Crosswords vary in type and design from language to language. Bulls produces crosswords and word games for multiple countries. In order to learn a bit more we had a chat with one of our great editors, Janne Helander. Janne has 15 years of experience from the world of crosswords. He is our tech star, but also an exceptionally sharp linguist.
In which languages can we produce crosswords?
We are currently producing crossword puzzles and arrowords in Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish, German and American English.
We also have bilingual puzzles, such as Danish–German and German–Danish.
What challenges do each language present?
There are some differences in the languages, of course, but the biggest challenge is probably to be flexible and able to adapt to the different needs of each country.
What are the differences between the crossword puzzles in our countries? Is there any country that stands out?
Finnish crosswords have no answers shorter than four letters. In American crosswords, the minimum length of the words is three letters.
In Europe, the most popular version of crossword puzzles is the arroword, while in the US, the classic crossword dominates. American crosswords don’t have any unchecked squares, which means that all letters inside the crossword grid are part of two words (across and down).
Another thing that distinguishes American crosswords from other versions is that the answers are often phrases or open compounds. In Europe, the answer is usually one single word.
In Finnish arrowords, the clues are often illustrations instead of text. In the other Nordic countries, illustrated clues are mostly associated with children’s puzzles.
In German arrowords, each clue has an arrow, while Finnish arrowords tend to avoid arrows as much as possible.
The clues in German arrowords use lowercase letters, but in the Nordics, the clues are usually written in all caps. This is due to the fact that German uses uppercase letters to distinguish nouns from other parts of speech.
American crosswords typically use abbreviations in the clues whenever the answer is an abbreviation (Swingers’ grp. = PGA), or Spanish in clues for which the answer is in Spanish (Cuba, por ejemplo = ISLA).
Which language is the most difficult to create crosswords in and why?
That’s a tough question. You might think that Finnish puzzles are the most difficult to create, since you are not allowed to use any answers with two or three letters. But Finnish words generally consist of fewer unique letters than Swedish ones, for example, despite both languages having the exact same alphabet. A limited amount of unique letters actually makes it easier to fill the grid with intersecting words.
No, the bilingual puzzles, with clues and answers in two different languages, are probably the hardest to create. Each answer should preferably be unique and not used in the other language. This means that most proper nouns are unusable. Loanwords and abbreviations are often unsuitable. There’s simply a much smaller vocabulary to work with.
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