Crossword puzzles and word games

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Reunion fun with letters

by Jodi M. Webb

Word puzzles are a way of life for my family. Every morning my grandfather walked to the post office for The Philadelphia Inquirer so he could do the Daily Jumble. I end every day with my local paper’s crossword. Puzzles are a fun way to get to know your relatives at the next reunion.

If the thought of constructing a crossword puzzle seems daunting, don’t worry. Computer programs make crossword puzzles as simple as typing in a few words and waiting while the computer arranges them. My favorite is Crossword Compiler (; $59 to download-not a lot if you use the program for several puzzles). Or just take the free demo for a test drive. A free program with nice puzzles is Eclipse Crossword (

If you’re not computer savvy and you have lots of patience, try constructing a puzzle using graph paper and a pencil with a large eraser!

What will the words be?

For a few days before I even go online, I jot down words I think would make good puzzle answers. Start with the obvious: relative’s names (first, last and nicknames) and places (hometowns, states, streets). Think about family members: their hobbies, cars, favorite sports teams, jobs and unusual characteristics (red hair, over 6 feet tall, etc.) or abilities (speaks German, rides a unicycle) can all make great words.
Don’t hesitate to put a word down two or more ways-chances are the program won’t use it twice. For example, PA and Pennsylvania or different names someone was known by: PopPop, Vincent, Vince, Red.

Don’t be afraid to have a long list of words. It’s been my experience that only 30% of your words are used by the computer program so aim for 100 words. Include lots of two- and three-letter words, if you want a puzzle that doesn’t have a lot of black spaces.

What are the clues?

Clues will probably occur to you as you write your list but don’t forget to play by the rules. Is your word an abbreviation? Include (abbr.) in your clue. Is your word in a foreign language? Include the language in parentheses in the clue (Sp. or Germ.).

Make clues a challenge, but not impossible. “Uncle Charlie’s oldest son” is too easy. “Cousin whose favorite elementary teacher was Miss Gierson” is too hard. “Eagles fan with season tickets” is just right. Even in-laws remember that Jay wears Eagles green from August through January.

Some words will be generic, while the clue is family-related. For example, “How many relatives still live in the old hometown?” Word: nine. “Which month has the most family birthdays?” Word: December.

Another great place to find clues is in old family stories. Think back over funny stories that are told after holiday dinners. For example, “What kind of car did PopPop crash on the way home from Aunt Jenny’s wedding?” Word: Mustang.

When will we puzzle?

Crossword puzzles are a fun way to get family members in a reunion mood. Include one in your reunion newsletter or post one on your reunion website. They pass the time on the ride home after the reunion. The crossword programs are so easy you can construct a puzzle about events that happened at the reunion so relatives can relive the get-together the day after it happens! Ask relatives to mail completed puzzles to the reunion committee to draw from a hat for a prize at the next reunion.

Or, at the start of reunion hand out an icebreaker crossword with clues about family members’ recent accomplishments. Everyone will quickly feel at home, grilling each other to learn who just graduated from Penn State and the name of the youngest baby.

If your reunion is a large crowd, consider several crosswords breaking the ice at once. Maybe the Syracuse branch of the family has a puzzle about the Philadelphia branch while the Philadelphia branch has a puzzle about the Florida branch. Or the teenagers have a puzzle about the 60+ crowd while the Baby Boomers are puzzling about tweens.

Constructing crossword puzzles is now so easy you should not have a reunion without one!

About the author

Jodi Webb lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, three children and a multitude of extended relatives – thankfully, not all in the same house! When not attending family weddings, reunions and other events, she organizes WOW Blog Tours (, pens the blog Words by Webb ( and writes articles for magazines such as The GRAND, Birds and Blooms and PTO Today. It is a family rule that she gets to complete the daily crossword in the newspaper, although she occassionally asks for help with sports and foreign language clues.

Family Fun Crossword Puzzle

"Dziadzu means grandpa. "Mom" was our grandmother who called the family business a "beer garden."
“Dziadzu means grandpa. “Mom” was our grandmother who called the family business a “beer garden.”

