What Is an Acrostic?

An acrostic – sometimes called a double acrostic – is a word puzzle with three elements:

  • a grid of white and black squares
  • a set of clues
  • for each clue, a set of numbered blanks onto which you write your answer

If you are solving one of our acrostics on www.xwordinfo.com, these three elements will look like this, starting with Clue A and its related answer blanks, followed by the grid:

If you are solving one of our acrostics in hard copy in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, the grid will look like this:

Below the grid will be the clues and answer blanks, which look like this:

Notice that each white square in the grid also contains a number (starting with 1 in the upper left-hard corner and continuing numerically across the first line and onto subsequent lines through to the end). Each white square also has a specific letter; these letters indicate which clue/answer contains the correspondingly numbered blank.

To solve the puzzle, guess the answers suggested by the clues. For instance, in the example above relating to the designer of St. Peter’s Basilica, you know off the bat that the answer will have seven letters – one letter for each of the numbered blanks. If, by chance, you remember from a course on Art History or a trip to Rome that the answer is BERNINI, enter those letters onto the blanks and then copy each of those letters into the corresponding white squares in the grid.  (If you’re solving the puzzle on xwordinfo.com, the letters you write into the answer blanks will automatically be copied into the corresponding squares of the grid.) 

Once you have guessed the correct answers for every clue and all the letters in all the answers have been copied into the corresponding squares in the grid, two things will be revealed. 

First, the grid will contain a quotation reading from left to right, continuing from the top line to each subsequent line. The words of the quotation are separated by black squares. Notice that a word will continue from one line to the next unless separated by a black square. The only punctuation that ever appears in a grid is a hyphen; the grid will not show any periods, commas, apostrophes, etc. Notice that the word YOUVE (“you’ve”) in the excerpt below contains no apostrophe.

Second, the first letters of all the answers will provide the name of the author of the quotation and the source of the quotation. In some cases, the author’s full name will appear, other times only the first initial and the last name, or just the last name. In xwordinfo.com, the author/source feature appears as a separate line below the grid.

You will wind up working the puzzle in two directions. Begin by guessing several of the answers, writing those answers onto the blanks that follow the clues in question, and then copying the letters of your answers into their corresponding white squares in the grid. At some point, the grid itself will become a source of additional information, allowing you to work in the other direction. If, for example, you have copied some letters from guessed answers into the grid and notice that a four-letter word in the grid begins with W and ends with TH, you can infer that the second letter is I. You can then enter I into the corresponding blank that follows one of the clues; this letter can now help you guess that clue’s answer.

For additional help in solving acrostics, click on Beginner Tips.