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Crossword Club Specification Sheet


distributed by Three Across, a division of Penny Publications


Patti Varol, editor


The Crosswords Club seeks sophisticated, innovative, and lively 21x21 puzzles for its upscale membership. Members, who pay an annual fee of $39.95, are mailed six puzzles per month; there is also a Large-Print edition available.


Please review these guidelines carefully before submitting any puzzles. You may also wish to solve some Club puzzles before submitting work; please email me for samples.




The Crosswords Club publishes original, first-run crosswords. If you’ve published the puzzle elsewhere, do not send it to me. If your puzzle contains all or a significant portion of a previously published puzzle’s answers and clues – yours or someone else’s – do not send it to me. Please do not send your puzzle to another editor for consideration until I have made it clear I will not be using your puzzle.




Email submissions only, please, to Preferred format is Crossword Compiler (CCW). Puzzles may also be submitted in any format supported by CCW, which includes Crossdown and Across Lite (.puz or text). Instructions for formatting plain text files can be supplied upon request.


If you use CCW, under File/Crossword Information, please put your name in the Author field and your mailing address and SSN in the Description field (note that your SSN is only necessary if you’ve never published a puzzle in Crosswords Club before). Be sure the title/subtitle appears in the Title field.


Formatting that is helpful to me, but not essential: Under Clue Properties, please check the "right-aligned" box, but leave the "with period" box unchecked. ACROSS and DOWN should be in all-caps.


If you use any other file format, please include your vital information in your cover email.




Theme queries are strongly encouraged, and receive priority attention. Before constructing your puzzle, you may email me your proposed title/subtitle, theme entries and theme clues for review. Please use “theme query” in your subject line.


Response Time


My goal is to reply to all puzzle submissions and theme queries within two weeks; this is not always possible. I welcome gentle reminders if you’ve been waiting more than three weeks to hear back from me.




Puzzles should have at least six theme entries with a minimum of 84 theme squares.




All puzzles must have an appropriate title and subtitle, which should not use any keywords that are used in the theme answers. The title may or may not involve wordplay and should be a hint that gives the solver help to understand the puzzle’s gimmick. I discourage “title by example” titles; ideally, the title will not be just a leftover theme entry. The subtitle is often a continuation of wordplay in the title, but it may also be a theme example.


Theme Types


I’m looking for fresh, innovative puzzles that will challenge and entertain experienced solvers. Rebus gimmicks, unusual grid designs, lively wordplay and witty puns, as well as clever quips/riddles, are all encouraged. If your puzzle requires it, hidden or subtle theme elements may be shaded or circled as a help to the solver.


I do not use themes involving repetition of the same word or rhyming words, themes involving wordplay where the theme answers are not otherwise related, or wordplay that is not consistently carried out. I also do not use themes or theme answers that require specialized knowledge to understand or appreciate.


It’s best to avoid overused themes unless you give them a really spiffy new twist.


Timely themes (for holidays, particular times of the year, etc.) are welcome, but should be sent at least six months ahead of time. Please use “time sensitive” in your subject line so I know seasonal material is enclosed.






Maximum word count / black square count: 144 words / 80 black squares (but the fewer helper squares, the better).


Puzzle words must interlock throughout; grid patterns should be symmetrical. Rotational symmetry (where the grid looks the same upside down as it does right side up) is the norm. Asymmetrical grids and grids with right-left symmetry may be acceptable if the theme requires it.


Things to Avoid


Two-letter words are not allowed; three-letter words should be used sparingly.


Please avoid overly regional references, such as locally famous landmarks, subway name abbreviations, names of small towns, and brand names that are not nationally known.


I do not allow blatant drug or sexual references. Similarly, tasteless or graphic medical entries, including most diseases or causes of death, will not be used.


Awkward, obscure, and uncommon entries and word forms should be avoided. The majority of non-theme answers should be everyday words and phrases.


Keep partial phrases to a minimum. More than two or three in a puzzle may necessitate revision. Avoid clumsy, made-up, or strained phrases, complete or partial.


Difficulty Level


Crosswords Club puzzles range from medium to difficult. A puzzle should be made difficult by tricky clues and/or wide-open diagrams, never by obscure entry words or trivia-heavy clues.




Please include references for any answer whose source is not obvious, or an answer that is not easily verified with a standard reference source.


Your non-theme clues should require solvers to have general knowledge of contemporary culture (names in the news, television, books, pop music, sports, films, etc.), as well as general knowledge of traditional subjects (history, classical music and literature, etc.).


Clues should be timely, clever, amusing, and fresh; the best puzzles have picturesque clues that vary in style and length. Please avoid overusing one-word clues that are thesaurus synonyms or dictionary definitions.


Online databases are great resources for clue ideas, but please do not send a puzzle in which most clues have been copied from such sources.



Match the difficulty of your clues to the type of theme. Puzzles with straightforward themes should have easier clues; puzzles with cleverly hidden themes or wordplay should have harder clues.




Payment of $300 will be made in the month of publication. A complimentary copy of the issue in which your puzzle appears will be mailed to you separately.


Payment covers all rights in all media. 

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