The most important thing to consider when solving a puzzle like this is the context. For example, does this riddle accompany a reading of some kind? Is it part of a larger puzzle that has a specific theme? Once you get your brain situated and thinking about the words, clues,...
The most important thing to consider when solving a puzzle like this is the context. For example, does this riddle accompany a reading of some kind? Is it part of a larger puzzle that has a specific theme? Once you get your brain situated and thinking about the words, clues, text, or pictures surrounding the puzzle, you can start to think of the terms that most appropriately fit around your clue.
The second thing to help you explore the context of the word and to make some helpful associations would be to search for synonyms of words given in the clue. Here, look for some synonyms for "tense" or even "tensed up" to see if anything might fit.
Finally, you will want to look at the construction of the word itself. You know more about this word than you might think!
For example: you know the word is a verb, and that it is a regular verb (e.g. it has the ending "ed" to make it past tense, as opposed to a word like "to give" which would be "gave" in the past). Knowing the conventions of building the past tense of a regular verb, you can pretty safely assume that the last blank will be a consonant, not a vowel. It's a probability game to start. You also know that the middle blank will likely be a vowel. Finally, the first letter cannot be h, j, l, m, n, q, r, v, x, y, or z. Think about it - these letters don't go well with "r," especially when they precede "r"—at least in English.
One thing I like to do, then, is go through some preliminary possibilities:
I might try: arinved—ok, not a word; or bronped—nope; or cronzed—nope again . . .
Let's commit to a vowel in the center, since we are 99% sure it'll be a vowel. Let's pick "i". . . _rin_ed. Hmm . . . that looks like it could be something. Let's roll with it . . .
Brinced? Nope, but I know that certain letters don't make sense or are not likely to be in the last blank—b, f, h, j, l, m, q, r, w, x, y, z. I can omit these because they don't play well with "n" in the middle of words.
Ok, so let's start at the beginning of the alphabet and add a letter to the first blank to see what might pop up for us.
"a" makes arin_ed—not ringing any bells.
"b" makes brin_ed—hmm, brinned, bringed, brinzed. None of those work.
"c" makes crin_ed. Let's look at the letters that really wouldn't fit here (listed above) and skip over them as we consider the possibilities for this final blank.
Crinced, crinded, crinfed, cringed . . . wait a minute! That might work!
You see how much guessing and working through possibilities and playing with probabilities we have to do when we don't consider the context? We were just lucky to have chosen the letter "i" to go in the middle early on!