Does today’s crossword have you puzzled? You could continue to fret, and fight the urge to check the full solution, or you could consult Wolfram|Alpha, which has the tools you need to solve the sneakiest constructions. Wolfram|Alpha can find words matching a pattern, words with specific beginnings and endings, and provide word definitions.

Crossword puzzle tools

Whether you are a fan of the mind-bending New York Times Crossword Puzzle, or you enjoy a more leisurely crossword, the example we have provided can work for all crossword puzzles. We took a break with Wolfram|Alpha today to solve one of many free online crossword puzzles. You can play along.

In this puzzle, we are stumped by three words (5 down, 24 across, and 18 down), which are all dependent on one another. To solve, we will enter all the known letters into the computation bar, using an underscore (“_”) to represent the unknown letter(s). Wolfram|Alpha will return a word or list of words as a possible solution.

5 down: 6-letter word for calculating machine, “ABAC_ _”
Input to solve for a 6-letter word for calculating machine

If you are not confident about a suggested word, use Wolfram|Alpha as a dictionary to define the result and make your final selection.
Defining the word abacus in Wolfram|Alpha

Thanks to those final two letters, we’ve identified another letter for 24 across. Now let’s try to solve.

24 across: 4-letter word for aspersion
Input for a 4-letter word for aspersion
Definition of the word slur in Wolfram|Alpha

18 down: 5-letter word for anklebone

Input for a 5-letter world for anklebone
Definition of the word talus in Wolfram|Alpha

Solved! Sometimes just a few letters to a few unfamiliar words can tie up your game. So next time you’re feeling puzzled, consult Wolfram|Alpha to find the missing piece, and post the solution to your trickiest construction in the comment box below.

11 Comments

I like the possibilities of the “definition” dictionary. Another reason to keep multiple sessions of W|A open. With a slight modification to the below, I already sent this in through the Feedback field for the definition of ‘albeit’, but others might want to comment or add their own suggestions and vote on the general idea?

Yes, albeit it is a conjunction, but how about showing an actual definition? “Even though” or “although” will do nicely.

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary (m-w.com) has it and it has the ability to “say” the word for proper pronunciation.

That leads me to further suggest that W|A users could benefit greatly if it could “talk”. That could also help speakers of other languages to learn spoken and written English and vice versa. That might even lead to single sentence translations to and from other languages?

Posted by Bob D. July 22, 2009 at 5:01 pm Reply

Great, but it’ll be better if the definition was already on the right of the words !

Posted by Neamar July 23, 2009 at 2:59 am Reply

The dictionary will definitely help in a game of hardcore Scrabble.

Posted by Nukedoom July 23, 2009 at 10:52 pm Reply

In the examples above W|A distinguished the two definitions of ”talus’ by using a word or words to suggest the context in which they are used.
A positive distinction is needed. I suggest using an identification number so instead of
talus…noun bone you would have .. talus(1)
talus…noun formation you would have …talus(2)
Even better the number in brackets should be a selfchecking number to intercept most entry errors. This would start talus(19),talus(27). Now a single diigit error would be rejected as no such definition exists. The same for swapping two adjacent digits or two adjacent pairs of digits.
Hopefully Dictionary producers would do the basic work leaving W|A only to curate their work
W|A’s algorithms could then understand queries easier as it would not have to offer lists of alternatives when the user said which sense he wanted by appending the number.

Posted by Brian Gilbert July 25, 2009 at 3:16 pm Reply

I was able to crack a Cross Word puzzle using WolframAlpha. I’ve written a case study @ http://srikanthramu.com/2009/07/27/solving-crossword-puzzles-using-wolframalpha-a-case-study/

Posted by Srikanth Ramu July 26, 2009 at 10:07 pm Reply

There are two things that could improve this even further:

1. Combine both features (dictionary, and looking up words based on partial letters) to provide a reverse dictionary.
That way it will be possible to, using your example, query for “tal_s meaning ankle bone” (or possibly some better syntax. “containing”? “defined with”?)

2. Allow to search for an unspecified letter count, instead of just with _ which replaces a single letter.

Posted by Yaron July 29, 2009 at 9:56 am Reply

Does W|A help solve Sudoku puzzles? 8-)

Posted by JC July 30, 2009 at 12:16 pm Reply

It would be a help if crossword puzzles were identified as pertinent to age group. Younger people have difficulty with puzzles that refer people, places and events that were current a century ago.

Posted by cephalis January 4, 2010 at 6:47 pm Reply
Posted by tim February 19, 2010 at 7:36 pm Reply

That’s pretty awesome! I love cross word puzzles I can do them for hours. This is a cool tool as well. It would give me a sense that I am cheating. The idea is to solve it using your brain and by using a tool really isn’t right.

Posted by diy shed plans January 2, 2011 at 9:50 pm Reply

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