The 7 Best Crossword Puzzle Books of 2021, According to Experts and Enthusiasts

Exercise your mind

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Our Top Picks

Best Overall: Simon & Schuster Mega Crossword Puzzle Book #20 at Amazon

"You'll appreciate this pick if you enjoy cultural references from several decades ago, due to its historic trivia clues."

Best for Beginners: Easy Crossword Puzzles for Adults: Relax and Train Your Brain at Amazon

"This option strikes a balance between feeling like homework and a leisure activity, and is especially ideal for beginners."

Best Medium Difficulty: The New York Times Wednesday Crossword Puzzle Omnibus at Amazon

"With an average difficulty level, this pick hails from the legacy paper that has the most well-known and long-running crosswords."

Best for Advanced Puzzlers: Hellishly Hard Fireball Crosswords: 45 Ultra-Tough Puzzles at Amazon

"Even crossword aficionados may find this book difficult thanks to its advanced puzzles and non-traditional format."

Best for History Buffs: Curious History of the Crossword: 100 Puzzles from Then and Now at barnesandnoble.com

"It offers a detailed history of crossword puzzles, as well as 100 different crossword puzzles from throughout the past century."

Best for Foodies: Food for Thought Crosswords at Amazon

"Perfect for foodies, the themed puzzle book features fun food-related puns, brain teasers, and puzzles of varying difficulty."

Best Diagramless: Diagramless Crosswords (Volume 1) at Amazon

"If you're up for a challenge, this unique book is complete with blank grids to help you improve or maintain cognitive function."

For some people, crossword puzzles are more than a pastime: they’re an important part of maintaining mental sharpness—especially as we age. Crossword puzzles were a form of "brain training" before that was even a term. The classic brain teasers require players to tap into a body of knowledge they’ve amassed over the years—both academic facts, as well as trivia—in addition to their vocabulary and verbal language skills.

“Crossword puzzles stimulate and exercise neural pathways that may not be normally used as part of daily functioning,” says Dr. Spencer Kroll, a board-certified internal medicine physician practicing in Marlboro, New Jersey, and crossword puzzle enthusiast. “Most people perform the same routines from day to day, and the addition of crossword puzzles as well other word and number puzzles can help the mind with recall, cognition, and focus.”

And while crossword puzzles are readily available online, there’s nothing like putting pen (or pencil) to paper and sitting down with an endless (or at least substantial) supply of crossword puzzles at your fingertips. That’s where crossword puzzle books come in—and there is no shortage of options.

To help you find the right one, here are the best crossword puzzle books.

Best Overall: Simon & Schuster Mega Crossword Puzzle Book #20

Simon & Schuster Mega Crossword Puzzle Book #20

Courtesy of Walmart

What We Like
  • Never-before-published puzzles

  • Perforated pages let you tear out individual puzzles

  • Includes 300 puzzles

What We Don't Like
  • Clues focus on trivia from a generation ago

  • Content of puzzles can be repetitive

This book is a great choice for puzzlers of all skill levels, with 300 crosswords ranging from easy to advanced. However, some of the clues may feel dated for users as they tend to focus on trivia that was current several decades ago. The perforated pages are a bonus for those who like to tackle single puzzles without the need for carrying an entire book with them.

Crossword Puzzle Trivia

Simon & Schuster and crossword puzzles have a long, intertwined history, beginning in 1924 with the publication of "The Cross Word Puzzle Book." In addition to being the first collection of crossword puzzles ever printed, it was also the publisher’s first release.

Number of Puzzles: 300 | Difficulty: Puzzles ranging from easy to difficult

Best for Beginners: Easy Crossword Puzzles for Adults: Relax and Train Your Brain

What We Like
  • Easy enough for readers to actually enjoy and relax

What We Don't Like
  • Some may find the puzzles to be too simple

  • Print may be too small for some

Because of the brain-boosting benefits of crossword puzzles, it’s entirely possible that after a while, you keep doing them in the name of cognitive function—which can make them feel more like homework than a leisure activity. This book finds a happy medium, giving users the chance to reap the mind- and memory-related rewards of crossword puzzles while still being easy enough to qualify as a relaxing activity

Number of Puzzles: 100 | Difficulty: Easy

Best Medium Difficulty: The New York Times Wednesday Crossword Puzzle Omnibus

What We Like
  • Includes 200 puzzles

  • Edited by crossword legend Will Shortz

What We Don't Like
  • Heavy, may not be ideal for on-the-go use

  • Binding not designed to withstand wear and tear

This collection of Wednesday puzzles from The New York Times includes a great selection for intermediate puzzlers. Crossword enthusiasts—whether they regularly partake in Times puzzles or not—will enjoy this selection of not-too-easy and not-too-hard brain benders.

