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Notes From a Mentor

The following notes are from Nancy Salomon, a puzzle constructor who dedicates a generous amount of her time assisting beginner constructors. If you would like to contact her, send an email message to nancesal AT

Notes from a Mentor

I MUCH prefer to review themes before a student does any grid work. Often I can improve a set of theme entries. I've found that students are much more open to suggestion if they don't have a finished puzzle that they have to scrap. And, unfortunately, sometimes I find fatal flaws in themes. It's a lot easier to tell a student that a concept isn't going to fly if there isn't a puzzle attached to the concept.

I only like to work on one puzzle at a time. That includes theme review. I ask students to send me one theme only. If I don't think it's marketable and I can't find any way to make it marketable, then we move on to the next.

For theme queries, please don't paste the query in from a word processor and please don't use tabs. My email program makes a hash of it. Just keep it simple. Remember to include entry lengths and, for any punny type of theme, the clues for the theme entries.

Once I find a theme that I think can be sold, I like to continue with the step-by-step approach. Usually I ask the student to send me a grid design with only the theme squares entered. Once the student has what looks like a workable grid to me, then it's on to the fill.

I find clue review a chore so I often try to duck out of that. I'll review theme clues of course and a few others, but often I rely on my canned cluing guidelines to relieve me of doing a full clue review. (The exception is partner puzzles where I always do a complete edit.)

When we do get around to grids, I prefer, in this order:

  • Crossword Compiler files (.ccw)
  • Across Lite files (.puz)
  • Grids typed inline in an email with the # sign used for black squares. No spaces please. I view my mail with a fixed font so your grid will line up for me even if it doesn't for you.

I have an eye problem which makes it difficult for me to work from hard copy. I do much better working from my screen. So I ask students not to send graphics files such as jpg or pdf files.

My procedures aren't cast in concrete.

Sometimes a student has a complete puzzle and we can start from there if I think the theme is marketable. If not, however, I won't review the fill. I have to budget my time somehow.

Sometimes a student has had quite a bit of experience and doesn't need the full treatment. In that case, I'll just try to help however I can.

Mentoring is free. I sometimes wind up partnering on a puzzle if I completely alter a theme concept or if the student needs me to do the complete grid design and fill. Usually though, the result of mentoring will be a solo puzzle for the student.

I have a canned set of Crossword Compiler set-up instructions. I'll be happy to send these to anyone who emails me, but there are two warnings. First, I'm on Version 7. I can't be sure all the settings are the same for Version 8. Second, you may want to handle your word lists differently from the way I do. Even if that's the case, the instructions should give you what you need to set up a template and set your default headers and settings so that your puzzle will print out properly for hard copy submissions.


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