Crossword puzzles

by Neil Rickert

This post is not about how to solve a crossword puzzle.  It’s about what we can learn about truth by looking at those puzzles.

Let’s suppose that you have been working on a crossword puzzle.  And you think you have it solved.  So how can you tell whether you have the correct solution?  That is the question that I wish to examine.  And since “correct” is closely related to “true”, it is a question about truth.

Sudoku puzzles

Before looking more closely at crossword puzzles, let’s take a quick peek at Sudoku puzzles.  They make a good contrast with crossword puzzles.

If you are not familiar with sudoku, you can find such a puzzle at  There are nine rows, nine columns, and nine smaller 3×3 squares.  The aim is each of those rows, columns and smaller squares should contain the digits 1 through 9.

Here’s the thing about a Sudoku puzzle.  When you have finished, you are usually quite sure that you have the correct answer.  And that’s because it is a logic puzzle.  If you stayed within the rules, then it is impossible to have a wrong answer.  Yes, it is possible that a puzzle could have more than one correct answer.  But if your answer meets all of the requirements, then it cannot be incorrect.  We might say that the truth of the answer is intrinsic to the puzzle.

Usually the newspapers and web pages are careful to make sure that there is only one possible answer.  So if your answer meets all of the requirements, it must be that answer.

That’s really a consequence of it being a logic puzzle, and of the truth-preserving nature of logic.

Back to crosswords

With the crossword puzzle, you can not be so sure that you have the right answer.  And that’s because the crossword is not a logic puzzle.  It has the superficial appearance of being a logic puzzle.  But it is really a semantic puzzle.  A solution depends on meanings, and not just on logic.

If you want to know whether your proposed answer is correct, then here’s how.  You wait for tomorrow’s newspaper (or tomorrow’s version of the web page), and then check your proposed answer with the one given there.  The truth of your proposed answer is not intrinsic to the puzzle itself.

Here’s the problem.  You can have what seem to be correct answers to all of the clues.  And they can all fit together in the logical structure of the puzzle.  But you cannot be sure that there isn’t another word that you didn’t think of, that would be better than the one that you used.

So you wait until tomorrow to check.  And the implication is that what makes a proposed solution correct is the intentions of the author of that puzzle.


Logic itself is something like a rigid mechanism.  That is why we can automate logic in our computing machines.  And that is why we can usually be sure that we have the correct answer to a Sudoku puzzle.

Ordinary life is not the same rigid mechanism.  Wherever meaning is involved, we see that lack of rigidity.  Instead of the rigidity of mechanism, we see the adaptivity of biology.  Crossword puzzles depend on meaning, so they lack the rigidity of a logic system.  The correctness (or truth) of a proposed solution is not to be found in the puzzle itself, but in the human intentions that are involved.

I some earlier posts, I have argued against the notion that “there is a certain way that the world is”.  And that’s pretty much the same issue.   Whether a proposed description of the world is to be considered to be true depends on human intentions.  It is not intrinsic to the world itself.


4 Comments to “Crossword puzzles”

  1. Vast regions of the world have different established truths that are dismissed by the others. Then within those regions groups and individuals pick and choose from the menu. Here in the US everyone is going their own way but proclaim a collective truth. On the outside looking in it is obvious they are disconnected from the source and think the others are doing it wrong. There I can agree with them. They all have it wrong and have become deists with an incomprehensible leader that is irrelevant in day to day life.


  2. Sudoku puzzles don’t attract me, I like numbers when they express and compare magnitudes.
    As for crosswords, I like the playing on words proposed in cryptograms; without any hurry, it can take me weeks (not every day, of course) to find a solution. I may have discovered descriptions after 99 unsuccessful attempts, and then one bright morning in a waiting room, be surprised by an epiphany. How couldn’t I see something so evident! The joy of hindsight.

    Liked by 1 person

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