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Chronicle of Higher Education Specification Sheet

Crossword Style Sheet

The Chronicle of Higher Education, published weekly, is the academic world's major source of news and information. The crossword will appear in The Chronicle's Review section except on rare occasions when the entire Review is devoted to a given topic, for a total of roughly 40 published puzzles per year. Author bylines will be included.

Puzzles submitted to The Chronicle should be themed 15x15 crosswords of the highest quality; 15x16 puzzles are also acceptable should the theme entry lengths require that size. The standard grid rules apply: Normal crossword symmetry, and no unchecked letters or two-letter words. Maximum word counts and block counts are given below.

Size        Words        Blocks

15x15        78            38
15x16        81            42

The word count limit may be exceeded if a theme is ambitious enough to warrant it. The block limit is more flexible, especially if theme entry lengths force a specific placement of black squares.

Avoid grids that can be divided in two by blackening either two symmetrical squares or the center square.

Payment of $150 will be made on publication. Constructor must sign and return a contract stating that the work is original and has never been published elsewhere, either in print or electronically. The Chronicle has all rights, including first rights.


The theme should have a minimum of three answers, which should be the longest entries in the puzzle. (If the theme entries are all Across entries, longer unthemed Down entries are allowable.) Themes should be original, interesting, and internally consistent. Constructors are encouraged to run themes by Jeffrey Harris before beginning construction.

Because The Chronicle's readership is centered in academe, themes that relate to topics such as literature, the arts, science, history, philosophy, and (of course) education are strongly encouraged. Themes based on wordplay are also acceptable. Quotation puzzles will be published sparingly, so send them sparingly, and stick to genuinely amusing or profound quotes that relate to the above-mentioned topics. Gimmick themes such as rebuses may occasionally be accepted, but it's safest to ask ahead.

The following themes are always unwelcome: themes based on celebrity names, movie and TV shows, brand names, and other pop-culture topics (unless there is a strong academic tie-in); themes involving repeated words; and themes whose answers are all merely disparate facts relating to a particular topic, person, or event (e.g., LOG CABIN/RAIL-SPLITTER/ABRAHAM LINCOLN/STOVEPIPE HAT/CIVIL WAR). Your puzzle should include a title. Try to pick one that cleverly hints at the theme without completely giving it away. Avoid reusing words from the theme entries in your title.

Grid entries
Desirable fill entries include lively words and phrases with unusual letters and letter patterns (KARAOKE, BANZAI, ON THE QT), and entries that relate to the scholarly topics mentioned above. Entries that reference pop culture (JAY-Z, SPIDER-MAN, BIG MAC) should be minimized, though it's okay to have a few.

The following types of entries should be avoided when possible (and it often is):

    Obscure names and terms, including crosswordese.
    Unfamiliar variant spellings.
    Uncommon abbreviations, prefixes, and suffixes.
    Words that are vulgar or offensive, or refer to unsavory topics.
    Contrived uses of prefixes and suffixes, such as VALORS, ELATER, UNBAKE, RETALKED, and SHIRTLIKE.
    Foreign words that the average English speaker has no reason to know.
Acceptable foreign entries include common pronouns, low numbers, greetings and farewells, words commonly seen on restaurant menus, and words used in famous quotes and titles.

Partial phrases such as IF I and IN THE should be kept to a minimum, with no more than two per puzzle. Multiword partials longer than five letters are unacceptable.

Avoid repeating forms of words in your grid. If you use SNOWMAN in your puzzle, other entries containing forms of SNOW and MAN are off-limits. Short common words such as OF, AND, or THE can be repeated if both are parts of larger entries (for example, PIECE OF CAKE and UNHEARD-OF).

In addition, avoid phrases like GREEN PAINT, SIX HOURS, and I'M SLEEPY that, while common and sensical, are arbitrary in their construction. If you can replace a word of the phrase with more or less any synonym or word in the same category (YELLOW PAINT, SIX MINUTES, I'M EXHAUSTED) to get a phrase of "equal standing," that's a pretty big RED FLAG. (A fine entry, because ORANGE FLAG and RED BANNER are clearly lesser phrases.)

N.B.: Other editors may be more open about entries in the abovementioned categories than I am; the fact that an entry has appeared in a crossword elsewhere is by no means a guarantee that I will accept it.


The difficulty of the clues should roughly match that of a Wednesday or Thursday puzzle in The New York Times. Use a good mix of clue styles: straight definitions, humorous definitions, deceptive phrasings, and interesting trivia. Single-word definitions should be used sparingly. When possible, bend clues toward intellectual subjects; so, for instance, clue MONROE as the president or the college, not Marilyn.

The layout of the puzzle is designed to accommodate slightly longer clues than the average venue. That's not to say you're required to write longer clues, and it's certainly not an invitation to make every clue paragraph-length. Rather, the extra room is meant to help you bend certain clues toward desired subjects, and to let you include interesting facts that might normally get sacrificed for lack of space. In short, you should clue most entries as you ordinarily would; but when you have an intriguing entry like ROUSSEAU, don't feel you have to limit yourself to "French philosopher" due to space constraints. Dig a little deeper into Rousseau's life and see what you can come up with. Remember to cite your source if the information you find may be difficult to verify.

Avoid writing clues that refer to other clues, like "1-Down, for one" to link the entry COLOR to BLUE. There's no compelling reason to link these entries, and piecing clue fragments together is more tiresome than fun for solvers. You may, however, use linked clues when cluing theme entries, or when two entries form a two-word phrase such as RUN AMOK. (You should only combine two entries this way when one of them is difficult to clue individually, like AMOK. With a pair like FLY and BALL, clue them separately.)

Try to avoid reusing entry words in your clues, unless the words in question are very common.

Enclose names of books, films, plays, operas, and the like in double quotes. Use three underscores for a blank. If the answer is an abbreviation, try to signal it with another abbreviation in the clue, rather than an Abbr. tag. If a word's abbreviation is more commonly used than its full name (like VIP, UFO, and ASAP), no abbreviation in the clue is necessary.


Puzzles should be submitted by e-mail to Jeffrey Harris at I'll get back to you as quickly as I can; if you haven't heard from me in two weeks, give me a nudge via e-mail. I strongly encourage running the puzzle's theme by me before beginning construction. Supply only the title, the theme entries, and their clues, without additional explanation. (If a theme can't be understood without additional explanation, that's a problem!) If a puzzle is meant to appear on a specific date, however, you should mention it; and be sure to give me at least three months lead time.

Once your theme has been accepted, please send me a filled, unclued grid. I will also accept clued grids, of course, but I may make and/or request grid changes, and I don't want you to do more cluing work than necessary!

The preferred submission format is Crossword Compiler for Windows; Across Lite and CrossDown are also acceptable. If you don't have any of those, type or cut and paste the puzzle into the body of your e-mail: First the title, then your name, then the grid (using periods to signify black squares), and finally the clues. Use the format number (tab) clue (return) for clues; don't include the answers after the clues. (If you cite a source in a clue, use the format number (tab) clue (tab) source (return).)

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