75 Years of New York Times Crosswords!

Yesterday marked the 75th anniversary of The New York Times publishing its first crossword, and I thought I’d delve into NYT crossword history a bit to commemorate this event!

On February 15, 1942, The New York Times ran its first Sunday edition crossword. (The daily feature as we know it wouldn’t come into effect until 1950.)

But, you might be thinking to yourself, Arthur Wynne’s “word-cross” first appeared in the New York World in 1913. Simon & Schuster published The Cross-Word Puzzle Book, edited by Margaret Farrar, in 1924. What took The New York Times so long to catch on?

Truth be told, they didn’t think much of crosswords back then.

“Scarcely recovered from the form of temporary madness that made so many people pay enormous prices for mahjongg sets, about the same persons now are committing the same sinful waste in the utterly futile finding of words the letters of which will fit into a prearranged pattern, more or less complex.”

The article goes on to call crosswords “a primitive form of mental exercise” and compare their value to that of so-called brain teasers that should be solved by schoolchildren in 30 seconds or less. A pretty harsh assessment, overall.

So, what changed their minds regarding crosswords?

Well, World War II happened.

“I don’t think I have to sell you on the increased demand for this type of pastime in an increasingly worried world,” wrote Margaret Farrar, the first crossword editor of The Times, in a memo to Lester Markel, the Sunday editor, after the Pearl Harbor attack. “You can’t think of your troubles while solving a crossword.”

In a memo dated December 18, 1941, Markel conceded that the puzzle deserved space in the paper, considering what was happening elsewhere in the world, and that readers might need something to occupy themselves during blackouts.

The puzzle proved popular, and Arthur Hays Sulzberger — the publisher of the New York Times and a longtime crossword fan himself — would author a Times puzzle before the year was out.

And so now, only a few years after the crossword itself celebrated its centennial, the most famous crossword outlet in the world is celebrating three-quarters of a century, along with a wonderful legacy of innovation, wordplay, and creativity.

To mark the occasion, The Times is going all out. Not only did they publish a crossword on Tuesday by the youngest constructor in NYT history — 13-year-old Daniel Larsen — but over the course of the year, they’ll be publishing collaborations between top constructors and celebrity solvers!

The first, a feast of a collab between Patrick Blindauer and actor Jesse Eisenberg, was published yesterday.

So, we here at PuzzleNation tip our hat to not only the current crew at The New York Times crossword, but all of the editors, constructors, creators, and collaborators who have contributed to a true crossword institution. I, for one, can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

[For more on the 75th anniversary, please check out Deb Amlen’s wonderful piece here (from which I nabbed that Margaret Farrar quote).]


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It’s Follow-Up Friday: Trebek Raps edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, I’d like to quickly revisit two of my most recent blog posts.

In last week’s Follow-Up Friday post, we celebrated the 144th birthday of creator of the crossword Arthur Wynne, and I set up a little puzzly challenge for my fellow PuzzleNationers: How many words of four or more letters can you make from the letters in ARTHUR WYNNE’s name?

Here are the 110 words I came up with:

Anew, Ante, Aren’t, Artery, Arty, Aunt, Awry, Earn, Earth, Earthy, Entry, Errant, Hare, Hart, Hate, Hater, Haunt, Hear, Heart, Hearty, Heat, Henna, Hewn, Hunt, Hunter, Hurray, Hurry, Hurt, Hyena, Nary, Nature, Near, Neat, Neath, Nehru, Newt, Rant, Ranter, Rare, Rate, Rater, Rather, Rawer, Rear, Rent, Reran, Rerun, Retry, Return, Rune, Runner, Runny, Runt, Runty, Runway, Tanner, Tannery, Tare, Tarry, Tawny, Tear, Teary, Tern, Ternary, Terra, Than, Thane, Thaw, Then, They, Threw, Thru, Thruway, Tray, Trey, True, Truer, Tuna, Tune, Tuner, Turn, Unearth, Unwary, Wane, Want, Ware, Warn, Warren, Wart, Wary, Water, Watery, Wean, Wear, Weary, Went, What, Wheat, When, Whet, Whey, Wrath, Wreath, Wren, Wryer, Yarn, Yawn, Yeah, Year, Yearn.

I’m sure I missed some, so let me know what words you came up with!


[Image courtesy of hlntv.com.]

In yesterday’s post, I discussed some of the newer trivia-based game shows on TV these days. I didn’t really discuss Jeopardy!, easily the most popular trivia game show of all-time, simply because I didn’t have anything new to say on the topic at the moment.

Well, lo and behold, last night I stumbled across a video clip from Monday night’s episode that I simply have to share with the PuzzleNation audience.

In this brief clip, host Alex Trebek gives us a rare glimpse into a rap career that never was — and channels William Shatner’s peculiar rhythmic cadence — as he sings a bit of the theme song from the beloved NBC sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Enjoy:

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It’s Follow-Up Friday: For the Wynne edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, I’d like to return to the subject of Arthur Wynne.

[Image courtesy of express.co.uk.]

In 1913, Arthur Wynne created the first modern crossword puzzle — which he called a Word-Cross puzzle — and over a hundred years later, we are still enjoying the ever-increasing variety of puzzles and clues spawned by that “fun”-filled grid. (Click here for more details on that groundbreaking puzzle.)

Wynne was born on June 22, 1871 in Liverpool, England, but moved to the states in the early 1890s, spending time in Pittsburgh and New York City before creating his Word-Cross puzzle for the New York World. (We can also credit Wynne with the use of symmetrical black squares in crossword grids.)

So, in honor of Mr. Wynne’s 144th birthday, I’ve got a little word creation puzzle for you! How many words of four or more letters can you make from the letters in ARTHUR WYNNE’s name?

I came up with 110! Can you match or top my wordcount? Let me know!