1. Father of our Brady Bunch
4. Who got thrown off the school bus after getting sprayed by a skunk?
6. Fav family business treat(2 words)
8. Gill family home st.
11. Who lives in the family homestead?
13. oldest cousin
15. Where the NY relatives are from
17. What John-John delivered at summer job
18. youngest cousin
19. Dziadzu’s favorite past time

2. Usual Sunday dinner dessert
3. Where Janek lives
5. Essie’s real name
7. Color of tablecloths in the bar
9. Who’s pregnant?
10. First college graduate
12. Number of cousins never married
14. Most common first name
16. street where Mom and Dziadzu lived

Combination Word Search and Crossword hunt


From the Washington Nichols May 2012 newsletter. Click image to view .pdf version.

Theme crosswords

Myles Mellor is one of the most published crossword writers in the world and offers custom crosswords for reunions. Each crossword is uniquely designed, containing information provided about reunion members and/or local areas, history and attractions.

Visit,; 818-522-4126; [email protected].

Entertain with crosswords

By Karen Luna Ray

“Going, going, gone!” best described the newsletter stack on the registration table at our family reunion. Though filled with the usual family origins, births, deaths, graduations, weddings and tales elicited from family members, this particular edition had an added feature, a family crossword puzzle. I spent hours creating it and had a great time and now was anxious to see the family’s reaction.

The sudden scrambling about in purses, pockets, or wherever else a writing instrument might be found was the first indication the puzzle was a hit. The second came when huddles formed across the room, a steady chatter arising from each. Mingling about the crowd, I overheard such comments as, “Who was an exchange student in Switzerland? Oh, Janet! Now I remember!” “Well, of course, I know our family came from the Isle of Man. I just didn’t know it is also called Ellan Vannin.” “Hmmm, let’s see. Who was the fifth child born of John and Lou? Help me out here, guys!” Conversation flowed freely as the puzzle sparked memories for some. Others learned things about their family they’d never known. One relative had a great time helping others, but when asked if she’d completed her copy she laughed and said, “No, I’m saving it as entertainment for when I get back to the motel!”

Creating a family crossword puzzle can be approached in a variety of ways. Some prefer to have it professionally done. Others may wish to create their own puzzle, either with on-line help or the old-fashioned way. An on-line search for crossword puzzles should bring up several web sites of interest. While directs one to professional help, provides on-line help to create your own puzzle. For those who still prefer the old-fashioned way of doing things, whether by necessity or for the love of a challenge, graph paper, a pencil and determination are your beginning tools.

Regardless of the option you choose, the first step will be to make a list of family members’ names, nicknames, familiar places in family history, job titles, hobbies or anything unique to a family member. Be sure to represent every branch of the family. Use family-related clues/answers where possible. A few unrelated terms may have to be included to ensure a perfect fit.

If you create your own puzzle, the next step is like playing Scrabble. Place letters into the graph paper blocks using words from your list. The blocks will help keep the letters straight as you begin to cross words over others. Be forewarned that there is nothing quick about this. It may require several “starts” before you get the hang of how words should link together. Keep a professionally done crossword puzzle at hand to use as a guide. It will help place solid blocks in the proper places, as well as provide a guide for numbering order. To finish your puzzle, prepare your own graph paper and make certain lines are dark enough to photocopy well. Darken in solid blocks, add numbers in the proper positions and trim the unnecessary blocks from the puzzle edges. Now you can copy the blank puzzle neatly onto an 8-1/2″ x 11″ sheet of paper. List and number clues in the proper columns of across and down on a separate sheet. Work one copy of the puzzle to be sure no adjustments are needed. Photocopy the answered copy, reduce its size, then copy it in an obscure place in the newsletter.

Crosswords delight Jetman-Turner cousins

Gail Beckman creates crossword puzzles for reunions. Crosswords are created from a list of 40 to 45 names, events, memories, etc. about the family or reunion group. Alfred Shropshire, Rome, Georgia, had over 70 people he wanted to include, so Beckman created two puzzles.

A customized, personalized crossword puzzle is $195, and a minimum lead time of seven to ten days is requested. Beckman accepts information by email, fax or regular mail. Orders must be paid in advance and samples are available by request. Contact Gail Beckman, PO Box 1165, El Dorado CA 95623; 530-363-2040;

Word Searches

Rockwell word search
Peggy Rockwell Gleich, Rockwell Family Reunion, says she loved changing around the word search puzzle to anything you want to. 

ROCKWELL Reunion Word Search Puzzle

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This puzzle is dedicated to Ray Seideman’s 100th birthday at his 69th Seideman Family Reunion!
Happy 100th birthday, Ray!

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