This page is about the word puzzle. For the extraction method sometimes referred to as an "acrostic", see Initialization.

Acrostics (also called anacrostics, crostics, or double-crostics) are a type of clue-based Word Puzzle that involves assigning numbers to each letter in the clues' answers, then fitting those letters into a grid in numerical order to spell a quote (or other string of text). Often, the first letters of the clues' answers spell a relevant name, phrase, or clue to the puzzle's grid fill.

Background[edit | edit source]

Originally called double-crostics, this type of puzzle was invented by a schoolteacher named Elizabeth Kingsley, who wrote her first acrostic in 1933. The puzzle was subsequently published in the Saturday Review in 1934, and the puzzle type was quickly picked up by other publications, including the New York Times (who hired her to write weekly puzzles for the Sunday puzzle page from May of 1943 to December of 1952).

The name 'double-crostic' likely stems from a separate puzzle type, the double-acrostic, in which a series of clues are presented (often in poetic style as a nod to acrostic poetry) whose answers read relevant words down both their first and last letters. In addition, the alternate name of 'anacrostic' is simply a portmanteau of "anagram" and "acrostic", which is both relevant to how such puzzles are often constructed, and how the puzzle's final solution is an anagram of the entire list of clue answers.

In most historical cases, as well as most non-hunt-puzzle cases, acrostics result in a quote, particularly one of literary, poetic, or oratory fame. As the goal was often to not have to solve all of the clues directly, and reward solvers who recognized the quote, they were purposefully designed to be possible to partially fill in based on a half-solved puzzle. In hunt versions, however, the goal is to put a twist on the concept, or purposefully make it more difficult to solve. In these cases quotes are used less often, with more puzzle content (such as more clues or a series of phrases that don't form a coherent quote) taking their place. Sometimes writers will make a compromise and use both, but these cases are much less common.

Puzzle Application[edit | edit source]

Example Acrostic puzzle
Solution to the Example Acrostic

Acrostics as a whole have one constant factor that makes them acrostics, and that is the presence of crossword-like clues, whose answers can be filled into spaces to distribute them throughout the numbered solution spaces. All other factors are technically optional.

Some of these optional elements include:

  • Words and phrase reading down the first letters of the answers in order
  • Solutions spaces containing a letter in addition to a number to mark which clue that space belongs to
  • A quote being the result of filling in all of the answers

Each of these elements has their own use in a hunt puzzle, and depending on the goal of the puzzle or any underlying gimmicks, an author may choose to use some but not others.

Answer acrostic[edit | edit source]

Keeping the "acrostic" part of acrostic puzzles and having a word read down the first letters can be an excellent way to either provide a necessary hint or instruction to help finish the puzzle properly, but it is also a constraint that some authors will choose to not take. This can especially be the case if the fill itself is very constrained, and certain letters that would be needed for the instruction aren't found anywhere in the fill itself.

Clue identifiers in solution grid[edit | edit source]

Having letters (or other identifiers, like roman numerals) associated with each clue placed in the solution spaces is an excellent default choice for acrostic presentation. On top of providing a level of accessibility (preventing solvers from straining their eyes to spot a single number among the full clue list), it helps speed up the backsolving process. If part of the solution is identified without being entirely filled in from clues, knowing exactly which answer the remaining letters go with can help the solve go faster, particularly if the clues themselves are more obscure.

Quotes[edit | edit source]

Having a quote as the solution to an acrostic is relatively uncommon in hunt puzzles, as it doesn't leave a lot of room for creative extraction methods. What's far more common is have the result be a series of shorter phrases or individual words that are then used to extract a final answer from outside the acrostic. While a unique extraction can still be accomplished with quotes (see Build Your Own Acrostic), the options are much more limited, and as such most authors will choose to eschew this element.

Strategy[edit | edit source]

Identification[edit | edit source]

Unless a puzzle has massively obfuscated an acrostic's involvement in its solution, the presence of an acrostic should be extremely easy to identify.

Solving[edit | edit source]

The first thing that solvers will see will usually be the empty spaces. In most cases, this will be a series of white spaces broken up by black spaces; therefore, the first thing that solvers should do is to see if they recognize the spacing as any particular passage. It's unlikely, especially at the start when no letters have been filled, but it's still possible and therefore worth a shot.

Then, attention should turn to the clues. Filling in the ones that have unambiguous answers (pop culture trivia, historical or scientific facts, etc.) should be step one, and once those are complete, filling in the solution spaces. Depending on how many clues have been answered, one may be able to fill in some extra squares based on expected words. If that's the case, do so and transfer those letters into their respective answer spots. Repeat this process with your new partial answers, until you don't have any partial answers to fill.

At this point, it's possible that you'll be able to tell whether the author hid a message in the initials of the answers, and also may be able to determine what that message is. If there is one, and you can complete it, then rejoice at having the first letters of all of your missing clue answers, and just continue on your way.

At a certain point, you should be able to fill in most of the solution spaces based on probably words and/or knowing the source material of the text. Either that, or you'll have solved all of the clues. No matter what, you'll reach a puzzle state where the solution spaces are filled and the clues are answered. All that's left to do then is extract from what you have.

Remember to check for messages in answer initials, and any hidden information in the clues themselves, as both may help with figuring out what to do once the acrostic itself has been solved.

Notable Examples[edit | edit source]

  • The Scrambler (MITMH 2006) (web) - Instead of a quote, the clue answers contribute to the creation of more clues. Ultimately, the final answer is what is given by the initials of the answers.
  • A Toast (MITMH 2015) (web) - A purely visual acrostic, with a collage of images that need to be identified (specifically as lyrics from Rent's La Vie Boheme).
  • Getting Out of Line (MITMH 2017) (web) - Instead of being given a grid to fill in with letters, the numbered letters go to form a crossword grid, with the down entries being clued by a separate set of clues.

See Also[edit | edit source]