Christopher Yates’s novel “Black Chalk” takes a sinister stance on game-playing. Competition can bring out the worst in people, it seems. As least with crosswords, you are solely competing against yourself. Here, the author and expert crossword puzzle maker shares his tips for solving the hardest crosswords.

Click here to play a crossword he created.

1. Work up a sizeable three-letter word vocabulary.
“When you make up a crossword puzzle, you are often forced to use obscure three-letter words you don’t necessarily want to use but it’s the only word that will tie everything together for you,” Yates says. He suggests Googling “crosswords three letter words” to get familiar with the most common ones used. That way, they are front of mind when you sit down to solve.

Related: Christopher Yates: No such thing as 'just a game'

2. Clues and answers often end in the same letters.
Yates says if a clue ends in –ing, there’s a good likelihood the answer ends in –ing as well. Same goes for –ed. “Just pencil in [the suffix] and see if it helps you with the other clues,” he says. It just may point you in the right direction and help you solve some other clues connected to the answer word.

3. When you’re really stuck, take a break.
Sometimes the best thing you can do is put down the crossword and do something else. “Your brain is still working on that crossword,” Yates says. “You don’t have to sit there and stare at the screen or the crossword.” Chances are, when you sit back down, an idea or two will pop into your head.

Related: Head to metro.us/games to play crosswords and more.

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