Every Christmas I create the Retromash Advent Calendar, with a new Argos catalogue toy or item being revealed every day. Last year, however, I thought I would try something new, and, alongside the advent calendar, I created the first ever Retromash Festive Crossword. I do wonder if Christmas week was the best time to release it though, as some people might have missed it. So if you happened to miss it, check it out now and give it a go. Only some of the questions are festive related, so it’s not as if you can only do it during the holiday season. A lot of questions will be super easy for geeks like us, although a lot were testing for friends of mine who I thought would fair well, and a couple are very tricky.

Making it was great fun. Hard work but great fun. It would certainly be a lot harder if there weren’t tools on the internet that could help. There are lots of sites that offer dictionary or thesaurus help which is always useful for things like this. Or sites that help you unscramble words in order to work out potential words that could fit into parts of the crossword. Very useful indeed.

When I’m thinking up the potential answers I actually write them all down in a Google spreadsheet first, so that I have a list of possible  words that I can use. I also create a grid in the spreadsheet and start entering the words in the grid here, rather than doing that fiddly stage in the artwork file later. This stage is the longest stage and it’s a lot easier just to quickly add and remove words in a Google spreadsheet. I begin by trying to place the longest words along the edges. Then I see if I can add any of the smaller or medium sized words coming off from the larger words. This involves a lot of trial and error, swapping words around, and often starting again from scratch. Eventually I get a decent amount of words on screen this way. Then it’s time to get flexible with my word choice. I try not to have two rows of empty squares next to each other, so even if I can think of a two or three letter word I will add it in if it fills up empty squares. I try to get all the most important words from my list in first but then I often have to start thinking of words that fit into whatever gaps are left and just try to hope that there is a connection to the subject matter. Or sometimes I can reword a clue so that an easier version of the word can fit. For example in the Retromash crossword I had to have ‘Transformer’ as singular, instead of ‘Transformers’. There were only two instances were I had to slightly reach. The words Yeti and Sunbeam were the only words I could think of that could fit in those particular spaces, and I just had to do some research to see if there were any characters with those names. Luckily there were! I’d never heard of them, and I don’t know how many others will have either, but at least it’s a legit answer and it completes the grid better. And you can probably work out the answer anyway because the beauty of a crossword is that you can get the other words around it in order to make it easier to guess the harder words. 

If you want to see my Google spreadsheet you can view it here, but be warned, this has the solutions to the crossword visible, so don’t click the link if you haven’t done the crossword yet.

In terms of the production of it, I have a layered art file that I originally actually created in order to make my parents a personalised  crossword for their Golden Wedding anniversary celebrations. This file has a grid created with a whole bunch of white squares within a larger black square. Once I am happy with my Google spreadsheet grid of words, I recreate that grid as a text layer above my white squares. Obviously this has to be on a separate layer as I need to be able to switch it off later when I export the final version. But having the text here lets me see which squares are empty and I then delete those white squares, revealing the black background beneath. Also, having the text layer is handy for when I want to export a version with the solutions.

The really fun part of the process is then writing the clues. This is also when you can adjust the difficulty. For example if you had to use a really easy or well known character because it fitted well into the grid, you can make the clue for that one really cryptic and tricky. Or vice versa, if you ended up having to fit in a lesser known word or character then you can make the clue more straightforward. I enjoy writing the more cryptic ones for sure.

I’ve thought about maybe making different crosswords for different situations or for other people etc, but the thing is it’s actually very tricky to do, and I really need to be very close to the subject matter as it would be very hard to find smaller words to fit the grid at the end of the process if I don’t know the subject or people that the crossword is for. I may well do another Retromash one though for sure. I’ll maybe just release it earlier in December next time.

Please do let me know if you had any feedback about the Crossword at all. I’d love to hear what people thought of it or if it was too easy or too difficult etc. Go to the Retromash Festive Crossword page to download the PDF version and also to see the solutions.