How to create Crossword Variations with Puzzle Maker Pro

This tutorials shows how to create Crossword Variations with Puzzle Maker Pro. It applies to:


Crossword Variations is our collection of all puzzles based on the crosswords format. There are many types of crossword variations:

  • Words placed in a grid or free format, that have to be guessed from given clues
  • Acrostic puzzles, which have additional hints and/or secret words
  • Cryptic puzzles where the clues are cryptic instead of straightforward

This tutorial provides an overview of all the options and features in the Crossword Variations module, that you can use to create unique puzzles that attract attention and stand out. (Or even boring, run-of-the-mill puzzles, if you desire).

There are additional tutorials for the specific puzzle types as well, that build on this main overview.

Crossword Variations Overview

When you select CrossWord Variations in the main menu, you'll see a window like this: (details may differ because Puzzle Maker Pro is updated continuously)

Crossword Variations Overview Numbered.png
  1. Select Puzzle Type "Crossword Variations", or select any of the crossword variations in the "Word Puzzles" menu
  2. There are many different options for Crossword Variations puzzles. You can click on each button to show additional settings
  3. The word list that is currently used
  4. A preview of the most recently generated puzzle
  5. Buttons to create (and save) a new puzzle, or generate a new preview with the current puzzle settings
  6. Switch between puzzle and solution preview. By default it's set to Preview Solution

Note: for all puzzle types, the shape and layout of the puzzle will be heavily influenced by your word list. A mix of very long and very short words will usually result in oddly shaped and irregular puzzles.


With Crossword Variations you can and have to use your own word lists. When you start this module the first time, a short word list is shown, to make it easier for you to play with the settings and get some fast results.

You can choose to provide a complete word list with clues (word descriptions) and other information, or to provide only a list of words without any other information, and use the integrated dictionary and editing system to add missing information.

Word Lists

A word list can be anything from just a list of words, to a list of words with word descriptions (used as clues) and other information. A full description and specification of the word list options can be found here: Word Lists for Crossword Variations

Word List Summary

  • Word : Clue - On each line, type a word and add the clue (description) separated by a colon ":". You can type multiple clues for each word, the generator will select a random clues for each puzzle
  • #title:title - you can add a title for the puzzle. This can appear in the puzzle book (depending on your settings) or in the puzzle image
  • #description:description
  • #secret:word:clue - use the tag "#secret" to specify the secret word for your puzzle

Word Settings

You can control how your word list is used to create puzzles on the "Settings" tab:

  1. Word List Control: Use the word list only once, reset the word list for each new puzzle, or reset the word list only after all words have been used. Each puzzle will use randomly chosen words from the word list, even with a word list of only 20 or 30 words, you can create almost unlimited puzzles.
Crossword Variations Word Settings.png
  1. Automatically remove characters / letters from your words. For example, you may want to remove all the spaces or hyphens from the words. For example, if the word list contains the word "word search", the puzzle would use "wordsearch". This setting is now available on the main Dictionary tab (to ensure consistency for all puzzles).
Puzzle Maker Pro - Letter Settings
  1. You can also set the minimum and maximum number of words for a puzzle. When there are less than the minimum number of words in your word list, no puzzle will be created. For some crossword variations this option may have a slightly different function (which is detailed in the corresponding tutorials).


You can use the integrated dictionary to speed up your puzzle creation, and inspire your creativity as well. This dictionary is mostly AI generated, for the English language. That means it can really speed up your workflow, but it's also best to always verify the results that are provided. You can enable this dictionary on the main "Dictionary" tab.

Additionally you can use your own word list / dictionary file and even add a custom word list to save all the changes you make.

Acrostic Options

There are two tabs in the puzzle settings that are used for some puzzles only:

  • Acrostic - These settings are used for acrostic puzzles only (e.g. not for the regular Criss Cross or Word Spiral puzzles)
  • Variation - This tab can contain custom settings for specific puzzles (e.g. Acrostic Grid). Otherwise a message "No Additional Settings for this puzzle type" is shown.

