Not all of these terms are widely attested.


A word puzzle typically consisting of a long sequence of numbered blanks, representing a quotation or other text, and a series of clues and numbered blanks representing the letters of the answer to said clue. The clued blanks’ numbers correspond one-to-one with the blanks in the long sequence, and blanks with the same number have the same letter; the goal is to fill out all the blanks. The first letters of correct answers may also spell out a message.

American crossword (grid)

Typically, a type of crossword featuring “straight” (non-cryptic) clues and a blocked grid (one using black squares) in which every square is checked; or such a crossword grid (in contrast to a British crossword or a barred crossword).

Australian-style puzzlehunt

Loosely describes a set of puzzlehunt operating conventions in which puzzles and pre-written hints are released at fixed times each day over several days. Named after the triad of Australian puzzlehunts MUMS, SUMS, and CiSRA, which ran with peak reliability around 2010–2013.


To rearrange the letters in a word, phrase, or sequence of letters; or a word/phrase produced by doing so. Outside puzzlehunts, this term is mainly used for two words/phrases that have some punny or humorous relation to each other. “DORMITORY is an anagram of DIRTY ROOM.”


A phrase of the form, “THE ANSWER IS (answer)”. A degenerate form of the cluephrase. Mentioned in David Wilson’s Introduction to Writing Good Puzzle Hunt Puzzles.


One inelegant component of a construction that allows the whole thing to work. Named after the Sator Square.


To solve a puzzle by guessing the answer using constraints on it from the metapuzzle. The opposite is “forward-solve”.

There is a spectrum of backsolving. In the extreme case you might ignore the puzzle entirely and guess the answer simply based on how it fits into the metapuzzle. In milder cases, you might have a constraint like you know a few letters or a theme from the puzzle and also a constraint from the metapuzzle, and combine the two to find the answer.

Puzzle and meta authors will sometimes try to design metapuzzles to prevent backsolving or make it harder, since if you backsolve a puzzle you manage to circumvent seeing the puzzle itself, which somebody probably worked really hard on.

Barred crossword (grid)

A type of crossword grid in which there are no black squares, but there are thick borders separating entries. The presence of unchecked squares varies. The opposite is a blocked crossword (grid).


A pair of letters, generally adjacent, usually used to describe wordplay modifications or relationships between words. You can insert a bigram into SCALES to get SCYTALES, but not SCALPELS.

Black box (puzzle)

A broad category of puzzle in which the goal is to determine the inner workings of something by only interacting with it.

Blocked crossword (grid)

A type of crossword grid that uses black squares and blanks, as opposed to a barred crossword (grid). Blocked crossword grids can also be American or British.

British crossword (grid)

A type of blocked crossword grid using black squares in which entries typically lie on every other row and column and every other blank in each entry is checked, in contrast to American crossword grids (or barred crossword grids); or a crossword using such a grid. Often, but not necessarily, cryptic.

Caesar cipher

(also shift cipher) A cipher in which each letter is replaced with the letter N positions after it in the alphabet, wrapping around the ends (A comes after Z), for some fixed number N. Rot13 is the special case where N = 13, and is notable because it is its own inverse.

Capstone puzzle

A puzzle with particular significance in terms of hunt progression or unlocking, like a metapuzzle, but that doesn’t directly use the answers of any feeder puzzles.


A phrase that suggests the final answer, or more generally just the next step in a puzzle, usually extracted from earlier information in the puzzle.

Cheater (square)

A black square in a crossword that, if removed, would not cause the word count to decrease.


In a crossword, for a blank cell to be part of more than one entry, which is a run of blank cells in which an answer should be written in. A cell that is only part of one entry is unchecked. In typical American crosswords, all squares must be checked; in typical British crosswords, around half of the squares in each entry are checked. Cells that are somehow part of three entries may be called triple-checked, and so on.


(also Konundrum, Duck Konundrum) A puzzle consisting of a sequence of detailed instructions that the solver must faithfully follow or simulate to solve the puzzle. The instructions are often unrealistic but easy to simulate, e.g. involving animals or fictional beings making complex decisions. The genre-defining example is The Duck Konundrum from MIT Mystery Hunt.


A specific genre of clue for words or phrases that consists of a definition and a wordplay-based description, or a crossword using such clues. Cryptic crosswords have their own conventions, which I won’t go into here; consult the guides page for links.

Diagramless (crossword)

A crossword where you’re only given the clues (typically with numbers), but not the grid. The grid is still usually numbered in the standard way and is also likely rotationally symmetric, which can be used to restore it.


To take the Nth letter of the Nth item in a sequence: the first letter of the first, the second letter of the second, and so on. A moderately common extraction technique, more so when all items have the same number of letters.


A type of word puzzle in which a phrase has had most of its words abbreviated, typically with common words like prepositions and articles preserved and with numbers preserved but written out as digits instead. Solvers must deduce the original phrase. For example, “24 H in a D” solves to “24 Hours in a Day”.