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It’s Follow-Up Friday: Pluto, Pi, and Puzzles edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, I’d like to return to the subject of puzzly and otherwise nerdy holidays!

I already mentioned the fast-approaching American Crossword Puzzle Tournament yesterday, but did you know that today is Pluto Planet Day?

Yes, today is a day when all those scarred or upset by Pluto’s demotion from planet to dwarf planet (or plutoid, or Trans-Neptunian Object, or whatever they’re calling it now).

In fact, the residents of the state of New Mexico were so upset by Pluto’s dismissal from the list of planets that they made a law stating Pluto is forever a planet in New Mexico skies. Which is pretty great (and in flagrant defiance of the current scientific literature).

Tomorrow is a holiday as well! It’s Pi Day (March 14th, a.k.a. 3.14)! And, actually, it’s the most mathematically significant Pi Day since 1592!

When you take Saturday’s date — 3/14/15 — you have the first five digits of Pi. When you add a certain time — 3/14/15 at 9:26 — you have the first eight!

(MIT used to email its acceptance letters out at 1:59 on March 14.)

Plus, March 23 is crossword icon Margaret Farrar’s birthday!

Hired as a secretary for The New York World, she soon found herself assisting crossword creator Arthur Wynne with proofreading puzzles, only for her puzzles to surpass his in popularity! She was the first crossword editor for The New York Times, a position she held until 1969 when Will Weng took over the position.

So, fellow puzzlers, will you be celebrating Pi Day or Pluto Planet Day or Farrar’s birthday? Better yet, will you be participating in this year’s ACPT? Let me know!

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PuzzleNation Book Review: The Centenary of the Crossword

Welcome to the eighth installment of PuzzleNation Book Reviews!

All of the books discussed and/or reviewed in PNBR articles are either directly or indirectly related to the world of puzzling, and hopefully you’ll find something to tickle your literary fancy in this entry or the entries to come.

Let’s get started!

Our book review post this time around features John Halpern’s The Centenary of the Crossword.

With the hundredth anniversary of the Crossword only a few weeks behind us, interest in puzzle is perhaps at an all-time high. With that in mind, constructor John Halpern has put together a tribute to the crossword that’s part history, part solving tool, and part celebration of everyone’s favorite pen-and-paper puzzle.

It’s a wonderful introduction to puzzles for anyone looking to get into solving crosswords. Beyond the timeline of puzzle history and glimpses into the minds of various constructors (or setters, as they’re known in England) and crossword editors (Rich Norris of the Los Angeles Times and Will Shortz of the New York Times included), Halpern offers numerous solving hints, including a terrific breakdown of cryptic cluing for fans of British-style crosswords.

Not only that, but the book is chock full of complete puzzles for the reader to solve, starting (quite appropriately) with Arthur Wynne’s marvelous “Word-Cross” and proceeding straight through to the modern day, featuring constructors from around the world. These puzzles show the depth and variety of crossword grids and cluing, and I think even well-established solvers will get a lot out of tackling the puzzles Halpern has collected.

The book is capped off with interviews with the top solvers from last year’s American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, some terrific clues (including some from PuzzleNation Blog favorites David Steinberg and Doug Peterson), and a delightful collection of crossword-centric anecdotes, weird words, and impressive anagrams.

Essentially a cross-section of modern puzzling and the rich puzzle community, The Centenary of the Crossword is a quick and informative read, peppered with puzzles to engage and challenge you. I’m happy to report that I learned a great deal about crosswords (especially cryptics!) from Halpern’s work, and enjoyed every minute of it. What a treat.

[To check out all of our PuzzleNation Book Review posts, click here!]

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100th Anniversary Roundup!

It’s been nearly a week since the 100th Anniversary of the Crossword, and so many newspapers, websites, and bloggers wrote about it that I’m just now sitting down to compile some of them for your viewing pleasure.

Now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t start with the interactive Google Doodle that had everyone wishing me a happy hundredth anniversary a day early. *laughs*

But, as it turns out, that wasn’t the first puzzle created for Google’s signature doodle! Check out this story from the Washington Post about Merl Reagle’s eleventh-hour constructing wizardry that saved the day! (And based on Google’s ubiquitous nature, what will probably end up as the most-solved crossword of all-time.)

[Here’s a picture from constructor and magician David Kwong’s Instagram, showing the whole family getting in on solving Google’s anniversary doodle.]

Our friends at Penny/Dell Puzzles posted a terrific video of Will Shortz discussing the future of puzzles, and added their own tribute by creating a marvelous book commemorating the 100th anniversary. (They’ve also got a pretty nifty crossword app you can check out here.)

Letters of Note had perhaps my favorite post in honor of the anniversary: a letter from Frank Sinatra to then-New York Times Crossword editor Eugene T. Maleska.

The Wall Street Journal offered an interesting look into how Arthur Wynne’s “word-cross” became known as the crossword.

There were numerous puzzles created to honor the anniversary. The Orange County Register published David Steinberg’s contribution, and NPR’s Ask Me Another posted a curious puzzle of their own!

These are just a few of the links that caught my eye, but if you’re still hungry for more 100th Anniversary goodness, check out this impressive collection of links compiled by the folks at Puzzazz.

And, of course, you can always click the previous button and check out PuzzleNation’s 100th Anniversary post, where I talk about not only Arthur Wynne’s puzzle, but my own anniversary as a puzzler.

As we step into a second century of Crossword history, I’m sure we have plenty of marvelous wordplay surprises coming our way.

Thanks for visiting the PuzzleNation blog today! You can like us on Facebookfollow us on Twitter, cruise our boards on Pinterest, check out our Tumblr, download our Classic Word Search iBook (recently featured by Apple in the Made for iBooks category!), play our games at PuzzleNation.com, or contact us here at the blog!