Expert Insight

“Because there is wide variability to the difficulty of puzzles, people must find their correct level and challenge. The New York Times, which perhaps has the most well-known and long-running crossword puzzles, gets progressively more challenging from Monday to Saturday, with Sunday being a super-difficult puzzle...People may find that they feel most comfortable, for example, with Wednesday puzzles, and develop a routine of working on those specific ones. Completion of the puzzle should be their goal.”

Dr. Spencer Kroll, a board-certified internal medicine physician practicing in Marlboro, New Jersey, and crossword puzzle enthusiast

Number of Puzzles: 200 | Difficulty: Medium

Best for Advanced Puzzlers: Hellishly Hard Fireball Crosswords: 45 Ultra-Tough Puzzles

What We Like
  • Crossword clues contain brain teasers

  • Spiral bound for easier use

What We Don't Like
  • Print may be small and difficult to read for some

  • Puzzles presented in a non-traditional order that some may not appreciate

Geared towards an audience the author refers to as “crossword masochists,” the difficulty with these puzzles not only lies in the clues themselves, but also in the entire very-outside-of-the-box format of the book. Though it’s not for everyone, those looking to really challenge their brain may have met their match.

Number of Puzzles: 45 | Difficulty: Advanced

Best for History Buffs: Curious History of the Crossword: 100 Puzzles from Then and Now

What We Like
  • Includes puzzles originally published between 1913 and 2013

  • Also includes history of the brain teasers

What We Don't Like
  • Not for someone who wants a book strictly containing puzzles and nothing else

  • Print may be too small for some

Not to generalize, but people who enjoy crossword puzzles also probably are fans of trivia and amassing knowledge (who knows when something might be a crossword clue!) That’s what makes this book so unique: it provides a detailed history of crossword puzzles and their place in popular media and culture, as well as 100 different crossword puzzles for the reader to fill out from throughout the past century.

Number of Puzzles: 100 | Difficulty: Challenging

Best for Foodies: Food for Thought Crosswords

What We Like
  • Contains puzzles of varying levels of difficulty

  • Witty clues and writing

What We Don't Like
  • Not the best for advanced puzzlers

Some crossword puzzle books come with a theme, where the clues for the puzzles fall within a certain category. This is one of those books, and the category is food. As a bonus, fun food-related puns and brain teasers are also integrated throughout the book. Puzzle titles include “The Secret Menu,” “Extra Cheese,” and “It Wasn’t Meat.”

Number of Puzzles: 72 | Difficulty: Puzzles ranging from easy to difficult

Best Diagramless: Diagramless Crosswords (Volume 1)

What We Like
  • Fans of the format can work their way through 3 volumes (sold separately)

  • Grid-less format means more of a challenge for your brain

What We Don't Like
  • Fans of traditional crossword puzzles may hate the format

  • Occasionally, clues are repeated on multiple puzzles

Picture a traditional crossword puzzle, but instead of having specific words visibly outlined on the grid, the grid is completely blank. These puzzles tend to be something that crossword enthusiasts either love or hate. It’s certainly more of a challenge, so if your aim is improving or maintaining cognitive function, this book could be a welcome break from the usual format.

Number of Puzzles: 60 | Difficulty: Puzzles ranging from easy to difficult

Final Verdict

Given that crossword puzzle preferences are highly individual—taking into account a person’s current skill level, their desired skill level, and their interest in a particular topic—it’s difficult to recommend one book over another. So, it makes sense to stick with the middle option, “The New York Times Wednesday Crossword Puzzle Omnibus” (view on Amazon). With 200 puzzles, this book would appeal to the Goldilocks of crosswords: someone who likes something that’s not too difficult, not too easy, but somewhere in-between.

What to Look for in a Crossword Puzzle Book

Difficulty

It may sound obvious, but get an idea of your own skill level, and/or the one you’re working towards before making your purchase. Sure, you could whiz through a book designed for 10-year-olds, but where’s the challenge and fun in that? Perhaps opt for two different categories of books: One that is at your current level and provides a relaxing, stress-free leisure activity, and another that’s a true exercise for your brain.

Size of Print

There is no “standard” size for a crossword puzzle, nor are there any additional benefits to doing a teeny tiny one you have to squint at to read and complete. Make it easy on yourself and make sure you’re actually able to read the text of the book. If a book contains puzzles with large print, that’s usually indicated in the title. But other than that, it’s the Wild West of font size—not to mention that a single book could contain puzzles of varying sizes. If you’re shopping online and can’t page through the book, check out the online reviews to see if any previous customers provided any insight.

