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This post is not a puzzle. There is nothing puzzly hidden inside it or the self-answer, posted at the same time.

What exactly is an Around the Bend crossword, and how do I make one?

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What is an Around the Bend crossword?

Around the Bend is a variety crossword type where words go, you guessed it, around a bend. Here's an example grid:

example grid

The arrows are to indicate that words are read right-to-left in one row and then finished left-to-right in the row below it. The usual rules I give:

Rules

  • Each word goes from left to right on its numbered line, and then continues from right to left on the next line
  • #20 wraps back around to #1

Example: If #1 was "TRAPS"*, then #2 must start with "SP" and #20 must end with "ART". #1 would be entered as TRA in the #1 row and SP in the #2 row, so if you read #1 left-to-right and then #2 right-to-left it spells "TRAPS"

* specific word changed to fit the grid shape

There are also some soft rules to consider when making your own crossword (in order of importance):

  • No 4-letter words
  • No repeated rows (two rows can't both have "LED")
  • All rows are 2-5 letters long
  • Exactly 20 words long

So how do I make one?

1. Set up a working grid

This grid can be digital (Excel, Google Sheets) or handmade (graph paper). Just make sure that there is enough space to grid the entire crossword. Note that hand-writing the grid will require a good eraser.

2. Pick a first word

There are two options here

a) Pick a word with a reversible prefix or suffix.

If this crossword will be built "downwards" (new words have prefixes which reverse to the previous word's suffix), a good word would be GNOME, split GN/OME. NG is a very common suffix, so connecting the two ends to finish off the crossword will be easier. EMO would then be the next word's prefix. A starter word for building "upwards" could be BARTER, split BAR/TER, with RET being a common prefix.

b) Pick a thematic or special word

This option is when a certain word absolutely must be in the crossword. It's hard to force words with difficult suffixes/prefixes in later. An example word to force is LOGICAL. This is a tricky word to split, but LOG/ICAL may be the best - but even those, reversed, don't provide many options. Here the best option would be to build off both ends, aiming for more common affixes, until at least one end has a nice reversible row.

3. Expand the grid by building off an end

The internet is quite helpful here. My two favorite tools are onelook (more words) and The Free Dictionary (less "words" that wouldn't work in a crossword), but any site that allows searching for a words with a certain prefix or suffix will work.

So, an example. For LOG/ICAL, search for words which end with GOL. MONGOL looks good, so enter MON into the grid above LOG. Or, search for words which start with LACI. To use LACING, enter GN into the row below LACI. And repeat.

Some pointers that may be helpful:

  • Pluralizing a word can make its end more reversible
  • Learn easily reversible sections! DE-/-ED, RE-/-ER, DR-/-RD, TR-/-RT, etc.
  • When working with a common affix, try forcing a section of a certain length - a long one (because that's more difficult), or just one of a different length that the surrounding ones (for a cool grid shape)
  • Note points where there were many options to choose from. This allows for easier backtracking when you get stuck. You will get stuck.
  • Have several windows open to cross-reference possibilities and check that extending by a certain word will allow further extension

4. Connect the ends

This is essentially extending, but way more difficult. I recommend starting closing considerations when there are ~2 words left. Have at least one window open for each end (prefix and suffix) which must be extended, and cross-reference until some filler words work. These connecting words will likely not be as nice as the rest, but that's fine. Just joining the ends is an achievement!

5. Clean up

Now to prepare the crossword for solvers. I usually "rotate" the grid (change the starting word) to make the shape more aesthetically pleasing. Adding a row of #1 again at the bottom is optional but does help the solver. Creating a final grid picture, such as the one shown above, can be easily done online. My method is below

  1. Set borders in a spreadsheet to outline the grid
  2. Take a screenshot of the grid
  3. Add arrows between the rows in an image editor

You'll also need to clue each word, but that's standard for making crosswords so I won't go over it here.

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  • $\begingroup$ Feel free to ask for clarifications - I'm not sure if this made sense :) $\endgroup$ – bobble Oct 4 '20 at 3:40
  • $\begingroup$ Another tool that might be useful, especially as you get near to the cleaning-up point, is Qat, in which e.g. you can write retA;~Able to find all cases where something ends a word beginning RET and its reverse begins a word ending BLE, or make it retA;~Able;|A|=4 if the something needs to be four letters long. Longer chains can be handled similarly. $\endgroup$ – Gareth McCaughan Oct 4 '20 at 10:23
  • $\begingroup$ It can also construct the whole puzzle for you in small enough cases. A~B;B~C;C~A;|A|=3;|B|=3;|C|=3 finds (with the default choice of dictionary) 595 cases where three 6-letter words, all split in the middle, produce an "Around the Bend", including 13 cases where all the words are the same palindromic 6-letter word. $\endgroup$ – Gareth McCaughan Oct 4 '20 at 10:28
  • $\begingroup$ Can you explain why four-letter words are disallowed and why the whole thing has to have exactly twenty words? $\endgroup$ – msh210 Oct 4 '20 at 22:45
  • $\begingroup$ The 20-word thing is because all the ones I found were 20 words long, so I stuck with it. 4-letter words are easier to put in and are not as interesting; in my opinion, the fun part of AtBs is how long word segments are used two ways. As I state in the post, these are "soft" rules that you can break as you please. $\endgroup$ – bobble Oct 4 '20 at 23:10

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