Marching Bands (Crossword Type)

Marching Bands are a crossword puzzle variant involving grids made up of concentric rings, where answers travel both across the grid horizontally and clockwise within each band. While these bands can technically be any shape, most choose to be square, to stay in line with what's expected from a crossword, and make the horizontal arrangements more manageable.

Background[edit | edit source]

According to crossword puzzle setter Brendan Emmett Quigley, Marching Bands first appeared in the Italian puzzle magazine La Settimana Enigmistica, and were introduced to an English-speaking audience by fellow setter Mike Shenk sometime in the 1980s. Quigley has since become a prominent constructor of Marching Bands puzzles, including publishing a collection of his own puzzles in book form.

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Puzzle Application[edit | edit source]

An example Marching Band grid, with every second band swapping color to differentiate them.

Presentation[edit | edit source]

Unlike regular crosswords, Marching Bands puzzles do not contain any black squares for delimitation (with the exception of an occasional unused square at the center of an odd-width grid). Instead, rows may contain multiple answers but are read continuously within the grid. The clues provided for a given row are separated, of course, and are usually presented in order still.

Another major change from normal crosswords is that vertical clues are completely missing. Instead, 'band' clues are presented, leading to a series of answers that need to be entered travelling around one of the puzzles' rings usually starting in the top left corner of the grid. As a result, 'Band A' and 'Row 1' will usually have clues that solve to the same string of letters, but might be broken up in different spots.


The above example results in the first band turning after the D, starting to travel downwards along the rest of the band. Another side effect of this way of writing answers is that halfway through each band, words will begin to read backwards/upwards instead of the usual across/down.

Difficulty[edit | edit source]

As a whole, Marching Bands are slightly more difficult than the average crossword puzzle, due to the lack of information usually given about the length of individual answers. Traditionally, each set of answers only gives information about the total length across all answers, given by the width of the grid or the total length of the band. Additionally, while cross-checking is still done with every square, they're done in a different way: as mentioned, all of the first and last rows are contained within the overall string of the first band. As a result, these rows' clues end up only being checked by a single set of other clues, as they don't cross them perpendicularly, but are instead overlaid travelling in the same (or directly opposite) direction. If one cannot solve the clues in row 1, their only chance for filling in the row is the solve the starting clues for band 1, and vice versa.

Despite these difficulty increases, many people find Marching Bands to be a relatively easy and rewarding crossword variant, which could be attributed to the same style of crosschecking as mentioned above. When done well, a marching band rewards solvers for solving particular strings that are used in multiple clue sets. This is usually done by testsolving and ensuring that the problems that could arise from this type of crosscheck (in theory) do not arise.

Strategy[edit | edit source]

Marching Bands have a unique solve path, meaning they also have some unique strategies to go along with them.

Since bands contain words being written backwards in the lower half of the puzzle, these should be worked on in conjunction with the row clues for those rows. Having words read both forward and backward can be a difficult task, so making sure that a possible choice for a row clue works well in the opposite direction for the band clues can save some hassle.

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Notable Examples[edit | edit source]

Played Straight[edit | edit source]

  • Ordering a Round (MITMH 2003) (web) - A straightforward Marching Bands without any major twists. Extraction simply requires taking certain letters from certain entries once the grid has been filled, although a secondary answer is also hidden in the puzzle thanks to this hunt's 'training' gimmick. In this case, Click to revealsolvers can place an overlay on top of the puzzle which highlights certain letters.
  • Marching Band (MITMH 2020) (web) - While the grid itself doesn't provide any real twists, this is a unique puzzle in that it also involves Click to revealactual marching bands (specifically visual formations made during OSU performances).

Notable Twists[edit | edit source]

  • Marching Band (MITMH 2019) (web) - This Marching Bands puzzle would be relatively normal, except instead of a series of concentric rings, solvers are presented with a single massive band. Click to revealWhile the normal thing would be to assume that it would spiral inwards, hitting all of the spaces a normal series of bands would, this band has horrible timing, and turns too early or too late, resulting in a wobbly spiral that goes all the way in AND all the way back out.

See Also[edit | edit source]