What is a Cruciverbalist?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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.

A cruciverbalist is someone who specializes in creating crossword puzzles.
A cruciverbalist is someone who specializes in creating crossword puzzles.

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.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@indemnifyme - I've often thought of taking up crossword puzzles to stave off dementia later in life. I've never really gotten around to it though.

However, my grandmother is an avid cruciverbalist and she's still sharp as a tack. A few years ago when those studies were released about exercising your brain she took them seriously and it really paid off.


If crossword puzzles are good for your brain cruciverbalists must have extremely healthy brains! I bet people who have this job never get dementia when they get older.

This sounds like a really cool job but I don't think I could do it. I have a pretty decent vocabulary but it's nowhere near crossword puzzle level!

I bet cruciverbalists spend a lot of time learning new trivia and working on their vocabulary. I think that would be kind of fun. At the very least they probably get to write off their newspaper subscriptions as a business expense!

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