A cruciverbalist is someone who specializes in the construction of crossword puzzles, or the solving of crosswords and related word games. One of the most noted cruciverbalists in the world is Will Shortz, who has worked notably for the New York Times and National Public Radio in the capacity of an editor and "puzzle master." Cruciverbalists can be found creating and solving crosswords in a variety of settings, from public competitions to the editorial desks of small town newspapers.
The origins of the term "cruciverbalist" appear to lie in the 1980s, when the term first started to pop up on a regular basis, although it is difficult to trace the first appearance of this word, let alone who coined it. It is a backformation to Latin, including the Latin words for "cross" and "word" in an homage to the famous crossword, a type of word puzzle which involves filling in the squares of a grid with words which can be read vertically and horizontally.
In terms of someone who constructs crossword puzzles, a cruciverbalist establishes grids and creates clues to help people fill them in. Some newspapers retain their own crossword makers, while others may use syndicated crosswords, because constructing the puzzles requires a high degree of skill, and it can be expensive and time consuming. A cruciverbalist must have a wide vocabulary, the ability to generate appropriate clues, and the knowledge to gauge the difficulty of a puzzle, from easy to extremely challenging.
Cruciverbalists who like to solve puzzles may do so on a casual basis, working crosswords in the newspaper or in puzzle books, or they may actually use crosswords as the base for competition in crossword championships. Working crosswords can also sometimes be part of psychological therapy or education to expand vocabulary and play with words. Like other brain teasers, crosswords push the brain to work harder, and regularly doing such puzzles may be beneficial to cognitive function.
While a cruciverbalist specializes in crosswords, he or she may also dabble in related word games, including jumblers, anagrams, and so forth. A variety of puzzles can be used to build skills and expand vocabulary, while encouraging the brain to think flexibly and creatively. It is also not uncommon to see a cruciverbalist who is fond of board games which integrate word play and linguistic skills, and these games may be used to keep someone's skills sharp.