Back in 2013, we created a timeline of events from crossword history as part of our celebration of the hundredth anniversary of the crossword.
Although 105 isn’t as prestigious as 100, and the anniversary is technically tomorrow, we thought we’d honor the day this year by updating our comprehensive look at the long (yet surprisingly short) road it took to get to that marvelous centennial!
So, without further ado or folderol, we proudly present:
A Brief History of the Crossword (Updated)
16th – 11th century BC
Inscriptions from New Kingdom-era Egypt (Eighteenth to Twentieth Dynasties) of horizontal and vertical lines of text divided into equal squares, that can be read both across the rows and down the columns, are made. These inscriptions are later referred to by Egyptologists as “Egyptian crossword puzzles.”
19th century AD
Rudimentary crosswords, similar to word squares, begin appearing in England, and later elsewhere in Europe.
June 22, 1871
Future inventor of the crossword, Arthur Wynne, is born.
March 23, 1897
Future New York Times crossword editor Margaret Farrar is born.
February 25, 1907
Future New York Times crossword editor Will Weng is born.
December 21, 1913
The New York World publishes the first crossword, invented by Liverpool journalist Arthur Wynne. (The puzzle is originally known as a word-cross.)
January 6, 1916
Future New York Times crossword editor Eugene T. Maleska is born.
Margaret Farrar is hired by The New York World as a secretary, but soon finds herself assisting Arthur Wynne with proofreading puzzles. Her puzzles soon exceed Wynne’s in popularity.
Colonel H.W. Hill publishes the first Crossword Dictionary.
Margaret Farrar revises the cluing system for crosswords, sorting them into “Horizontal” and “Vertical” clues by number. (It wouldn’t be until the 1940s that the more familiar “Across” and “Down” terminology became the norm.)
Margaret Farrar publishes the first book of crossword puzzles under contract for Richard L. Simon and Max Schuster, “The Cross-Word Puzzle Book.” It was an instant bestseller, launching Simon & Schuster as a major publisher. (Additional information available below the timeline.)
The Daily Express, founded in 1900, becomes the first newspaper in the United Kingdom to carry crosswords.
Crossword-themed novelty songs hit the airwaves as the puzzle craze intensifies, most notably “Crossword Mama, You Puzzle Me (But Papa’s Gonna Figure You Out).”
The Amateur Crossword Puzzle League of America, a self-appointed group of puzzle enthusiasts, lobbies for rotational symmetry in crosswords, which becomes the standard.
Solver Ruth Franc von Phul becomes a minor celebrity after winning The New York Herald-Tribune’s National All Comers Cross Word Puzzle Tournament at the age of 20. (She would win again 2 years later.)
January 15, 1925
“Felix All Puzzled,” the first animated short to feature a crossword, is released.
February 2, 1925
The crossword-fueled musical revue “Puzzles of 1925” opens on Broadway. It runs until May of 1925.
February 15, 1925
Disney releases a crossword-themed animated short, “Alice Solves the Puzzle.”
The cryptic crossword is invented by Edward Powys Mathers, who publishes under the pseudonym Torquemada. He devises them for The Observer newspaper.
First reported instances of Braille crosswords, as newspapers mention Helen Keller solving Braille crosswords and recommending them to the blind.
Dell Puzzle Magazines begins publishing.
(Dell Publishing itself was founded in 1921.)
Dell Pocket Crossword Puzzles first published.
(The magazine continues to this day.)
February 15, 1942
The New York Times runs its first Sunday edition crossword. (Additional information available below the timeline.)
June 2, 1944
Physics teacher and crossword constructor Leonard Dawe is questioned by authorities after several words coinciding with D-Day invasion plans appear in London’s Daily Telegraph. (Additional information available below the timeline.)
The crossword becomes a daily feature in The New York Times.
August 26, 1952
Future New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz is born.
Lyricist Stephen Sondheim begins creating cryptic crosswords for New York Magazine, helping introduce Americans to British-style crosswords.
Will Weng succeeds Margaret Farrar as the second crossword editor for The New York Times.
Penny Press is founded.
Eugene T. Maleska succeeds Will Weng as the third crossword editor for The New York Times.
First year of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, later featured in the documentary Wordplay. 149 contestants compete for the title in the first national crossword tournament since the 1930s.
Howard Garns creates the modern Sudoku puzzle for Dell Magazines (under the name Number Place), the first pen-and-paper puzzle to rival the crossword in popularity (though this spike in popularity would occur decades later under the name Sudoku).
June 11, 1984
Margaret Farrar, while working on the 134th volume in Simon & Schuster’s crossword puzzle book series, passes away.
Will Shortz succeeds Eugene T. Maleska as the fourth crossword editor for The New York Times.
November 5, 1996
One of the most clever and famous crosswords of all time is published, the election-preceding crossword where either BOB DOLE ELECTED or CLINTON ELECTED could read out, depending on the solver’s answers.
The Wall Street Journal adds a crossword to its newspaper, and Mike Shenk is appointed editor.
June 23, 2006
Wordplay documentary hits theaters, featuring celebrity solvers of crosswords as well as the participants and organizers of the 2005 edition of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament.
February 29 – March 2, 2008
Thanks in part to the Wordplay documentary, the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament outgrows its previous setting and moves to Brooklyn.
June 6, 2008
Matt Gaffney launches his Weekly Crossword Contest (MGWCC).
Lollapuzzoola, a crossword-solving tournament with a more tongue-in-cheek, freeform style, launches in Jackson Heights, New York.
October 6, 2008
Patrick Blindauer’s famous dollar bill-inspired crossword puzzle is published.
The city of Lvov, Ukraine, creates a crossword that spans an entire side of a 100-foot-tall residential building, with clues scattered around the city’s major landmarks and attractions. It’s awesome.
October 11, 2011
PuzzleNation.com goes live.
David Steinberg launches the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project, designed to compile a complete database of every New York Times crossword.
August 13, 2012
PuzzleNation Blog is launched.
June 14, 2013
Matt Gaffney celebrates five years of MGWCC,
stating that MGWCC will run for 1000 weeks
(which puts the final edition around August 6th, 2027).
December 21, 2013
The Crossword officially turns one hundred years old.
1924: The publishing house Simon & Schuster, agreed to a small (3,600-copy) run of a crossword puzzle book, prompted by founder Richard L. Simon’s aunt, who wanted to give such a book to a friend. It became “a runaway bestseller.”
In no time the publisher had to put the book back on press; through repeated printings, it sold more than 100,000 copies. Soon a second collection followed, and then a third and a fourth. In 1924 and 1925 the crossword books were among the top 10 nonfiction bestsellers for the year, besting, among others, The Autobiography of Mark Twain and George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan.
February 15, 1942: The New York Times initially regarded crosswords as frivolous, calling them “a primitive form of mental exercise”; the motivating impulse for the Times to finally run the puzzle (which took over 20 years even though its publisher, Arthur Hays Sulzberger, was a longtime crossword fan) appears to have been the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
In a memo dated December 18, 1941, an editor 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 Sulzberger himself would author a Times puzzle before the year was out.
June 2, 1944: The words Omaha (codename for one of Normandy’s beaches), Utah (another Normandy beach codename), Overlord (the name for the plan to land at Normandy on June 6th), mulberry (nickname for a portable harbor built for D-Day), and Neptune (name for the naval portion of the invasion) all appeared in Daily Telegraph crosswords during the month preceding the D-Day landing.
This has been attributed to either an incredible coincidence or Dawe somehow overhearing these words (possibly slipped by soldiers involved) and incorporating them into puzzles unwittingly.
Do you have any suggestions for additions for our Crossword Timeline? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you!
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