Latinocyrillic crosswords

Exploring the idea of crosswords that mix Latin and Cyrillic letters.

Publication date
CC0 “public domain”


The key observation is that the following uppercase letters look pretty much the same:

Table 1: Letters deemed visually equivalent (homoglyphs)
Latin A B C E H K M O P T X Y
Cyrillic А В С Е Н К М О Р Т Х У

Russian vehicle registration plates incidentally use only digits and these 12 (Cyrillic) letters, so as to not baffle foreigners.

These letters aren’t necessarily orally equivalent (representing the same sound), or even proper transliteration of one another. Neither are they digitally equivalent (encoded by the same number); that can be exploited to play malicious tricks on computer users. But for what concerns us here, those mismatches are no problem. On the contrary, they’ll enable the fun!


Let’s set the tone and warm up with two simplistic examples.

An already-filled grid first:

  • ➡️: Watch out
  • ⬇️: Look in
Grid 1: Sneakers or Смерть шпионам

(The 🇺🇸 CIA mainly handles overseas, outside operations. The 🇷🇺 FSB/ФCБ, on the other hand, deals with inland matters.)

And now one grid for you to finish. The row [→] is in Latin. The column [↓] is in Russian, restricted to letters from Table 1.
The white squares are textfields that you can edit. ⚠️ A sound should normally occur whenever a grid is filled.

  • ➡️: Republic, an empire after
  • ⬇️: Republics after an empire
Grid 2: Sic transit gloria mundi or Перестройка

N.B.: Acronyms Seriously Suck!


Without further ado, here comes a 4×4 crossword grid, where rows are English words, and columns Russian ones.
There is no blank; all squares are to be filled.
Clues hyperlink to their corresponding words, so that you can check your answers (or cheat!)

✒️ 1 2 3 4
  1. Open on Easter
  2. Short exhibition
  3. Dated man
  4. Bastard Yorkie bitch
  1. A steroid opening
  2. Will sigh
  3. Vampire’s delight
  4. Declined gaining honestly
Grid 3: Speak White роем

Making of

The author doesn’t speak Russian (yet), but he knows how to talk to computers. So he wrote a program generating all possible grids, out of which he manually picked the one above. He finally had fun coining clues for each word.

Some numbers and explanation:

  1. Take as input two dictionaries; 100 686 English words, 584 953 Russian words.
    (Declension & conjugation make for a much bigger Russian word list.)
  2. Keep only words made of the letters given in Table 1; 660 English words, 9240 Russian ones.
  3. Of those, keep only 4-letter words; 195 English words, 544 Russian ones.
  4. Using backtracking, enumerate all valid combinaisons. There are 684 of them, found in a few seconds.
    (There are several 3×3 grids too, but no ≥5² grid. There are 73 French/Russian 4² grids.)


A small double word square makes for a fun curiosity, but does not feel like a real crossword. Bring back blank spots and we can get something better! Below is a slightly bigger grid, as a demo. Rows again are in English, columns in Russian.

✒️ 1 2 3 4 5
  1. Untenable position.
  2. Wild jazz.
    1. First half.
    2. Santa echo.
  3. American emblem.
  4. To display feelings.
  1. Declined, but in-law this time!
  2. Mute in a preposition.
    1. Ownership mark.
    2. Neutralized demonstrator.
  3. Poem.
  4. Outside as a preposition.
Grid 4: Die Игрок


Being limited to homoglyphic letters, while a good lipogrammatic exercise, brings too much extra constraining in our case. We have to stick to short words. We overuse (Russian) inflections. That doesn’t feel right.

If we are willing to allow “orphans” (lowly connected squares), we can devise more interesting grids. Only the meeting spots will be restricted to letters from Table 1, the isolates could use their full alphabet.

In the following grid, rows hold words which exist in both French and English, columns hold uninflected Russian words.
Most clues this time link to simpler hint(s), not to the answer itself. The clues of horizontal words are in French, for the delight of experienced cruciverbistes.

✒️ 1 2 3 4
  1. Stimulant métronome.
    1. Paul en Russie, elle évanouie.
    2. Blanc mat.
    1. Parfois siègeant en métropole.
    2. Un peu plus et on en faisait une montagne.
  2. Vaguement formé en Métropole.
    1. First love of man.
    2. Stimulant (that make one go nuts).
  1. Off the track.
  2. Delicatessen.
    1. Last love of man.
    2. Black mate.
Grid 5: Filet миньон


The previous grid has too many blanks and too much symmetry to look pretty to French eyes, but crossword æsthethics vary accross the globe.

One thing which is universally questionable though, are actually the isolates, orphan squares. They do occur in “serious” and monolingual grids too, but they ruin the principle of connecting words. And it’s not uncommon for players to forget about them and just move on if they are the only spots unfilled in a crossword.

Can we do something to avoid them? Yes! Until now, each alphabet was assigned to a dimension (horizontal or vertical). Why not instead switch languages back and forth, in consecutive rows and columns? This will perhaps be a bit disorientating, but that sounds like a small price to pay to have no orphans in return!