Topic

While there are plenty of crossword puzzle books that feature a wide range of topics, there are others that focus on a specific set of knowledge—like food, a period in history, or a particular TV show. It’s not that one topic is better than the others, but it is something to consider when making a selection.

Physical Characteristics of the Book

Where do you plan on doing most of the crossword puzzles? If it’s on the train during your commute or during any type of travel, you’re probably better off with a more compact and lightweight book. If you want something for at-home-use-only, get the crossword tome of your dreams. Also, pay attention to binding: it’s typically much easier to work in a book with spiral binding than one that’s traditionally bound and constantly closing on you while you’re mid-puzzle.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the benefits of doing crossword puzzles?

    Multiple clinical studies on brain aging have shown that puzzle use was associated with less cognitive decline.

    “Measurements of spatial working memory, verbal reasoning, reaction time, and attention were all assessed in these studies,” says Dr. Spencer Kroll, a board-certified internal medicine physician practicing in Marlboro, New Jersey and crossword puzzle enthusiast. “Puzzle-solvers showed significantly better performance across all cognitive domains compared to those who never used them, and measures of attention were highest in the people who did puzzles most frequently.”

    According to Kroll, puzzles that utilize constructional insight—like interlocking words, numbers, and missing cues—seem to be superior for cognitive issues. This suggests that for some, puzzles like crosswords and sudoku may be superior to jig-saws and word-finds.

  • Do crossword puzzles help with memory?

    Memory lapses—like forgetting where you put your car keys—are not matters of urgency, says Dr. Patricio Espinosa, chief of neurology at Baptist Health's Marcus Neuroscience Institute. However, for older adults with regular memory lapses, an MRI and full lab work will be recommended to rule out reversible causes if early Alzheimer’s or dementia is suspected.

    The good news is that there are many ways to help improve your memory and sharpen mental acuity. “Crossword puzzles, in particular, work to challenge the mind more than usual,” Espinosa explains. “They can increase the cognitive reserve—that’s the ability of the brain to improvise and find new ways to find information—and can also help neuroplasticity, which is the ability of the neurons to make new connections. Therefore, by building these connections and reserves, cognitive decline can be prevented or delayed."

  • What kind of puzzles are best?

    When determining which puzzles are best for a person, it depends on their cognitive baseline and individual needs. “Just like a muscle, the type of workout will depend on the goals of the athlete,” says Dr. Mohammed Elamir, specializing in brain health and cognitive function treatments at Aviv Clinics in Florida. “Regardless, if the alternative is watching TV or scrolling through social media, any form of puzzles will be great." 

    But simply having cognitive benefits aren’t enough: puzzles also have to hold a person’s attention and interest in order for them to continue to use them—and that may mean branching out from crossword puzzles.

    "I tell my patients to buy cognitive engaging activities, such as crossword and sudoku puzzles, as well as engage in art, listen to music, participate in cooking classes, visit museums and attend concerts,” Espinosa says. “While crossword puzzles may be good, they are not for everyone. It is important to find a cognitive engaging activity that is enjoyable."

    Lastly, if you’re not in a situation where you can carry a book around, there are plenty of computerized brain training games out there, including many apps for crossword puzzles, sudoku, and other brain teasers, Kroll explains.

What Experts Say 

"Just as physical exercise keeps your body fit, new activities for the mind help keep memory loss at bay. There have been studies that have looked into crossword puzzles and mentally engaging activities seen to improve the cognitive reserve, and there is some indication that they may decrease neurodegeneration." Dr. Patricio Espinosa, chief of neurology at Baptist Health's Marcus Neuroscience Institute

Why Trust Verywell Mind? 

As a seasoned health writer and editor with a special focus on mental health and well-being, Elizabeth Yuko understands how powerful stress-relieving activities can be for many people — as well as the fact that they’re not one-size-fits-all. With decades of first-hand experience dealing with anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder, she’s always on the lookout for new (and research-backed) products, techniques, and services that can help people cope with stress and other mental health challenges. 

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Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Science Daily. Regular crosswords and number puzzles linked to sharper brain in later life. Updated May 16, 2019.

  2. Ferreira N, Owen A, Mohan A, Corbett A, Ballard C. Associations between cognitively stimulating leisure activities, cognitive function and age-related cognitive decline: Associations between lifestyle factors and cognitionInt J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2015;30(4):422-430. doi:10.1002/gps.4155