Constructing => General Discussion => Topic started by: pahayden on September 27, 2010, 11:27:19 AM

Title: Questions on Construction from a Newbie
Post by: pahayden on September 27, 2010, 11:27:19 AM
Hi all

I have just started attempting construction, and it is much harder than I previously thought!  Congrats to those of you that can do this successfully. 

I have some questions, and I realize the answers will vary from individual to individual, but I'm interested in seeing the various responses and what the "norms" are.  My questions are as follow:

1.  Is the filling of the grid primarily manual, or do you use software to help you?

2.  Where do you get your non-theme fill words?  Do you "dream up" the answers as you go?  Use online word searches (i.e. sites that allow you to search for "P??ER?")?  Have software that does this for you?

3.  How long does it take you to fill a 15x15 grid?

4.  How often would you say you have to scrap a grid because it can't be filled?

5.  Any other advice or other sites to read for information?

Finally, I'm not sure if I missed a thread/forum like this already, so please forgive me if this question is redundant.  Further, if there are any websites that address these types of issues (I haven't found any yet), please let me know.
Title: Re: Questions on Construction from a Newbie
Post by: Mel Rosen on September 30, 2010, 04:53:53 PM
1 & 2. I filled grids completely manually for more than 20 years. Grid-filling software is useful because an autofill process will confirm that at least *one* successful fill is possible. That said, most people who successfully construct and sell puzzles believe they get more interesting results without autofill, merely relying on the huge word lists that come with the software...using the software only so that the office doesn't fill up with eraser crumbs. The PC software I use (Crossword Compiler for Windows -- CCWIN) offers the kind of wildcard search you describe. Furthermore, I own Merriam-Webster and Random House Unabridged dictionary software, both of which offer the same searches. CCWIN's word lists, having lots of proper names -- including pop culture references, are more extensive than the contents of published dictionaries.
3. It all depends. How challenging is the theme? How constrained is the grid? etc. Impossible to answer in a useful way.
4. I do occasionally scrap a grid. The usual reason, for me, is that I've seeded the theme answers in positions that don't allow a fill.
5. My best advice for newbie constructors not undertake too ambitious a project, whether it be thematic or wide-open grid constraints. Next, find a mentor who will examine and offer advice regarding your early constructions.

Good luck.
Title: Re: Questions on Construction from a Newbie
Post by: jorkel on October 01, 2010, 01:14:04 AM
1. Constructing manually is a good way to learn the mechanics of the fill, and some choose to remain manual constructors long-term;  One can also remain competitive as a manual constructor because good fill can be produced with reasonable effort as long as editors don't drop the word limits below the 78- and 72-word marks.  I personally started out as a manual constructor, but switched to machine-based fill as my puzzle concepts required more talent than I could muster with graph paper alone.

2. I own Crossword Compiler 7.1 professional, and there are unranked word lists that come with it that are not so helpful.  You can get a wordlist from this website if you are a Gold Member, but the entries are also unranked.  It's better to get a mentor who can at least supply you with a partially ranked word list.  (The best route to getting a mentor is to join the Cruciverb-L mail list and request one).  Other useful software include the Ginsberg Clue List which Matt has provided free of charge.  Wild card searches can be conducted there or here:  -- That's all the resources I need to construct these days.

3. If I were simply making a 40-letter theme within a 78-word grid, I'm guessing I could fill it 99+% of the time using software.  For a simple grid, mindless fill can be generated automatically in seconds, but I don't recommend that route;  Instead, one should select the entries thoughtfully from menus that the software generates for your wordlist.  (You also need to make sure that the puzzle isn't too loaded with duplicate entries, excess fill-in-the-blanks & partials and intersecting proper nouns.  This requires inspection as the filling process moves along).  Although fill can be done in under an hour, it may take 3 to 6 hours to produce fill that is lively and free of flaws.  If your word list is poorly ranked, it may take you significanly longer.

4.  Since I'm drawn to complicated grids that require a combination of machine fill and manual fill, I can sometimes get 80% through the fill before I find I have to discard it -- sometimes after 6 hours of attention.  So be it, I'll try again the next day.

5.  See item 2 above.  Everything you need is there.

-Joe K.

Title: Re: Questions on Construction from a Newbie
Post by: pahayden on October 01, 2010, 12:20:14 PM
Thank you both so much for taking the time to offer your advice.  There is some very valuable information in there.