3D Grid Design Guide

grid design in progress

If you fancy designing your own 3D crossword, this guide will help you. At the end of each year we run a 3D grid design competition (the RPM Trophy). Anyone may enter and entries are considered for inclusion in a future 3D Calendar Puzzles publication. The RPM trophy is in memory of Ray Parry-Morris, who designed many successful 3D grids. As well as selecting grids from the annual competition, we are always keen to receive grids from new as well as experienced designers. Read on for guidelines, tips and tools for designing your own 3D grid.

Grid Design Guidelines

Overall, the grid must ‘work’, using real words and directions that work within the structure of the grid, i.e. across, down, away, towards etc.

Theme: Grids must have a theme. This might be an anniversary suitable for inclusion for a specific month, or a theme that can be used for any month of the year.

Solving difficulty: We aim for most puzzles to be roughly within the range of the Saturday Guardian level. Theme and grid fill should usually reflect this.

Presentation: Clarity is important. The entry for judging must be presented as follows:-

  • Grids should be presented on paper size A5 as a minimum, A4 maximum with clear lettering in black ink/biro/felt tip. It would be helpful to have thematic solutions in the grid highlighted, but this is not mandatory.
  • Solutions and their directions in the grid should also be listed in a Word Table, using the template provided.
  • The Word Table should include the following information:
    • Theme and (if relevant) anniversary with date.
    • Any suggestions for treatment of theme (optional).
    • Solutions in either alphabetical or thematic order.
    • Theme words clearly identified, using highlighting or a note in the Explanation column.
    • Directions and letter counts for solutions, following conventions in grids previously published in the calendar.
    • Explanation & Comments for the following:
      • Links to the theme should be explained for all thematic solutions.
      • Obscure words must be fully explained with their source and meaning. 
      • Any non-Chambers words other than proper nouns must be indicated, with a reference source clearly stated e.g. ‘Collins’.

A completed example is provided for guidance.

Grid Design Tips

Size of Grid:  Ideally the grid will contain between 27 and 35 solutions, roughly in line with the number of days in a calendar month. The number of solutions should in any case not exceed 40, unless justified by exceptional circumstances which should be explained. This might be due to the choice of a large grid, or a Seven Dials or other innovatively shaped or styled grid.

Grid Structure : This should be appropriate for the theme and its thematic solutions.

  • In general, 5x5x5 grids should have a high percentage of 5 letter words, although some variety of word length and a phrase or two are welcome.
  • Similarly, 7x5x5 grids should have a high percentage of both 5 and 7 letter words.
  • Seven Dials, Torus and Spherical grids are welcome, along similar lines to those already featured in recent calendars.
  • Other workable innovative grid types are also welcome, as long as they are not too large or oddly shaped in such a way that they would not be a suitable fit for a monthly calendar page.

Blank grids for a number of grid designs are provided for your convenience.

Grid-filling Accommodations: Thematic solutions will not always fit within a chosen grid without the use of certain accommodations made when filling the grid. Overuse of such accommodations should however be avoided, with 3D cross-checking being maintained as much as possible.

  • Bars should be used sparingly and clearly indicated. Bars that reduce cross-checking from 3D to 2D are largely to be avoided and likely to be marked down — examples of these would be bars creating a 4:1 or 6:1 split in a row or column (see Figures 1 and 2). In a Seven Dials or other innovative grid, a more liberal use of bars might well be needed, but attention should still be paid to retaining 3D cross-checking.
  • Overlaps are allowed, but should largely be avoided when two separate clue answers that run together make for the appearance of non-words in the grid – although this can sometimes be preferable to the use of a bar that reduces cross-checking from 3D to 2D (see Figure 3).
Examples of bars and overlaps
Fig. 1 shows a bar resulting in a 1:6 split – S | HYPING – and reduced cross-checking of the S from 3D to 2D (away and down).

In Fig. 2 the bar is moved to give a 3:4 split – SHY | PING – and retains 3D cross-checking of both the S and Y (away, down and across).

In Fig. 3 a bar is avoided because the two solutions – SHY and HYPING – overlap, with the letters HY appearing in both. However, this creates the appearance of a non-word in the grid – SHYPING.
  • Snakes (Figure 4) are usually regarded favourably where they add value thematically and/or allow longer and more interesting solutions in the grid. They should not however be overused, and are rarely acceptable for short words.
Example of a snake
Fig. 4 A snake
  • The use of extra dark cells beyond usual symmetry is in general discouraged, but the splitting of one solution cell into two in order to accommodate a solution is acceptable.
  • Some limited loss of grid symmetry might in some instances be acceptable, perhaps especially in the case of innovative grid designs, but in general grid symmetry is preferred.

Overall, accommodations are marked on whether they add or detract from the overall design and standard of the grid.

Percentage of grid given to theme words:  A good balance is better than too high a percentage of themed words. Designers should strike a balance to create a good puzzle which is neither too easy to solve nor too contrived to work well.

Percentage of obscure words:  Obscure words should be kept to a minimum.  All obscure words should be fully explained in the Word Table.

Historical examples:  Look back at some examples which can be found in our puzzle archives.

Setters:  Please bear in mind that we ask setters to take on a word set which they have not chosen themselves.

And finally… Ask yourself: will this make for a good/great puzzle? Judges will give credit for noteworthy aspects e.g. new designs, new ideas with unexpected wit/humour.

Files for download

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