Black Ink Lets You Do Crossword Puzzles on Your Mac

Black Ink is a Mac-based crossword puzzle app from Red Sweater Software. It gives you access to any crossword puzzle using the Across Lite format, which typically has a .puz extension. The default sources it offers include the Wall Street Journal crossword, Chronicle of Higher Education, New York Times Premium Crossword, and American Values Club.

The last two choices require a subscription: $6.95 per month for the New York Times and $20 per year for American Values Club. Red Sweater offers clear instructions on how to obtain additional puzzles (File > Open Web Puzzle > Get More Puzzles) and tells you whether or not there is a paywall. There is also an option to open Across Lite puzzle files that you downloaded from the Web or received through email.

Black Ink

Black Ink offers many useful features for the crossword aficionado. The first of these is the capability to check a puzzle clue answer at the letter, word, or puzzle level (look in Solution > Check). I tend to run through the across clues, check the puzzle to identify wrong answers, and then either delete or change my answers. Wrong answers are indicated by a red “x” in the letter box.

Red x'es showing a wrong answer

In Black Ink, the puzzle remembers which words you have checked. So, even though you may have eliminated a wrong answer, when you enter another letter into a box that was checked previously, it will recheck that letter. If correct, it will put a green checkmark in the box. This might be disconcerting at first because boxes that originally had no letters in them when checked do not display either a red X or a green checkmark, whether or not the letter in that box is correct. In other words, you can end up with an incorrect down answer with one letter with a green checkmark because that letter is correct, but the remainder of the word hasn’t been checked. Once you realize this is how Black Ink works, it isn’t a problem.

The second notably helpful feature is Reveal (Solution > Reveal). I love using this option when I get stuck, particularly when the clue has to do with a person who is popular in an area I’m not familiar with, such as a particular movie or music genre. It saves me from having to resort to one of the many crossword puzzle answer Web sites.

Some may call this cheating, but I solve crossword puzzles for entertainment, not for competition. Sometimes you just can’t work through enough other clues to find the answer to the clue you are stuck on. A nice part of Black Ink’s Reveal feature is that it tags the letters that it filled in with a blue eye symbol in the box. That lets you know how much of the puzzle, if any, you needed help with. To me, this is an incentive to use the option only as a last resort.

An eye denotes revealed letters
Revealed letters are marked by a blue eye. The puzzle timer is at the bottom of the window.

For those more serious than I about their crossword puzzle solving, Black Ink can time how long you take to solve the puzzle. The timer appears at the bottom of the window, and it’s easy to pause or reset it as needed.

Something to note is that when you open a puzzle source, you get the puzzle for that day. But later on, if you open a puzzle from the same source, you get the previous day’s puzzle. This feature lets you open an earlier puzzle if you missed a day. Both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal crosswords are set up so Monday’s puzzle is very easy, but the puzzles get progressively harder through the week until Saturday. So, if you only occasionally do puzzles and want easy ones, it might be best to aim for Mondays. You can select the puzzle source (the Red Sweater Web site offers a nice guide to other options) to optimize the difficulty level, or just work your way through the week from easy to more difficult.

Overall, Black Ink is easy to use and a good fit for any puzzler from beginner to advanced, thanks in large part to its Reveal feature. If you already have a New York Times subscription, it’s a nice way to do the crossword puzzle digitally on your Mac.

Black Ink is free to use with all features for 14 days, after which it costs $29.95 to unlock all features. The price feels reasonable if you will be using it regularly, given its advanced features. As a regular crossword puzzler, I’m a fan.