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How do you play big money crossword puzzle?

Big money crossword puzzles are specialized crossword puzzles that offer large cash prizes to winners. They require skill, strategy, and knowledge over a broad range of topics to complete successfully. While regular crossword puzzles are fun mental exercises, big money crosswords take it to the next level with high stakes and big rewards. This comprehensive guide will teach you everything you need to know to tackle these challenges and boost your chances of winning big.

What Are Big Money Crossword Puzzles?

Big money crossword puzzles, also known as prize puzzles or tournament puzzles, are crosswords that offer sizable cash prizes, often upwards of $5,000-$10,000 for first place. They first emerged in the 1980s when media companies realized that the popularity of crossword puzzles could translate into big profits.

These puzzles are distinct from regular newspaper or magazine crosswords in several key ways:

  • High difficulty level – Big money crosswords have very challenging, unconventional designs meant to stump most solvers.
  • Specialized knowledge required – To complete them, solvers need to master trivia and fact recall across diverse topics.
  • Competitive format – Solvers typically compete against each other in timed contests to finish accurately first.
  • Large cash rewards – Top finishers can win thousands of dollars instead of just bragging rights.

Major media outlets like the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today sponsor prominent big money crosswords with lavish prize purses. Even some corporations and private sponsors offer big payouts for crossword contests.

Benefits of Big Money Crossword Puzzles

Beyond just the monetary incentives, big money crossword puzzles offer many advantages:

  • They test the depth and flexibility of your knowledge across many topics from pop culture to science to history. Mastering them requires strong general knowledge.
  • They build your mental stamina and endurance since these puzzles require intense concentration for long periods.
  • You gain valuable experience with specialized crossword techniques like stacked clues, rebuses, and acrostics.
  • They provide a fun, intellectual challenge and sense of accomplishment when you conquer a difficult puzzle.
  • You get to match wits against other skilled solvers in exciting contests.
  • They allow you to make new friends and connections with fellow crossword enthusiasts.

In summary, big money crosswords evaluate your overall knowledge and problem-solving abilities while giving you the chance to profit financially.

Types of Big Money Crossword Contests

If you want to try your hand at big money crossword events, there are a few major formats to know:

Single Puzzle Contests

These contests involve solving one very difficult puzzle either solo or in teams. Whoever finishes with 100% accuracy in the shortest time wins. These single puzzle formats include:

  • American Crossword Puzzle Tournament – The ACPT holds an annual individual solver contest with a $10,000+ prize for first place.
  • National Crossword Puzzle Championship – Sponsored by the New York Times, pairs compete to solve a puzzle first and share the prize up to $15,000.
  • Indie 500 – 500 individuals race to complete a puzzle with cash prizes at indie puzzle events like Lollapuzzoola.

Multi-Puzzle Tournaments

These extended tournaments feature multiple rounds with different puzzles. Advancing depends on cumulative scores:

  • BEQ Classroom – Solvers tackle 4 difficult puzzles per day over 5 days. Top cumulative scorers get $5,000+ prizes.
  • National Crossword League – Teams complete 5-7 puzzles per week over a season. The season winner gets $5,000-$10,000.
  • Crosswords LA Tournament – Solvers do 5 puzzles over 2 days. Cash prizes are given to top cumulative scorers.

Other Events

Some contests don’t fit the classic single or multi-day tournament models:

  • Pop-culture themed events – Often sponsored by TV networks, these feature puzzles with lots of pop culture trivia.
  • Puzzle hunts – Teams decipher puzzles and clues over days to win up to $10,000.
  • Online contests – Digital platforms like Zoom host big money crosswords with cash prizes.

Tips for Solving Big Money Crossword Puzzles

To boost your chances at big money crossword events, keep these proven strategies in mind:

Study Broad Knowledge Categories

Master trivia across a wide spectrum including:

  • Literature – Classic books, authors, characters
  • Science – Biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics
  • Geography – Countries, capitals, landmarks
  • Pop Culture – Music, movies, TV, celebrities
  • History – Events, people, dates
  • Language – Vocabulary, grammar, word origins

Review almanacs, watch documentaries, and read widely to build general knowledge.

Practice Daily

Sharpen skills by solving 1-2 regular crosswords every day. This trains you in deciphering clues efficiently and recalling obscure facts quickly.

Learn Advanced Solving Methods

Study techniques like:

  • Letter patterns – Look for prefixes, suffixes, letter combinations.
  • Reverses – Try clues backwards or anagrammed.
  • Word splits – Break a clue into multiple words.
  • Homophones – Consider different words that sound alike.

Use External Resources

Keep references like dictionaries, atlases, and search engines handy to lookup facts fast.

Stay Focused Under Pressure

Practice solving under timed conditions. Learn to concentrate deeply and block out distractions.

Develop Strategies for Guessing

When stumped, use letter patterns, word lengths, themes as clues to make educated guesses.

Review Errors

Analyze mistakes to identify weak knowledge areas. Target those topics for more study.

Compete Often

Enter both local and national tournaments frequently to test skills and gain experience against top solvers.

How to Find and Enter Big Money Crossword Contests

Use these tips to locate and sign up for exciting big money crossword competitions:

  • Check puzzle magazines like Games World of Puzzles for event ads.
  • Browse online puzzle sites like Puzzability for tournament announcements.
  • Search social media groups like “Crossword Puzzles” on Facebook for events.
  • Visit sites of big sponsors like the New York Times Crossword Contest.
  • Look for contests at crossword events like the ACPT or BEQ Classroom.
  • Find indie tournaments at local bars, libraries, or colleges.
  • Search sites like Eventbrite for crossword contests in your area.