A type of word puzzle where a phrase, quotation, or other series of words has been concealed in a crossword-like grid reading left to right, top to bottom, and then the letters in each column have been removed and provided in sorted order at the top.


(not really a thing, but I would like it to be, so take that) A humorous term for the overlapping extraction of taking the (usually unique) letter that appears at the same index in two words/phrases, more common if both words/phrases have the same number of letters. From the puzzle This Anagram Does Not Exist in the 2020 Teammate Hunt (unfortunately naming the hunt spoils it).


A number or sequence of numbers describing how many letters there are in an answer or each word thereof, often written in parentheses and occasionally with additional annotations. The enumeration for “EXAMPLE” might be (7). In multi-word phrases and other answers with spaces in them, the spaces may be noted with commas (typical in cryptics) or left as spaces; for example, the enumeration for “ORANGE JUICE” might be (6,5) or (6 5). Other punctuation is typically left verbatim; the enumeration for “JACK-O’-LANTERN” might be (4-1’-7).

NPL flats have more specific rules for enumerations; asterisks are prepended to enumerations for words that are “inherently” capitalized, while carets are prepended to enumerations for words that are capitalized due to their context, such as being part of a multi-word name, among other annotations. THE DRAGON OF WANTLEY might be enumerated (^3 ^6 2 *7). These are not particularly common.

Some puzzles also feature “word enumerations” (a term I just made up) that tell you how many words are in an answer, but not the number of letters; when they exist, they are usually only added to answers with more than one word, and may look like (2 wds.). These may be used in straight/American crosswords, where enumerations are not usually provided, as an additional hint; they may also be used in cryptics with gimmicks where some entries require modifications before entry into the grid, and providing the exact enumerations would give too much away about which entries are being modified.


A step in a puzzle solution that condenses its information; often, but not necessarily, the final step. Typical example involves extracting one letter from each clue answer or subpuzzle and having the letters spell out the answer or a cluephrase.


A puzzle whose answer is used in a metapuzzle. Used to contrast with a metapuzzle or discuss puzzlehunts in which the matchup of feeders to metapuzzles is not provided or needs to be discovered somehow.


To solve a puzzle “normally”, without using meta information; the opposite of backsolve.


A genre of word puzzle that clues wordplay-related words through context, usually in a verse. Most well known for appearing in the National Puzzlers’ League’s publication, The ENIGMA.

Flavor text

Text in a puzzle that’s typically displayed right after the title and distinguished from the rest of the puzzle. Flavor text usually does not contain clues or puzzle components that are mechanically necessary for solving the puzzle (no letters will be extracted from them, for example), but may obliquely hint at a puzzle mechanism or be used as a component of the meta. Flavor text may also simply be irrelevant text that integrates the puzzle into a story (to provide “flavor”). (This is unlike the usage in, say, tabletop games, where typical flavor text is entirely mechanically irrelevant.) Not all puzzles have flavor text.

An example is the italicized paragraph starting “Somebody’s been sending Dippy pictures…” in Oodles of Doodles.

Green paint

Typically in crosswords, a phrase that’s grammatically and semantically sensible, but consists of components that aren’t more meaningful or notable together than they are apart. Self-describing: green paint certainly exists, but nothing is especially notable about paint that’s green in particular instead of any other color (or green paint in particular instead of any other green object).

An example of a phrase that isn’t green paint is “red tape”. Although tape can indeed be red or any other color, the phrase “red tape” has a specific metaphorical meaning that isn’t shared by other colors of tape or other red objects.

Identify, Sort, Index, Solve (ISIS)

A loosely defined, common puzzle type consisting of those four steps in order: identifying some puzzle-provided objects or clues, sorting them in some order based on the identification, indexing by a provided number to produce a cluephrase, and using the cluephrase to solve the puzzle.

Coined by Foggy Brume in 2010.


To take the Nth letter from a word or phrase, or more rarely the Nth word from a sentence or just any Nth term from a sequence, for some given N. When indexing to extract letters, spaces and punctuation are typically skipped in the count. A common step in extraction.

Logic puzzle

A puzzle relying primarily on logical deduction. Subgenres include Nikoli-style grid logic puzzles like Sudoku, which take place on a grid with clues and involve filling out the grid according to some abstract rules, and Einstein’s riddle—like logic puzzles, which typically consist of several lists of equally-sized things and a list of statements about how they are matched up.

Mangled clues

(there isn’t a consensus term; other phrases include “cluetations”, “word transformers”, “tortued clues”) A puzzle type in which clues are typically given without spaces and where each word has been modified according to some orthographic rule, things like “change all As to Bs”, “insert a Q after the second letter”, “Caesar shift the last letter forward by four”, or combinations thereof. Typically, the answer to the clue will then be modified by the same rule or its reverse.


(often shortened to “meta”) A puzzle that uses answers from other puzzles. Typically unlocked after regular puzzles. Usually important for progressing through a hunt; the answer to a metapuzzle may have plot significance in that regard and is also often humorous or punny. The opposite may be called a “regular puzzle” or, when the relationship to a metapuzzle is being emphasized, a “feeder”.

