5 crossword puzzle tips from puzzle master Will Shortz

5 crossword puzzle tips from puzzle master Will Shortz

Meet puzzlemaster Will Shortz May 4 at 6 p.m. in Yonkers

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Puzzle master and New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz at home in Pleasantville, April 21, 2016.(Photo: Tania Savayan/The Journal News)Buy Photo

New York Times crossword puzzle editor Will Shortz will screen the documentary “Word Play” and stay on hand to play a few interactive games with the audience, 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 4, at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, 2548 Central Park Ave, in Yonkers.

Tickets are $10 in advance online (https://tickets.lohud.com); $15 (cash-only) at the door.

RELATED: An evening with the puzzle master Will Shortz

Shortz is a radio personality and a filmmaker — he’s even cameoed on sitcoms from time to time — but his primary role is that of the first, and perhaps the only celebrity puzzlemaster. For decades, he has knitted brows for The New York Times and helped to grow that news outlet’s once-a-day crossword into a profitable product on its own.

And though they do appear online as well, Shortz said the crossword puzzle is helping to keep print newspapers afloat.

“The crossword is very profitable for The New York Timkes. It literally makes millions of dollars for the newspaper,” he said. “I think crossword puzzles are helping keep print alive. Yes, they are popular online, but there is a tactile pleasure in filling in squares on paper.”

Here are five secrets to doing The New York Times crossword puzzle, courtesy of its long-time editor, puzzlemaster Will Shortz:

1. One day at a time

These tips and tricks will get more complicated as you continue, which is also true of The New York Times crossword, Shortz said: “The crossword gets harder as the week goes on.”

Crossword neophytes should start on a Monday — the easiest day of the week — and take on a Sunday crossword only once you’ve mastered the dailies.

2. Play in pencil

“If you get stuck, don’t be afraid to guess,” Shortz said. “Don’t hesitate to erase. Play in pencil or an erasable pen.” Since the answers to crossword clues are often dependent on solving adjacent clues, take a guess — you might get one wrong but even a wrong answer can help solve clues nearby.

And, if you really get stuck, “I recommend putting the puzzle aside,” Shortz said. Put it down, give your brain a rest and come back to it later.

3. Begin with the blanks

Shortz suggests aspiring puzzle solvers “pick something you know for sure and build out from there,” which he said is also a solution for life, “if you’re tackling any problem.” But once you’ve exhausted all the obvious answers, try the fill-in-the-blank clues first.

For example, if the clue is “sport, _____ alai,” you know the answer will be “jai.” Shortz said that type of clue is often the easiest to solve.

4. Unusual letters are better

Look at the crossings, where one word meets another — if you see a letter J, that’s a clue to attempt to solve.

“The more unusual letters of the alphabet will be more helpful than the vowels,” Shortz said. “They’re more distinctive, more likely to jog your memory.”

5. Proper grammar is important

Every puzzle has a theme — “The long answers will be connected in some interesting way,” Shortz said — but the clues are also very precise. According to Shortz, “The clue and its answer must be in the same part of speech and are generally interchangeable.”

So, if the answer is a noun, the clue will be, too. For example, if the clue is “yellow,” the answer will not be “banana.” “That greatly narrows the possibility of answers,” Shortz said.

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Puzzle master and New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz talks crossword puzzles at home in Pleasantville, April 21, 2016. Video by Tania Savayan / The Journal News

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