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Marking up the Page

I use a simple system of marking up the clues and certain cells that shows me what I want to pay attention to after I'm finished.  I mark the clues in two ways, and I mark the grid in two ways.  If you don't have your own system, you should consider this one and adapt it as you like.

If I find a clue whose answer makes no sense to me or provides a relationship that is new to me, I mark it with a slash from just left of the clue number down and to the left (which is why when I cut out the puzzle each day from the newspaper I leave a little extra room on the left and bottom edges).  Then I can look up those words right then and there just to learn the relationship better, although some of them I can't look up which means I want at least to verify in the next day's paper whether I got the answer right and then to look up anything else I can.

If I suspect an outright error, as opposed to a mere typo, I use the same slash mark but I write in a question mark through it and keep the puzzle forever or until I'm satisfied it's not a mistake.

In the grid, I mark an oversized X in a cell whose contents are a complete mystery to me -- where I just have no worthwhile guess at all.  I hate these.

If I'm pretty sure (as opposed to positive) about a letter, I go ahead and fill it in and then I put a big circle around it.  If there's a whole region I'm not sure about I just circle it without bothering to mark individual cells or clues.  I hate these more.

Then, of course, the next day when I can learn what the answers were I can spot the questionable cells instantly because of the X's and O's.

Often enough the next day I'll find myself looking up some word or other in those stated relationships, and it's this clean-up work that provides me with opportunities to learn at my leisure yet more facts.

Three more tips:

  • Write your letters in the lower right corner of numbered cells rather than in the center, for a few reasons.  One reason is that if you accidentally obscure the number in the upper left corner, it will take you longer to figure out the clue number for the answer in the perpendicular direction.

    If you find it helpful to pencil in two letters in a cell to remind yourself of two possible answers (I've never done this for some reason, but it seems like a good idea), you'll have more room to squeeze in that second letter later on.

    If you play the puzzles in pen and you need to scratch through a wrong letter, you'll have some extra space in which to squeeze the right one.

    I prefer to play crosswords using a black pen, only because it's easier to see.  But on the tougher puzzles, if I'm unsure of a long answer that I need to write in I switch to a pencil, and from that point on I never seem to switch back.

  • Do not bother to cross through clues that have been answered, for two reasons.  First, if you answered wrong then you can't re-read the clue as quickly, because you voluntarily scratched through it for some reason.  Second, it takes time to scratch through the clues, time you could be using to write in another answer.  You'll find it is of scant assistance to be able to spot at a glance which clues you've already answered and which you haven't.
  • Take the time to print legibly enough so you can read every letter you need to.  I've wasted precious seconds trying to figure out a partially filled-in answer only to discover that I'd confused a P for a D or an L for a C.   Also, if you use lower-case letters (which I find somewhat harder to scan, but that's just me), do not take the time to dot your "i's" and "j's" with cute little heart shapes.


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