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Great Crossword Apps for US, UK, cryptic, and free puzzles

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Crosswords have been around for more than a century and are a mainstay of newspaper puzzle pages worldwide, so you’d think it would be easy to find the perfect crossword app for iPhone. But search the App Store and you’ll find it’s not so simple, with many of the apps we tested failing to impress.

Some have clumsy interfaces that are a pain to use. Some add needless cruft like collectibles and power-ups. Some are brimming with ads. Others simply haven’t been updated for years and barely work.

Even if you disregard apps with those issues, you’re left with a lot of choices. US or UK grid layouts? Straight or cryptic clues? Free or paid?

Finding the right app can boggle the mind enough to put you off puzzles altogether. But never fear, my cruciverbalist friend: we’ve got just the tonic. Here, then, are a selection of quality crossword apps to suit almost any need. Enjoy!

Best for US-style crosswords

It’s hard to look past The New York Times Crossword app, which provides high-quality daily crosswords, plus 5×5 gridded ‘minis’ if you’re short on time. The app is smartly presented, with helpful additions like a non-permanent pencil tool and optional auto-check. There are plenty of customizations for tweaking the input and visuals, important factors to consider if legibility is an issue.

A subscription to NY Times Games not only grants access to a huge archive of crosswords, but also popular daily word games Spelling Bee and Wordle. There’s detailed progress tracking with stats on your solve rates, times, and streaks – plus a leaderboard for challenging your friends. There are cheaper crossword apps for iPhone, but none come close to the quality or quantity on offer here.

Price: $5/£3 monthly or $40/£30 yearly, free trial available with no sign-up required

NY Times Crossword

Best for UK-style crosswords

While most broadsheet newspapers offer a decent selection, Guardian Puzzles and Times Puzzles are our favorite apps for UK-style crosswords, which utilize British slang/spellings and sparse grids. Both apps have solid interfaces with smart tools, and both publish multiple types of crosswords – including a weekly beginner’s cryptic with easier clues. You can subscribe specifically to the puzzles if you’re not interested in the full publications.

Guardian Puzzles also features multiple Sudoku challenges, while Times Puzzles offers an even wider range of daily brainteasers. If you’re pinching pennies, you’ll even find the Guardian puzzles completely free of charge on its website – minus the app’s nifty ability to keep track of half-finished puzzles and collaborate with friends.

Price: $3.49/£3.49 monthly or $34/£33 yearly for Guardian Puzzles, $4/£4 monthly for Times Puzzles, both offer a free trial

Guardian Puzzles

Times Puzzles

Best for cryptic crosswords

Cryptic crosswords combine logic, patterns, general knowledge, and out-of-the-box thinking into a uniquely satisfying – and fiendishly difficult – puzzle style. The problem for beginners is that cryptic clues rely on a series of unwritten rules that can be completely baffling to anyone not in the loop.

Crossword Genius includes an A.I. assistant who can solve (almost) any cryptic clue, while explaining the logic behind the solution. The app’s loaded with plenty of its own content, but you can also import crosswords from the web or scan a printed puzzle with the device camera. The A.I. smarts are always on hand for assistance if you need it. It’s a fantastic resource for people new to cryptics, providing a guiding hand for reverse-engineering solutions and improving your understanding.

Price: starter packs and camera import are free, a $5/£5 monthly or $30/£30 yearly subscription unlocks everything

Crossword Genius

Best for free crosswords

This is a tricky category, as most ‘free’ crossword apps include in-app purchases or intrusive full-screen ads. But if you can get beyond Crossword Unlimited‘s comically ugly menus and dated aesthetic, you’ll find an infinite stream of decent auto-generated crossword puzzles.

You can choose between UK and US grid styles, ten levels of difficulty, and straight or general knowledge clues. The app will then build you a bespoke crossword and track your solve time. The app uses minimal ads and its hint system costs a time penalty, not a cash one. There’s also an impressive level of customization in the settings, plus game center high scores and achievements.

Price: free, supported by a single banner ad placement

Crossword Unlimited