Acrostic tab

Crossword Variations Acrostic Options
  1. Choose between Secret Word or Alphabet hints. Acrostic puzzles require either a "Secret Word" or additional hints, which we call "Alphabet Hints". For most acrostic puzzle types it's not possible to use both options at the same time.
  2. The secret word or phrase will be shown at the bottom of the puzzle (2)
  3. You can specify which secret word to use by using the "#secret" tag in the word list, e.g. "#secret: orange : color". The other option is to randomly select a word from your word list to use as the secret word.
  4. Minimum Matching Letters: You can choose to add only words that have 2 or more letters in common with the secret word or phrase. By setting this to '1', only one matching letter is needed. This value influences the number of hints that can be shown in the puzzle. This option is only applied when you use a secret word.
  5. You can customise how many hints are shown for each letter. For example, if you set this to 3, the first letter of a secret word will only have 3 hints, the second letter will also have 3 hints (if possible). When you use Alphabet Hints, each letter (e.g. "A", "B" or "C") will only get 3 hints. This settings influences the difficulty of the puzzle.

Grid Settings

In Puzzle Maker Pro, puzzle images are generated with a consistent size, to make sure the puzzles can easily be used together in a puzzle book. In some cases this may seem counterintuitive.

Especially for crossword variations generated from your own word lists, which differently sized words, randomly generated puzzles, and optionally secret words or phrases that can have different lengths, it takes some steps to guarantee that the puzzles in your puzzle books will have consistent font sizes. Therefore we've added the "Fixed / Maximum Grid Settings". You can (and should) customise these settings to get the exact output you need. (And, honestly, it's best to just play with these settings and preview the puzzles to see what works best for your current project).

Crossword Variations - Criss Cross Grid 20x20
  1. Set the maximum grid size you need. If this is fixed, it will also determine the font size. Padding may occur, since crossword puzzles are created randomly and the exact size and shape depends on your word list
  2. Dynamic size - The grid size will be used as a maximum size, and empty rows and columns will be removed before printing the puzzle.
  3. Align the puzzle in the fixed grid. Especially with a fixed grid size, if the actual puzzle is smaller than the grid size, it can be aligned or centered horizontally or vertically.

The screenshot below shows a completely different grid size, used with the 'social media' image settings to add a title, description and watermark to the generated puzzle image:

Crossword Variations - Criss Cross Grid 10x25


The style options can be found on the Style 1 and Style 2 tabs. (The small size of the tabs is to accomodate users who work on a laptop).

Style 1 tab

The first Style tab includes the options for the main puzzle styling settings. In the screenshot you can see a custom font and blue'ish colors:

Crossword Variations - Style 1 tab

You can set the font, font color and other font settings, the cell colors, additional colors for accented cells (for example in Acrostic Column), and the lines between cells and the outer border lines.

Style 2 tab

The second style tab has the style settings for the puzzle numbers:

Crossword Variations - Style 2

Here you can choose between small word numbers in each cell, or separate word numbers as an additional square in the puzzle (as in the screenshot). You can also choose to use letters instead of numbers, and of course you can set the font and font color for the word numbers.

Clues Settings

AC - Clues tab
  1. You can choose to use the classic clue output, which will be printed only in the Instant Puzzle Books (PDF or Powerpoint) or the new 'In Image' output, which is shown in the screenshot.
  2. When you print the clues in the image, you can set the position and number of columns. Additionally you can set how much space the puzzle should take. The best value for this space allocation depends on the words you are using, it's best to play with this value, and the number of Clue Columns, and generate previews to see what looks best.
  3. Two additional Clue Style options are available: "Word Fill" - A list of words is added, instead of the hints. The goal is to find the right positions for the words. "Word Scramble" - Instead of the clues, a random scramble of the words will be shown
  4. For Acrostic puzzles, the Clue Headings are only used for "Word Fill", in which case the "Word Fill Title" can be set

Image and Output Options

In addition to 'clean' images that only contain the puzzles or solutions, you can also create images that have a title, description and watermark. These images can easily be used on social media, for advertising or as printables.

A full tutorial can be found here: (Social Media) Image Settings

Further Reading

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