Exhibit A, the next grid, features rows & columns alternating between Russian and English. Also, the format is asymmetric for a change:

✒️ I 2 III 4 V
  1. rus Eye opener.
  2. eng Cause & effect.
  3. rus You sit on it.
  4. eng Poor prophet!
  5. rus Penalty.
  6. eng Quarantine.
  7. rus Dead zone.
    1. eng Reverse fatal strike.
    2. eng Angelic city.
    1. rus Knight servant.
    2. rus Sneaker.
  1. eng Ancient trick update.
  2. rus Brought in.
  3. eng Arabian House.
Grid 6: Korobeyniki

Exhibit B is the masterpiece of this document, a French/Russian crossword. It contains less than 16% of blanks. We are nevertheless back to a symmetrical design; that’s to not favour one of the two languages. And to accomodate players with only basic or rusty French knowledge, the clues are mostly simple here:

✒️ I 2 III 4 V 6 VII 8
  1. rus Roman goddess.
  2. fre Brilliant (α. is!)
    1. rus Beefy piece.
    2. rus Present.
    1. fre Did rent or lease.
    2. fre Article.
    1. rus Interjection.
    2. rus Short Scrooge.
    1. fre Clock click.
    2. fre Зайка [🐰♀].
  3. rus Lonely Christian.
  4. fre To nail.
  1. fre Did explode.
  2. rus Poetic echo.
    1. fre Newbie.
    2. fre Energy unit.
    1. rus Shrine.
    2. rus Santa echo.
    1. fre Old Cyrillic letter.
    2. fre Sweety vegetable.
    1. rus Small angle.
    2. rus Pas rond [¬⚪].
  3. fre To examine.
  4. rus Awww.
Grid 7: Такова жизнь, c’est la vie !


We are done with the meat of our investigation. Now comes a couple little extras for dessert.

One more symbol (grapheme / character)

The Cyrillic letter «З» looks like the Hindu-Arabic numeral3”. Check this:

Grid 8: Odd one, even prime!

A tribute to the great Georges Perec, who coined a clever 1×1 (French) grid, and who also played on numeral & letter homoglyphs to define Io as 2 sur 5.

Atom symbols (Na, Hg, …) are verbicrucistes friends. Imagine how crazy it’d get if we allowed whole chemical formulæ! Rows are in English or Chemist, columns in plain Russian:

✒️ 1 2
Grid 9: Менделеев cocktail


Word search is another famous word puzzle that literally contains crossed words. And it turns out to be quite appropriate when mixing alphabets. Below is a short one, as an example. Words can be found ↘︎, ↗︎, ←, or ↑.

  • 💂 ДИАНА
  • 💎 КЛАД
  • 😍 КРАСА
  • 👑 TIARA
  • 👗 CHIC
  • 🍄 PEACH
Search 1: after prom

Distorting telescope

Speaking of princesses and dextrosinistral (←) search, could we somehow exploit the mirrored Latin/Cyrillic letters (i.e.R / Я, N / И, and arguably E / З & E / Э), on top of the shared ones having reflection symmetry (A, Н, M, О, T, Х, Y)?

Sadly, no. Mirrored words are scarce: only 33 in English↔Russian, the longest having just 4 letters (e.g.: HATE / ЭТАН). With French it’s even worse.

What about extending our list of symbols deemed visually close enough? 0h cert4in1y шe coцld. Consider also the metamorphosis of some Cyrillic letters when lowercased and italicized/cursive: Г → г, Д → д, И → и, П → п, Т → т. Would that make for more interesting puzzles, though? Doubtful; maybe.

Note however that only modern (post-) Russian (not even including Malo- & Belo-russia) letters were used all along. There is much more to Cyrillic script!

Closing words

The goal of this document was to prove the feasibility of polyglot, poly-alphabet, crosswords. As such, breadth was favored over depth: shedding light on the concept from different angles, not expanding on any single one.

Another reason for this approach was that crosswords are “just” a game — though a game featuring surprising connections. Hence they were rather a good opportunity to reference other subjects, some more serious: linguistics, computing, chemistry, &c.

This document finally had to try to please its intended audience. Part of it is Russian, most of it Russian-friendly. And one’s breadth is regarded as negative in the West to the same extent as one’s narrowness is regarded as unacceptable in Russia said Vladimir Arnold/Владимир Арнольд, a Russian polymathematician.

Cross the bridge

Arnold also taught in France, where he lamented the elimination of geometry from the curriculum by les zélotes de la mathématique superabstraite. However trivial this may seem, crosswords have eminently spatial = geometric aspects: they are multidimensional (2D — or more, if we talk figuratively), and there is a feeling of pre-existing simultaneity and connectivity of the grid as a whole (even if its content is yet to be filled).

Crosswords also obviously are a linguistic game. And on the other hand, language (be it oral or written) is fundamentally one-dimensional, even unidirectional. Le reflet de l’unidimensionalité et de l’irréversibilité du temps as remarked by René Thom, a French polymathematician. Speaking indeed is about encoding your thoughts into discrete entities (sounds/letters, assembled into words, themselves into sentences) that you’ll emit sequentially. Now if we agree with Michael Atiyah, a British knight and polymathematician, when he argued that algebra […] is concerned essentially with time […] is a sequence of steps performed one after the other, then language is algebraic!

Therefore crosswords bind together algebra & geometry, the sinister and the eastern hemispheres 💏


L’auteur tient à remercier :

Polyglot crossword on a street wall
Urban art in 🇧🇪 Ghent Photo by Jelleke Vanooteghem