Solving puzzles is great exercise for your brain. Creating your own puzzles can be even more challenging and rewarding.
Puzzle-making is also a great homeschool activity for both the teacher and the student. The level of difficulty can be adjusted to fit your homeschooling needs.
You can make a simple puzzle with few crossing words or a more complicated puzzle with a set pattern and words crossing many times.
Using a spreadsheet and word processor, you can make puzzles using your computer and print them out or share them online.
* STEP 1 *
Decide what kind of puzzle you want to create.
Making a simple puzzle is a good way to get started.
It can be free-form and the words can be any length that will fit into your grid.
It looks better if you try to balance the positions, lengths, and number of words.
Following are directions for a more complicated crossword puzzle, but the basics are the same for simple puzzles, too.
* STEP 2 *
Open your spreadsheet program and highlight the cells you want to use for your puzzle grid.
I chose 13 cells by 13 cells because that's the size used in a puzzle book I have.
It gives me enough room for longer words, but doesn't use an overwhelming total number of words.
* STEP 3 *
Format your row height.
In this case, I set my height at 25.
This makes fairly large boxes yet leaves room for clues on the same page.
Leave the cells highlighted for the next step.
* STEP 4 *
Format your column width.
In this case, I set my width to 4 to make the boxes nearly square.
Continue leaving the cells highlighted.
* STEP 5 *
Format all cell borders to show.
Leave all the cells highlighted for the next step.
* STEP 6 *
Make a thick border around the entire grid.
* STEP 7 *
This is what your puzzle grid should look like:
* STEP 8 *
Choose a design for your puzzle grid.
You can look at crossword puzzles in books, newspapers, online, etc, for pattern ideas.
Use the fill button (it looks like a bucket pouring paint) to fill in the black boxes to make your pattern.
* STEP 9 *
If you are making a themed puzzle, making a list of your theme words and how many letters they contain will help you choose or make a design that your words will fit into.
For example, if you have theme words which have 8 letters, choose a design with some 8-letter spaces.
You can also count how many words you have with each number of letters to help you choose a design that will allow as many of them as possible.
* STEP 10 *
When you have decided on a design, copy and paste another copy next to the original so you have them side-by-side on your spreadsheet.
(You may need to set the column width for the new copy, too.)
This will allow you to see your box numbers and words at the same time as you work.
(Don't worry about the spacing for now; you can cut and paste to adjust it later.)
* STEP 11 *
Highlight the left puzzle grid and select the settings for text to be at the upper left position.
Choose a small font size.
In this case, I used Calibri in size 8.
This will be for your numbers.
* STEP 12 *
Insert your puzzle numbers making sure to add a number wherever a word begins either across or down.
If you used an existing puzzle for your design, you can copy where the numbers are placed from the original puzzle.
* STEP 13 *
Highlight the right puzzle grid and select the settings for the text to be centered.
Set the font and size. In this case, I used Calibri in size 20.
This grid is for your words, which will be the answer key.
* STEP 14 *
Continuing to work with the grid on the right, start filling blanks with your theme words, starting with the longest words.
It is easiest to set your caps lock to make all the letters capitals.
Place words where it will be possible to make other words connect.
For example, you probably don't want to place a word where another word would have to end in a "q" unless you plan to include a word like Iraq in your puzzle.
* STEP 15 *
You may not be able to fit all of your desired theme words into the puzzle, but you may be able to change some words to fit better by adding letters (like an "s").
You may have to delete some words completely and sub other words that fit your theme.
* STEP 16 *
After you have filled in your long theme words, find other long words to fill in the other large blanks.
Then add your shorter theme words and other words that aren't part of your theme.
This process takes a lot of trial and error to find letters that work both across and down in every space.
You can use a dictionary or search engine online to look for possible words to fit.
If your answer is an abbreviation or more than 1 word, it's nice to say so in the clue.
* STEP 17 *
As you are filling your grid with words, think about clues for them.
These should be short, especially if you want them to fit on the same page as the puzzle.
Under the numbered grid (or on another sheet), list the numbers (with columns spaced evenly apart) and the ACROSS and DOWN headings.
If you have copied a design, the numbers should already be listed in the original puzzle.
If not, list the numbers carefully in the correct column.
Some numbers will have both across and down clues.
* STEP 18 *
You can set the clues font and size either before or after adding the clues.
Highlight the top row and set the font and size.
In this case, I used Calibri in size 11 for the ACROSS and DOWN headings.
I have 2 sets of number columns for each heading with 5 cell widths in each column.
(If you're adding the clues directly under the grid, leave an extra cell column on the far left.)
* STEP 19 *
The clues may need to be a smaller size than the headings to give the most room for them.
In this case, I used Calibri in size 10.
Highlight the entire clue section (except the headings) and select the desired font and size.
If your clues run into each other, you will need to make them shorter, use a smaller font size, or give them their own page separate from the puzzle grid.
* STEP 20 *
Once you have the clues made and formatted, copy them under each puzzle grid.
Set the margins as wide as possible and do a "Print Preview," then return to the edit view to see dotted lines showing where the pages will end.
Make sure your puzzle grids are centered between the dotted lines with the clues centered under them.
(You can use a separate page for each set of grid and clues if you want.)
* STEP 21 *
Highlight the left puzzle grid and clues, copy, and paste into a word processor.
Add a title, then adjust the margins to center the puzzle and make it fit on one page.
Save the completed puzzle in a word document file.
Remember the settings and use them to repeat the procedure with the other puzzle grid, which is your answer key.
You can share your puzzles however you like. You can print them out, send them through email, post them online, etc.
I used Excel and Word to make my puzzles, but other spreadsheet and word processors will work, too.
If you are making a simple puzzle that won't have black boxes between letter boxes, you can skip step 6 and put black borders around only your letter boxes after the puzzle is completed. But even simple puzzles are easier to read when there are black (or colored) boxes between the letter boxes.
If some of your clues add extra lines when copying to the word processor, go back to the spreadsheet and add extra spaces between the words that are having a problem. After pasting the new copy into the word document, remove the extra spaces.
Try out some of my puzzles at the "DARdreams Puzzles" link right there at the bottom of this page. Can you solve them without looking at the Answer Keys?
Caution! Making puzzles is addicting!