Most American crosswords use rotational (or "radial") symmetry so that squares directly opposite each other (through the center) are identical.

In the Times, I've only seen this not be the case when the layout was directly linked to the theme. Is that one of the "rules" you can count on, or are there (modern, Will Shortz era) examples of cases where you can't assume that non-radial symmetry will be somehow related to the theme?

Here's an example where the theme does justify the deviation:

enter image description here

The theme in this example was celebrating the 50th anniversary of Frank Lloyd Wright's landmark Guggenheim building.

  • $\begingroup$ Do you mean to ask whether asymmetric crossword puzzles exist that don't follow a specific theme? $\endgroup$
    – user20
    May 14, 2014 at 20:32
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Emracool, I'm asking whether the modern times puzzle ever deviates from "normal" crossword symmetry without the deviation being linked to the theme - I added an example above of the type I've seen that is theme-related. $\endgroup$
    – Jaydles
    May 14, 2014 at 20:37
  • $\begingroup$ It might be a separate question, but are there rules about when the NYT crossword can put multiple letters in one box? $\endgroup$
    – durron597
    May 14, 2014 at 21:33
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    $\begingroup$ In an old Games magazine, there was a full page crossword with the title "Breaking the Rules". The theme clues were all "What this puzzle has and shouldn't" with answers like unchecked letter, asymmetric diagram, two letter words, disconnected section, etc. $\endgroup$ May 14, 2014 at 21:57
  • $\begingroup$ Isn't this really a question for the editor? I'd imagine that there are well defined editorial standards that all submissions to the NYT are expected to follow, and that breaking any of those rules would require justification. A clever elaboration of the theme as in the above grid is certainly a good justification for symmetry breaking, but ultimately it was an editor's choice to allow the rule to be broken and I doubt that there is a clear meta-rule that can be stated about that. $\endgroup$
    – RBerteig
    May 15, 2014 at 0:00

2 Answers 2


Nearly all the Times crossword grids have rotational symmetry: they can be rotated 180 degrees and remain identical. Rarely, puzzles with only vertical or horizontal symmetry can be found; yet rarer are asymmetrical puzzles, usually when an unusual theme requires breaking the symmetry rule. This rule has been part of the puzzle since the beginning; when asked why, initial editor Margaret Farrar is said to have responded, "Because it is prettier."

SOURCE: "The Ins and Outs of Across and Down" The New York Times Magazine, 1992-02-16.


Quality crossword puzzles have had a rotational symmetry requirement for a very long time. It was determined early on in the development of the puzzle that the symmetry rule (along with the fully checked and all-over interlock rules) made the puzzles more interesting. (IMHO, that is because it puts interesting constraints on the beginnings of words towards the upper left corner, with mirrors of those constraints on the endings of words in the lower right.)

The NYT does expressly give the editor freedom to break the rules, "if the theme warrants". But notably none of my searches for submissions guidelines to the NYT made any more explicit statements than that.


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