How to Solve Acrostic Puzzles

For those new to acrostics, a little primer may be of value. Acrostic (or crostic, or double crostic, or anacrostic) puzzles are similar to crossword puzzles, yet distinctly different. The central premise is solving a number of individual clues that point the way to a quotation, along with its author and source. Acrostics are layered puzzles, bringing complexity and challenge in a satisfying combination.

Effectively, you are working to solve three distinct puzzles on each page: 1) the quote itself, arguably the puzzle constructor’s hidden gem and what the solver is most curious to discover; 2) the individual words and phrases for each clue that generate the letters populating (and thus solving) the quotation; and 3) the author and source of the quote, which are found in the first letters of each answer to each clue, hence the name “acrostic.” Each of these internal puzzles provides hints for the other parts of the whole.

Generally, you’ll first want to scan the individual clues (lettered A, B, etc.); the odds are you’ll know a couple of them. Pencil in those letters in the blank spaces. You may end up being wrong – that’s ok (hence the pencil). Once you’ve filled in a clue’s answer, you’ll then transcribe those letters into the matching numbered cells in the grid above, which will give you clues to the words in the quote itself. The process then becomes iterative, as you work back and forth from the grid to the remaining unanswered clues. You’ll start to see letter patterns that suggest words or common phrases in the grid above, which can then be tested in the unanswered clues below. As with crossword puzzles, seeing a letter or two within an unanswered clue can often reveal the answer.

Let’s try a small example:

In this example, clues A and E are probably the easiest, so let’s assume A is answered as a start. Those letters, s i z z l e, are then entered into the matching numbered grid above. Now you have additional information to assist in answering other clues and completing other cells within the grid.

The “zz” in the last word makes that fairly unique; constructors are loathe to repeat a clue answer with a word in the quote itself, so we won’t expect “sizzle” to be repeated. Other possible 7-letter words with zz in the 3-4 position? Not so many: buzzard; buzzcut; fizzled; dazzled; muzzled; puzzles. So, let’s try “puzzles” in the grid cells numbered 17-23 based on what we know (esp. if we also know the answer to clue E.).

Note that each of those grid cells contains a letter and a number; the letter shows where that particular number is found in the individual clues below, which allows you to “reverse transcribe” each of the newly placed grid letters into the clue answers below.  

At this point, you work back and forth between the grid and remaining clues until (hopefully) you’ve completed all of the clue answers and the quote in the grid. Again, don’t forget there are three puzzles and thus multiple clues along the way. Once you have several clues answered, don’t forget to look for the acrostic patterns in the first letter of each clue, which will reveal a name and source for the quote – the letters you have may reveal some other first letters for unanswered clues.

So, the final solution is that Steve said, “They love acrostic puzzles.” Ok – not the profound, humorous, or insightful quote constructors typically aim for, but you get the gist. There are some other nuances to solving these puzzles, but those you’ll learn in time. Good luck and enjoy!  

(Reprinted with permission; Inaugural Acrostics by Steven Blakely, 2019.)