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Why is a toast so moving? The speaker conveys a rich knowledge of the toastee, and we hear the care that went into selecting the words. Like a well-done toast, few other gifts are as personal and specific as a custom crossword puzzle.

Consider a custom crossword for a ...

      • Teacher, Mentor or Coach
      • Retirement Party
      • Engagement Proposal
      • Wedding / Rehearsal Dinner
      • Family Reunion
      • Corporate Retreat "Icebreaker"
      • Special Birthday
      • Special Anniversary

      photo of hand

      Seen on Facebook, 12/13/08: "Gina is wondering what in the world to get her parents for Christmas. They don't need a blooming thing!"

          • Michele at 9:21 pm wrote: "Make a DVD of Lara and all the cute stuff she did growing up. Or take them to do a family portrait if everyone is home for Christmas."
          • Beth, at 6:09pm wrote: "A crossword puzzle with their names in it! Or the names of the grandkids. Or the phrases from growing up that sitll make you laugh, and only you and your parents know what's so funny!"
          • Michele at 9:06 pm wrote: "Good one Beth! My dad is crazy for crosswords and cryptograms."

The modern crossword puzzle first appeared in 1913, and was a national craze by the 1920s. They are still a fixture of American culture. Most major newspapers carry at least one daily puzzle; they are enjoyed by people of all ages and backgrounds.

You may have seen articles advocating mental exercise.* Whether or not crosswords help the brain stay sharp, they are fun and educational.

Not So Simple

The crosswords you see in books and newspapers meet exacting standards for symmetry and composition. Those who solve crosswords regularly have an intuitive understanding of these rules, but may not realize all that goes into a puzzle’s construction.

Rules of Construction


* “Put Your Mind To It,” Washington Post, January 2, 2007
   “Power Up Your Brain,” Psychology Today, July/August 2002
   “As You Get Older, Your Brain Needs Exercise Too,” The Orgeonian, 10/17/2008

Your puzzle will meet American crossword standards. It will look just like the crossword in your local newspaper, except that it is customized for you. You tell me what you would like to convey; we will finalize the custom content together and I will build the puzzle to your specifications.

Your puzzle is an original work. You may use and reprint the puzzle as often as you like, provided that the puzzle is not modified or resold in any form.

What You Receive

    1. Up to 10 copies printed on acid-free archival paper
    2. An electronic file in pdf format (emailed) which you may use to print additional copies
    3. A file compatible with Across Lite, a free program that will let you solve the puzzle interactively on your computer.


Contact me if you would like me to consider donating a puzzle for a nonprofit fundraiser. I am glad to consider these requests if I have the time.

    • Daily Size. Many puzzles can be designed as 15x15 squares, the size in most daily newspapers. This is a good size for the recreational puzzle solver. From $295; higher with tricky content or for a very easy-to-solve puzzle; lower if you're well prepared with input.

    • Sunday Size. Puzzles that include long phrases, or many names, may need to be up to 21x21 squares, the size of a typical Sunday puzzle. A large puzzle takes much longer to create. $785+

Follow these steps to order your puzzle.

    1. Review the samples online and/or contact me for additional samples or ideas. It is important that you develop a vision for what you would like to convey.

    2. Contact me or complete a Questionnaire about the purpose and content of your puzzle, and the date it is needed (see below).

    3. Using your input, I will work with you to determine the best puzzle size as well as the cost and the time it will take. We will discuss the custom part of the puzzle. I won't agree to create the puzzle unless I know I can do it well, and up to this point you have made no commitments.

    4. Review, sign and return the Agreement, which outlines this process (see below); send payment.

    5. Test-solve your puzzle when it is ready, and indicate your approval.



Here are some common questions about Give a Crossword custom puzzles. If you don't see yours, please contact me.

Is my puzzle generated by a computer? Your puzzle is generated by a PERSON who uses software to help place words in the grid. The software reduces the time it takes and therefore the cost of the puzzle, but the soul of the puzzle is in the input you provide, and in the choices I make during its design.

Why can’t more personalized words be included? Unlike a Scrabble-style puzzle (also known as a "crisscross"), the crossword format produces a tightly meshed grid that limits the number of possible solutions. This is the magic of a crossword, since any clue can be solved by solving the clues of the crossing words. But it also makes complete customization effectively impossible.