Once you locate a competition, register early since these events fill up fast. Entry fees typically range from $30-$75 per event.

Consider signing up as an individual or grabbing friends to enter as a team. Attending with teammates allows you to strategize and share knowledge during the contests.

History of Big Money Crossword Puzzles

Crossword puzzles first emerged around 1913, but it took decades for high stakes cash prize contests to develop. Here is a brief timeline:

1920s – Crosswords surge in popularity after Simon & Schuster publishes first book of puzzles.

1938 – The New York Times begins running daily crossword puzzles, heightening public interest.

1940s – Competitive solving emerges as constructor Margaret Farrar organizes puzzle bees.

1970s – Will Weng becomes editor and increases NYT puzzle difficulty, attracting top solvers.

1980s – Media outlets realize crossword contests can increase readership and revenue. Big money puzzles are born.

1980 – First ACPT offers a $50 prize.

1983 – First National Crossword Puzzle Championship sponsored by NYT has a $1,000 prize.

1996 – ACPT raises purse to $1,000.

2006 – The ACPT prize jumps to $10,000, establishing crosswords as a lucrative competition.

2013 – The Indie 500 makes crosswords more accessible by lowering entry costs.

Present – Web tools expand the hobby as Zoom tournaments award thousands in prize money.

Famous Winners of Big Money Events

A few household names have emerged by mastering high-stakes crosswords:

Tyler Hinman – Won the ACPT 5 times from 2005-2010, earning $50k+ in prizes. Hinman was featured in the 2006 documentary Wordplay.

Daniel Feyer – Dominated from 2011-2017 with 6 more ACPT victories and $60k in earnings.

Howard Barkin – Won 4 championships at the National Crossword Puzzle Tournament in the 2000s.

Jon Delfin – Called the “Michael Jordan” of crosswords. Won 18 championships including the ACPT and Nationals.

Douglas Hoey – Won the first Nationals in 1983. Remains an elite solver with 10 more championships since.

Trip Payne – All-time leader with 127 crossword tournament victories and over $200k in winnings.

Laura Braunstein – Top female crossworder with 20+ wins including the 2001 ACPT. Appeared in Wordplay.

Ellen Ripstein – Leader among women with 13 championships, including 4 straight ACPT wins from 2001-2004.

Marcy Flom – 4-time ACPT champ from 1957-1960 when crosswords were just taking off.

David Plaut – 10-time ACPT winner from 1993-2004. Total career winnings exceed $100k.

Fun Facts About Competitive Crossword Puzzling

  • The documentary Wordplay (2006) chronicles the competitive crossword scene and features legendary solvers.
  • The annual ACPT lasts for 7 hours and 15 minutes – solvers compete that entire time!
  • Solvers consume over 40,000 calories during the 25 rounds of the BEQ Classroom tournament.
  • The youngest winner of the ACPT was just 19 while the oldest was 63.
  • The pens given to ACPT finalists are called “erasing swords” since solvers use them to furiously erase wrong answers.
  • Top solvers train their brains by memorizing word lists, atlases, and trivia cards.
  • Solvers have signature hats and shirts they wear as good luck charms.
  • The ACPT once had a round where answers were clipped shut inside clothespins that had to be pried open.
  • Puzzles are often sponsored by groups related to themes, like zoo or ballet organizations.
  • At events, solvers mingle and build camaraderie, despite the high-stakes competition.

Resources for Improving Crossword Skills

Some useful tools for honing skills for big money crossword contests include:


  • Word Freak by Stefan Fatsis – A journalist’s adventures joining the competitive crossword circuit.
  • The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Crossword Puzzles by Michelle Arnot – Strategies and techniques for master solvers.
  • The Crossword Obsession by Coral Amende – Interviews top crossword celebrities.

Online Practice

  • New York Times Crossword App – Daily puzzles from the gold standard.
  • Redstone Games – Thousands of free crosswords searchable by difficulty.
  • World of Crosswords – Free access to crosswords from top constructors.
  • Lizard Point – Customizable practice crosswords to hone specific knowledge domains.

Crossword Blogs/Forums

  • The A.V. Club Crossword – Daily blog discussing puzzle themes.
  • Rex Parker – Entertaining blog reviews NYT crosswords.
  • Cruciverb – Active forum for crossword fanatics.
  • XWord Info – Analysis and secrets to NYT puzzles.

Youtube Channels

  • Planted Derivatives – Tutorials on advanced solving techniques.
  • The Czar of Puzzles – Contest prep tips from champion Tyler Hinman.
  • Wordplay – Game show featuring crossword experts in action.

Utilizing resources like these can help you continously improve and stay on top of emerging crossword trends.


Mastering big money crossword puzzles requires strong general knowledge, quick thinking under pressure, and strategic mastery of advanced solving techniques. While it takes significant effort, the intellectual challenge can be tremendously rewarding, both mentally and financially.

With frequent practice, broad studies, and repeated tournament experience, your skills are sure to improve dramatically. Before you know it, you may find yourself competing for – and winning – huge cash prizes in the exciting world of competitive crossword puzzling.