History of the Crossword Puzzle Part 2

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

The Crossword Puzzle

Popular interest in the 1920s is shown by aids which were marketed to help puzzle-solvers. One was a crossword "finder," an indicator with a series of movable alphabets on paper strips which were supposed to aid in forming proper letter arrangements before they were written in the squares. The device allowed the trial of test words, "saving erasures and changes on the puzzle chart. The indicator, which can be carried in the pocket, does not require a pencil for marking and its construction permits as ready operation as a small adding machine." (Popular Mechanics, March, 1925.)

The main interest among fans in the 1920s was in the puzzle as an aid to language development. The literary intelligentsia including Franklin P. Adams, Heywood Broun, and Ruth Hale, took up the puzzle and fed this interest. In The Literary Digest of June 6, 1925, Arthur Maurice, former editor of The Bookman, claimed to have found 40 words which had grown unfamiliar through general mental laziness but were now resurrected due to the crossword puzzle craze.

Maurice said, "It is the subtle restoration of these words, a direct result of the crossword puzzle, that is galvanizing casual talk into a new and healthy flexibility. A cathedral, for example, is no longer a blur of vague images. The picture has cleared with the rescued understanding of 'apse' and 'nave.'"

Another reason for the extraordinary success of crossword puzzles according to Columbia University professors of psychology H. E. Jones and Prescott Leeky, was the low cost of working them and, the professors added, "The puzzles appeal to the sex instinct in that they supply a new reason for social gatherings, of young particularly."

In the 1920s, as now, there were 2 schools of puzzle solution fans: those who grimly armed themselves with dictionaries, gazetteers, and classical Latin phrase books, and free souls "who'd sooner die in the flames than consult a reference book." (Publishers Weekly.)

Among feats recorded: The fastest time for completing the London Times crossword is 3 minutes, 45 seconds. This record was set by Roy Dean, age 43, of Bromley, Kent, in the BBX "Today" radio studio on December 19, 1970. On the other hand, in May, 1966, The Times received an announcement from a Fijian woman that she had just succeeded in completing their crossword No. 673 from the April 4, 1932, issue.

The world's largest published crossword puzzle, with 3,185 clues across and 3,149 down, was constructed by Robert M. Stilgenbauer of Los Angeles. It took 11 years of his spare time between May 15, 1938, and publication in 1949 for him to do this.

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