The words I don’t specify, where do they come from? I place your content on a grid and build the puzzle around it. Where possible, I select words that are meaningful to your audience. I use words that are in the dictionary or in common language, and I design the puzzle so that these words are interesting and lively, and have clues that your solver(s) are likely to enjoy.

Will I get a chance to provide input? Yes. The questionnaire you complete when you order your puzzle is the first step in our partnership. You will approve the puzzle’s theme before the puzzle is built, and you will have the opportunity to preview your puzzle.

How is pricing determined? It takes many hours to craft a customized crossword puzzle. Pricing is based on the time it takes to create a puzzle of a certain size, level of difficulty and customization. A large puzzle takes much longer than a smaller one. Creating a puzzle that is easy to solve actually takes more time than creating a difficult puzzle.

How long does it take? The minimum time is two weeks; that depends on what else is in queue and how prepared you are with your input. Order as early as you can.

The 21x21 square puzzle below was created for two preschool teachers (one of them an avid puzzler) and the class parents. It contains the names of the children in the class, with clues that are unique for each child.


The custom content of this puzzle is shown in bold type (student names). Some sample clues, which used information provided by the parents:

    • “Three-year-old who wears his PJs under his clothes so he will always be ready for bedtime.”
    • “Three-year-old who is named after a poet who inspired the name of a famous musician”

In addition to the names of the students, I included words relevant to the audience, such as BEACH BALL, NEMO, SHREK, and T SHIRT. Also, because a teacher was a Virginia Tech fan, I clued MASCOT as “HokieBird, for one.”

And ...

If you have access to the New York Times puzzle archives, you can access my first NYT puzzle, which ran on 7/5/2005. You can also find me on Jim Horne's site, xwordinfo.com or search for "Beth Hinshaw" on Amazon to purchase books (published by the NY Times) that contain my puzzles.

Elizabeth Hinshaw (Beth Hinshaw) has been solving crosswords for as long as she can remember, and has been constructing them professionally since 2005. Her puzzles have appeared in the New York Times and in newspapers across the country that subscribe to the Times puzzle syndicate. She donates at least 5% of proceeds to nonprofit organizations.


An excellent crossword puzzle resource is Cruciverb.com. From there, you can view discussion forums about puzzles from around the country. If you enjoy solving crosswords and have not already discovered the Games page of The New York Times, check it out. For interesting statistics about the New York Times puzzles, visit xwordinfo.com.

Other Puzzle Sources (the competition)

I do great work (see Samples), but you may also want to look around. For a custom crossword puzzle, select an author who has been published in 1) the New York Times, 2) the Los Angeles Times, or 3) The New York Sun (no longer in print). There are other quality puzzle sources (and of course, excellent puzzle authors), but these venues are known for high standards.* Particularly if you are looking for other puzzle types (cryptic, cryptogram, word search), consider:

    • BrendanEmmettQuigley.com. Brendan is known for his current, lively puzzles; his site offers crossword puzzles and commentary.
    • Puzzability.com. A custom puzzle group formed by Mike Shenk, Amy Goldstein and Robert Leighton, three former editors of Games Magazine.
    • Inkwellxwords.com. Ben Tausig invites you to subscribe to a weekly puzzle targeted to younger enthusiasts. And he does custom puzzles.
    • Puzzazz.com. Roy Leban is a respected puzzle author and also offers custom puzzles. His site provides a free daily brain-teaser.
    • Tripleplaypuzzles.com. Puzzles by Trip Payne. Trip is a champion puzzle solver and well-known constructor.

A Note About Scrabble-style or "Crisscross" Puzzles

These puzzles look like a Scrabble board when you're done with a game - similar to a crossword, but not as "dense." They're a popular format for vocabulary puzzles such as the ones you may find in a grade school textbook. A crisscross can be an affordable alternative to a crossword. They are easy to make; you should not pay more for a custom crisscross than you would pay to buy the software you could use to create one yourself.

* The puzzle editors - Will Shortz, Rich Norris and Peter Gordon - are well respected

© 2008, Elizabeth Hinshaw and Associates. All Rights Reserved.