writing a sonnet. There are rigid rules, but within the accepted framework, you can write anything you want. The best cruciverbalists start with a theme. Figure out your theme entries first, then fill your grid in with shorter words.
A reliable technique is to have matching pairs of theme answers that can be placed symmetrically in the grid to satisfy rule number 2 above. For example, if your theme was the NCW conference, matching answers could be HANNAH (6) and AGENTS (6), two six-letter words.
You can use http://www.crosswordhobbyist.com to create your own puzzles.
Once you’ve got the answers, now write the questions. The thing that makes a cruciverbalist stand out from the crowd is the humorous way that she or he writes the clues.
Be clever! For example, for the answer “Thanksgiving,” you could write the question “November holiday.” Or you could be smart and write something like “eating pumpkin pie after this meal is worth putting up with your weird cousin Micky.”
How do I sell my puzzle?
Lots of newspapers and magazines have crossword puzzles and are potential clients. The larger ones might have in-house crossword compilers, but they still buy puzzles from freelancers.
Let’s talk about money
The money you earn if your crossword is published depends upon the publication. For example, puzzles sold to The New York Times will make you more than other places for publication. A weekday puzzle for The New York Times will earn you $200, but the coveted Sunday puzzle is worth $1000.
The prices at other newspapers or magazines vary from $50 to $200 for 15×15 puzzles and from $150 to $300 for 21×21 puzzles. You can find submission instructions for American publications at http://www.cruciverb.com/ (look on the left for Publisher Specifications).
If you want to make money as a writer, sometimes you’ve got to think outside of the box. If you like crossword puzzles, try making one!