History of the Crossword Puzzle Part 1

About the history of the crossword puzzle games found in newspapers, differences between American and English puzzles.

The Crossword Puzzle

Newspaperman Arthur Wynne created the 1st crossword puzzle which appeared in a publication in the U.S. An Englishman born in Liverpool, editor Wynne placed the puzzle in the December 21, 1913, "Fun" page of the Sunday supplement to the New York World.

Did the idea of the crossword puzzle spring full-blown into Wynne's mind? Well, no--editor Wynne wanted something bright and new as a steady space filler. He had a vague recollection of a puzzle he'd once seen in the London Graphic. So the 1st American crossword puzzle was born.

This puzzle was an instant if modest successwith the readers of the World. It was diamond-shaped and some of the clues were: A written acknowledgement (7 letters) (Ans: receipt); the fiber of the gomuti palm (3 letters) (Ans: doh); to sink in mud (5 letters) (Ans: mired).

Wynne made other puzzles and is also given credit for the 1st insertion of black squares in the spaces between the letters. Although he deserves this credit, crosswords of many shapes and kinds had appeared before 1913 in 19th-century English periodicals for children. The mid-Victorian puzzles were derived from the "word square," a group of words arranged so the letters read alike vertically and horizontally. According to Margaret Petherbridge Farrar and Prosper Buranelli, the World's puzzle experts in the 1920s, "A magical relation was thought to exist between the words in a word square." Such squares had a cabalistic force in the minds of the readers.

In 1913, English adults paid little attention to the American revival of the crossword puzzle; but when this interest became a positive craze in the 1920s, English enthusiasm grew. Soon almost all daily papers in the U.S. and Great Britain had crossword features. Not only that, but les mots croises appeared in France, and puzzles sprang up in most other languages except for those which do not lend themselves to vertical and horizontal word arrangement by letter, such as Chinese.

There are national differences in the style of crosswords. According to Margaret Pether-bridge Farrar, former puzzle editor of The New York Times, the British style uses many un-keyed letters with no cross clues, eliminates most short words, and features difficult definitions. In the U.S., conservative rules usually call for symmetrical patterns, no more than 1/6 of the squares black, allover interlock of words, no cutoff segments or unkeyed letters. Quality of the puzzle is judged by the ingenuity of word combinations and skill in selection of definitions or clues.

The golden age of the crossword puzzle was during the 1920s in the U.S. when many fads swept the country--from goldfish swallowing to making bathtub gin. As Publishers Weekly reports, "The crossword puzzle was America's favorite licit indoor activity in the days before television."

Interest in working crossword puzzles was intense, and when the puzzles began to appear in book form in 1924, one became an outstanding best seller. The 1st of these, the Crossword Puzzle Book, appeared under the imprint of the Plaza Publishing Company and it turned Simon and Schuster into a top publishing firm. Amazingly, the publishers did not want their names on the book because they were not sure it would be a success.

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