Forms are puzzles similar to crosswords; from given clues, the
solver fits words into a pattern. The important difference is
that form patterns are geometrical shapes and have no black
squares, as crosswords do.
If the form is a shape described in this section, no blank
diagram will be shown in The Enigma. The title and number
of clues will be sufficient information to determine the form's
shape exactly. For example, if the title is "SQUARE" and there are six clues, the
words will be filled into a shape six squares across by six
squares down. (This form would be called a 6-square. Forms' sizes are named for the length of
their longest entries.) If the form is a shape not shown in this
section, the editor will usually print a diagram showing the
(Occasionally, the editor may also describe a new form type's
shape via form notation; for example, a wedge-shaped form could
be described as S:R. You will never be required to understand
this notation to solve a form, but if you are interested you can
find more details here.)
The varieties of basic types include inverted forms, bigram forms, vowelless forms, and many others.
Explanations and examples of these are given in the "Types of Forms" section.
Words Used in Forms
Forms are most popular when they consist mainly of common
words and phrases. Often, though-particularly in larger forms-the
form constructor (or formist) might
need to resort to unusual words to finish the form. Form words
may come not only from the standard NPL references but from any
English-language source. Solvers may get credit for incompletely
solved forms containing words not found in any standard NPL
reference and not easily inferable from context. (While formists
are allowed to use these words, form solvers are not always
required to find them.)
Historically, formists were not allowed to use abbreviations,
partial phrases (for example, ETAT clued
as "Coup d'___"), or foreign words. In recent years,
Enigma forms have contained all of these. Some people
(myself included) do not consider forms containing these sorts of
entries to be legitimate; others, seeing forms as similar to
crosswords, have no problem with them. Formists must decide this
question for themselves.
Prohibited words include all those listed in NI2 only as
"reformed spelling." The reformed spelling movement was a brief,
unpopular phenomenon, and while the NI2 editor was trying to
popularize those spellings by including them, they never gained
wide acceptance. For this reason, formists have never felt free
to use those spellings, and they are banned from all types of
- If a word is in any current NPL reference, it is generally
not tagged unless the forms editor feels that information is
necessary (for example, in some harder puzzles such as vowelless or consonantless
- Non-MW words are welcome in forms. However, the constructor
should make every possible effort to find some printed source
in which the word can be found: for instance, a current
almanac, a movie guide, or a specific issue of a magazine.
(Online sources, due to their varying degrees of accuracy, are
not acceptable.) While this may seem a slight inconvenience to
the constructor, remember that a solver who doesn't know the
word is forced to search for a source in order to confirm
- If the word is MW but tagged "rare" or "archaic," include
that in the clue after a colon. For example, the 11C word ABY
could be clued as "Suffer a penalty: arch."
- If the word is MW as a variant of another word, and the
normal spelling is tagged, that tag should also be included.
For example, the NI2 word AGRAW is
listed as a variant of the word AGRAH,
which is defined as "Dear; sweetheart" and tagged
"Anglo-Irish." A proper clue for AGRAW,
then, would be something like "Sweetheart: Anglo-Irish,
- If the word is not MW, put its source in parentheses after
the clue. For example, the Chambers word SOARE, defined as "Reddish-brown," would be clued as
- If the word is not MW and also has a tag such as "rare" or
"archaic," put the source last. For example, SELAD is in OED as a variant form of SALAD. It could be clued as "Vegetable dish: var.
- If a non-MW word is very obscure, it may be given to the
solver; this is done by putting the word in all capitals,
followed by a source tag: "ARINES (NI1)." It is not necessary
to provide the definition.
- As an aid to the solver, if the word is an obscure Biblical
name or is out of place in the dictionary, include the source
and page number on which the word is shown: "Biblical name:
NI2, page 731."
- Submit clues in Enigma format: start each clue on a
- So that the form checker doesn't have to shuffle among the
various MW references, include the specific references where
you found any unusual words or definitions.
- Remember to include the answer!
Here are explanations for many of the tags currently used in
forms. A number after any of these abbreviations indicates the
edition used; for example, (OED2) designates the second edition
of the Oxford English Dictionary.
AH: American Heritage Dictionary
of the English Language
Amende: Random House Famous Name
Finder, by Coral Amende
B&M: The Complete Directory to
Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, by Tim Brooks and
BIP: Books In Print
Cham.: Chambers 20th Century
Col. Enc.: Columbia
Coll.: The collegiate form of the
reference mentioned. For example, (RH Coll.) designates the
Random House Collegiate Dictionary.
EB: Encyclopaedia Britannica
EWED: Encarta World English
Lipp. Bio.: Lippincott Biographical
Lipp. Gaz.: Lippincott Geographical
Maltin: Leonard Maltin's Movie &
MW Bio: Merriam-Webster New
MW Geo: Merriam-Webster Geographical
NW: Webster's New World
OED: Oxford English
RH: Random House Dictionary of the
English Language, Unabridged
TIG: Times Index Gazetteer
WA: World Almanac
WB Enc.: World Book
This page was last updated on Friday, December 17, 2010. /webmaster