Commissioning a Puzzle

A completely personal, custom puzzle is a great way to celebrate a birthday, an anniversary, a corporate event or any other occasion … or do it just for fun. Here’s how to create the perfect present for the word-lover in your life …

An individual custom crossword costs £300, which gives you a puzzle in an electronic format that gives a good approximation of the Guardian print layout, with solution and explanations, reflecting as much of your chosen theme as I can squeeze in. I normally need a couple of months to put together a puzzle that I’m happy with, but if you can give me more time, so much the better, especially around holiday times. Of course, do let me know if you need the puzzle for a particular date.

You can have a standard 15×15 grid or a special shape: if you do want a special shape, you’ll need to provide some artwork, ideally in the form of a black silhouette in a bitmap file.


If you’d like to commission a puzzle, the first step is to send me an outline of the theme that you have in mind, with some background information about the recipient.

You may already have a list of words that you’d like me to use – in any case, see the Hints box for some suggestions. It’s helpful if you can add a very brief note to explain the significance of each word.


Unless I find the theme completely impossible, I’ll get back to you in a few days with some thoughts about how I might work up the puzzle to give you a sense of where I’m heading, and probably a few questions. At this stage, I’ll just want to make sure that I don’t go down any blind alleys, so you’ll be free to comment as much or as little as you like.

If you’re happy with my plan, it’s now that I’ll ask you to pay.


Your completed crossword will arrive as a .pdf file containing two pages, with the crossword on the first page and the solution (with explanations of the wordplay) on the second. If you need the puzzle in a different format, just say.

Hints for Creating a Great Puzzle

A really good themed puzzle has at least ten or a dozen theme words in it and (if I’m doing it) quite a few references to the theme elsewhere in the clues. But not every set of ten words will slot together, so it’s very important to have some alternatives. There are no hard and fast rules, but a good approach is to make three lists:

  • A few key words that must be in the puzzle;
  • 10 or more high priority words; and
  • At least another 10 words (or as many as you like) of lower priority.

You may like to think about people and places that are important to your subject, their job, interests, unusual catch phrases … Anything goes!

Alternatively, instead of your key words, you might have a short quotation: phrases containing around 30 letters usually work well, though there is less flexibility for including other words in the puzzle.

If you have a crazy idea for a puzzle, but you don’t know whether it’ll work in practice, just ask. I once created a puzzle that was also a game of Scrabble, using all the normal letter tiles and with the solution to every clue a legal move in the game, in which the score helped to confirm where in the grid the solution to was to be written …

Above all, be light-hearted!

What a success your crossword has been … quite overwhelmed

Thanks for giving me such pleasure … I enjoyed it enormously … so personal … very special

Wow, this is brilliant! … such a unique piece — just reading through the clues has been a (slightly surreal) delight!

Enquire about Commissioning a Puzzle

Other Options

If I’m not available, or if your budget wouldn’t cover my fees, I recommend that you look at


In addition to giving you choice of two Guardian compilers, this site gives you access to a bank of up-and-coming setters, all of whom have been on my Masterclass programme and who can create an elegant and witty puzzle for a very reasonable price.

Fabulous … what a lot of fun

Loved the puzzle! … stunned … no idea that such a thing could be done … in awe and very touched … laughed his head off