A Brief History Of The Humble Crossword

Crossword puzzles might be the most popular word game in the world. Doing a crossword puzzle can both stimulate and relax players. But where did the humble crossword originate? Let’s discover the history of this interesting game.  

The Origin of Crossword Puzzles

The first known crossword puzzles appeared in England during the 1800s. Known as word squares, these early puzzles featured basic content and designs. They were included in children’s puzzle books and magazines. 

Crossword Puzzles Evolve

In 1913, leaders at The New York World newspaper in the U.S. asked writer Arthur Wynne to create a new game for the FUN section. Loosely based on word squares, his word-cross creation was published in the December 21, 1913 edition. However, the name was transposed to cross-word a few weeks later. Eventually, the hyphen was dropped. 

Wynne also spent years updating the puzzle’s design. His original rendition incorporated a diamond shape with numbers in certain boxes and no black boxes. Eventually, his tweaks became the modern-day design with a large box, a horizontal and vertical rectangle shape, empty black squares, and numbered white squares. 

Meanwhile, other newspapers in the U.S. began publishing their own puzzles with varied shapes, sizes and accuracy. Front page banners invited readers to skip troubling headline news and proceed directly to the puzzle section. By 1924, crossword puzzle collections were introduced. Likewise, crossword-themed musicals, comic strips and clothing reflected the puzzle’s booming popularity. Librarians also reported an influx of world-be puzzlers searching dictionaries and encyclopedias for clue answers. 

A decade after its U.S. origins, the popular puzzle returned to Europe. The new craze was first published in either Pearson’s Magazine in February 1922 or the Sunday Express in 1925. British puzzle authors also customized the game. For example, D. S. Macnutt took a pen name and wrote governing rules for the Cryptic and Super Cryptic puzzles.

The crossword also continued to mature in the U.S., thanks partly to the New York Times, which published its first crossword on February 15, 1942. This paper’s decision-makers had previously refused to publish the primitive puzzle and assumed the trend would fizzle. Ironically, staff members experienced a change of heart after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. They decided that solving puzzles would give readers a reprieve and distraction from tragic world events. However, publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger insisted on offering the best crossword in the nation. He hired veteran crossword editor Margaret Petherbridge Farrar to supervise the puzzle. Farrar instituted standard grids and the Sunday Breakfast Test that requires clues and answers to be appropriate for all players, trends that many future puzzle publishers adopted.  

The Crossword is Here to Stay

The humble crossword has indeed grown immensely over the years. Today, it’s a staple in many homes and provides hours of engaging entertainment. And here are more fun facts. 

*The inaugural American crossword puzzle tournament was held in Connecticut in 1978. Its organizer, 25-year-old puzzle maker Will Shortz, became the future editor of The New York Times puzzle and the unofficial crossword king. 

*The first online crossword was published on January 22, 1996. 

*Published on June 30, 2016, in Japan, the largest crossword puzzle included 66,666 clues. 

*Hugh Stephenson’s book Secrets of the Setters offers clues that help players untangle advanced-level puzzles.  

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