December 21, 2009

First crossword puzzle – 1913

O
n this date in 1913, an English journalist named Arthur Wynne published a “word-cross” puzzle in the New York World. This puzzle included horizontal and vertical clues and most of the features of the crossword puzzle as we know it, and is therefore often called the first of the genre.

(An 1890 puzzle that was a four-by-four grid with no open
or shaded squares appeared in an Italian magazine. That sort of “word square” goes back to ancient times—there was one found in the Roman ruins of Pompei!)

Crossword puzzles became a regular weekly feature in the New York World and soon in other newspapers. By 1921, crosswords were considered a craze, and librarians complained about “puzzle fans” swarming the library for dictionaries and encyclopedias, driving away students and “legitimate” readers. Simon and Schuster published the first book of crosswords in 1924, and it was an instant hit that set off yet another craze.


It is perhaps instructive to see how many intellectuals, clergymen, and editors criticized the pastime of solving crosswords as being a shameful waste of time and of no value to one's brains or vocabulary—one even said that doing crosswords was “the mark of a childish mentality.”

It's also interesting that throughout the first decade of crosswords' popularity, journalists and others opined that the craze was dying out and would soon be forgotten. Other fads of the 1920s have indeed “died out” – flagpole sitting and goldfish swallowing, for example – and even the newspaper that published that first crossword has disappeared, but crossword puzzles are still going very strong and are considered to be the most popular kind of word puzzle in the world.

See (and do?) the 1913 Wynne puzzle
, a.k.a. the world's first crossword, here.
(Scroll down.)

Do some crossword puzzles.

If you take a newspaper, it's likely to include a crossword puzzle. Or try these free puzzles off the internet.


Make a crossword puzzle.

Use graph paper to help you keep the interlocking words lined up. Be sure to include a blank square (or, of course, the edge of the puzzle) at the beginning and ending of each word, and make sure that all letters next to each other form a word or abbreviation. Of course, you have to number each square that begins a word either across or down, and include numbered lists of definitions.


By the way, about that word square in Pompei...

Here it is:

R O T A S
O P E R A

T E N E T

A R E P O

S A T O R
Notice it reads the same across and down!

ALSO: Happy solstice, everybody!
Today is Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere and Southern Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. That means that, in the north, this is the very shortest day and longest night of the year. In the south, of course, it's the longest day and shortest night.

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