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Real Rules of the Puzzle
You can read my list of rules for New York Times crossword puzzles, or you can read the actual rules as mailed to me by the NYT crossword editor, Will Shortz. (I recommend that you do read my list of rules as well, because even though several of them do not appear below, they do appear to be rules that all crossword constructors follow.)
The list arrived in two pages, which I reproduce below verbatim.
THE BASIC RULES OF
The above rules apply to almost all crosswords in all publications. The attached style sheet lists some more special rules of The New York Times.
The New York Times looks for intelligent, literate, entertaining and well-crafted crosswords that appeal to the broad range of Times solvers.
Themes should be fresh, interesting, narrowly defined and consistently applied throughout the puzzle. If the theme includes a particular kind of pun, for example, then all the puns should be of that kind. Themes and theme entries should be accessible to everyone. (Themeless daily puzzles using wide-open patterns are also welcome.)
Constructions should emphasize lively words and names and fresh phrases. We especially encourage the use of phrases from everyday writing and speech, whether or not they're in the dictionary. For variety, try to include some of the lesser-used letters of the alphabet -- J, Q, X, Z, K, W, etc. Brand names are acceptable if they're well-known nationally and you use them in moderation.
The clues in an ideal puzzle provide a well-balanced test of vocabulary and knowledge, ranging from classical subjects like literature, art, classical music, mythology, history, geography, etc., to modern subjects like movies, TV, popular music, sports and names in the news. Clues should be precise, accurate, colorful and imaginative. Puns and humor are welcome.
Do not use partial phrases longer than five letters (ONE TO A, A STITCH IN, etc.), uninteresting obscurity (a Bulgarian village, a water bug genus, etc.) or uncommon abbreviations or foreign words. Keep crosswordese to a minimum. Difficult words are fine -- especially for the harder daily puzzles that get printed late in the week -- if the words are interesting bits of knowledge or useful additions to the vocabulary. However, never let two obscure words cross.
Maximum word counts: 78 words for a 15x15 (72 for an unthemed 15); 140 for a 21x21; 168 for a 23x23. Maximums may be exceeded slightly, at the editor's discretion, if the theme warrants.
Diagramless specifications are: 17x17 grid with twists and turns; a theme; about 74-90 words overall; and a fairly wide-open construction. Shaping the grid to relate to the theme is welcome.
Use regular typing paper (8½" x 11"). Type the clues double-spaced on
the left (no periods after the numbers), answer words in a corresponding column on the far
right. Give a source for any hard-to-verify word or information. Down clues
need not begin on a new page. Include a filled-in answer grid with numbers and
a blank grid with numbers (for the editor's use). Put your name, address and social
security number on the two grid pages, and just your name on all other pages. Send
$125 for a daily 15x15; $600 for a Sunday 21x21; $150 for a diagramless.
Update of January 2, 2006: The new NYT rates are $135 for a daily (up by $10) and $700 for a Sunday (up by $100). The daily's price went up 8% in six months, and the Sunday's went up more than twice that. Yay again for us players.
Update of June 3, 2007: Rates for NYT crosswords have risen again. Sunday puzzles have risen nearly 43% to $1,000, and dailies have risen just over 48% to $200.
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