When the correspondence of metapuzzles to feeders is not provided and must be determined by solvers, the process is usually called “meta(puzzle) matching”.

MIT Mystery Hunt

One of the longest-running puzzlehunt traditions, held annually during Martin Luther King, Jr. Day weekend in early January since 1981. Typical recent hunts start Friday afternoon and run for around two full days; the goal is to find a “coin”, and the winning team writes the next hunt.


(v.) To forward-solve a puzzle you previously backsolved, usually after the hunt for fun.


A kind of puzzle in which the letters of the alphabet are arranged around a central shape (typically a triangle or circle) and then a path is drawn connecting adjacent letters in a word, phrase, or name. The path may then be filled in to obscure some of its segments. The goal is to determine the original word, phrase, or name. From Games Magazine maybe?


When two unguessable answers, typically obscure names, cross in a crossword, such that the square at which they cross cannot be determined by the solver; or the square in which they cross. From Rex Parker commentary.

National Puzzlers’ League (NPL)

An organization of puzzlers founded in 1883. Generally more focused on word play and word games than other kinds of puzzles, though certainly not exclusively. Publishes The ENIGMA, a monthly magazine, and hosts an annual convention whose name depends on where it’s hosted. Most strongly associated with the puzzle type of the “flat”.

Partial (confirmation)

(the jury is still out on if this is the right term) An intermediate phrase obtained from a puzzle that produces a special response when entered into the answer checker. The response may guide the solver to the next step, or may simply provide nothing more than confirmation that that phrase is correct, e.g. “Keep going!” Not all puzzlehunts provide partial confirmation.

Pure metapuzzle

A metapuzzle with no or minimal content (e.g. only flavor text) in and of itself; the metapuzzle consists of just the answers that feed into it. The opposite is a “shell metapuzzle”.

Puzzle trail

(not common) A linear sequence of puzzles where each one leads to the next, often by changing a component of the URL to the answer due to the technical simplicity of implementing that. The Ur-example is notpr0n.

Random anagram

(also “randomgram” or “unclued anagram”) Any anagramming step in a puzzle without a provided order of the letters or confirmation of the result. Generally frowned upon in puzzle construction, though occasionally a useful puzzle solving step if the order cannot be found, and there isn’t a universally agreed-upon definition of what counts as “confirmation” enough to make an anagram not qualify.

Red herring

Any false path in a puzzle, e.g. an unintended message that can be extracted from the puzzle data or a coincidental pattern that isn’t actually relevant to solving the puzzle. Some red herrings are surprising enough to become enshrined in puzzlehunt history, e.g. “BE NOISY” from the 2002 Mystery Hunt. Putting intentional red herrings in puzzles is frowned upon because they aren’t fun to be stuck in, and solvers are fully capable of unintentionally discovering their own.

Some puzzles may use the literal phrase “red herring” or synonyms (“scarlet swimmer”, etc.), or a picture of a red herring, in places where including some message or image is necessary to make the puzzle work, to explicitly indicate that there’s no further meaning to that choice.


A puzzle that generally involves following instructions to move around a physical space (by running or otherwise), typically to gather information in a puzzly way.

Surface (reading)

Of especially cryptic clues, the superficial/literal meaning of the clue. Theoretically irrelevant for solving the clue, but often valued for aesthetic purposes, and can also be more or less misleading. Most people would probably say that “Side-mounted component in dealer’s car (4)” has a better surface reading than “Part of Voldemort example (4)”, even though both clue the same word with the same wordplay, because the arrangement and literal meaning of words in the first clue are more coherent and more grammatical.

Shell metapuzzle

A metapuzzle with content (the “shell”). For example, the metapuzzle might have a crossword grid that you are supposed to put the puzzle answers, or something related, into. The opposite is a “pure metapuzzle”.


A partial backsolve and partial forward-solve, in which information from both the puzzle and its meta is used.

The Error That Cannot Be Named (TETCBN)

An error (or “error”) in which the answer to a puzzle or clue literally appears in it. So called because naming the error as such and then fixing it would give away the answer to the puzzle or clue. From NPL jargon.


Adding a letter and then anagramming, or a word/phrase produced by such a process. “MEGAPLEX is a transaddition of EXAMPLE.” Probably from the flat type, but used more loosely.


Removing a letter and then anagramming, or a word/phrase produced by such a process. “EXAMPLE is a transdeletion of MEGAPLEX.” Probably from the flat type, but used more loosely.


A triplet of letters, generally adjacent, usually used to describe wordplay modifications or relationships between words.

Some puzzles consist of a list of trigrams, typically sorted, and possibly an enumeration, with the goal to rearrange the trigrams into a coherent phrase or sentence, fitting the enumeration if one exists. This puzzle type is sometimes jocularly called “trigram hell”.

Wheel of Fortune (WoF)

To guess answers while knowing, or having guesses for, only some of the letters and their positions. Named after the American game show.