Novelty Crossword Songs!

Although the crossword as we know it celebrates its birthday on December 21, tracing its roots all the way back to 1913, it was the 1920s where crosswords really caught the public eye.

By 1924, crosswords had officially become a fad, inspiring fashion trends (black and white patterns) and moral panics alike.

But it was also the year of the novelty crossword song. Yes, crosswords found their way into the world of music, serving as inspiration for numerous comedic ballads.

Perhaps the most famous of the 1924 crossword songs is the curious “Crossword Mama, You Puzzle Me (But Papa’s Gonna Figure You Out).”

The subject of the song is an ardent puzzle solver, but the singer of the song is more bothered by the fact that he doesn’t have her full attention, painting her as someone who ignores him or flirts with other guys. He is clearly suspicious of her, and expresses his suspicions through crossword clue references.

[Although written and arranged by James V. Monaco and Sidney Clare,
this version of the song was recorded in 1925 by Frank Crumit.]

For example:

Crossword Mama you puzzle me,
But Papa’s gonna figure you out.
You call me honey – that means bee!
Looks like I’ll get stung no doubt.

Your Papa’s gonna crossword you right now,
You better get your answers right.
I heard you mention “butcher” – that means “meat”!
Who you gonna “meet” tonight?

The singer is clearly confused by both crosswords and the object of his affections. It would be best if he just left them both alone for a while.

Given how difficult some people find crosswords, you shouldn’t be surprised that there was a blues song penned about crosswords the same year.

“Cross-Word Puzzle Blues,” penned by Fred Herendeen and performed by The Duncan Sisters, is surprisingly upbeat, as the sisters describe themselves as “criss-cross crazy” and discuss their difficulties solving puzzles. It’s very silly indeed.

Be careful not to confuse this with the jazzier song by D.J. Michaud and Marguerite Bruce, “I’ve Got the Crossword Puzzle Blues,” featuring such tongue-in-cheek downbeat lyrics as “I’m feeling awfully down and cross / I spend all day solving, but I still don’t have a clue.”

(Unfortunately I couldn’t find a decent public recording of this one to share with you.)

There’s a strange recurring theme with these songs where women are primarily the solvers, and the men in their lives are utterly baffled by the pastime.

In a similar vein to the first song, “Cross-Words (Between Sweetie and Me)” is all about a man who feels spurned and underappreciated by his crossword-obsessed lady.

Sorrow has torn at my heart strings
I wonder who is to blame
My sweetie never has time for me
She’s deep in love with a game
Crosswords have made me blue as can be,
Cross, crosswords between my sweetie and me,
She’s been puzzling, don’t seem to care
Whether I’m near her or taking the air
I’m jealous. How can I win sympathy?
I’m hoping she’ll soon need L-O-V-E.

[Recording of Billy Jones from Edison Records, circa 1925]

He goes on to describe how a group of people solving crosswords were so quiet, he thought they had died, and he subsequently broke into the house to make sure they were all right.

Billy clearly has boundary issues, and although his sweetie might be spending too much time with crosswords, at least they’re keeping her away from her weird, weird paramour.


This is just a sampling from a single crossword-obsessed year. I’m sure there are many more puzzle-inspired songs out there. Do you know any? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you!


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Puzzles in Pop Culture: The Ruts

It’s always fun to find puzzles in unexpected places, so when friend of the blog Jen Cunningham sent me the picture above of a single with a crossword aesthetic, I was immediately intrigued.

I’d never heard of the band or the song, but as a long-time fan of ska music — a mix of Jamaican reggae, rock, and blues, heavy on the horns, very jazzy and upbeat — I initially suspected a ska influence, given the crossword pattern.

You see, the mix of black and white squares in crosswords is very reminiscent of the checkerboard pattern that is synonymous with both two-tone ska and third wave ska.

[Image courtesy of Gattuso.org.]

My suspicions turned out to be correct when I began investigating the record itself.

“Staring at the Rude Boys” was the fifth single released by The Ruts, a British band from the late ’70s and early ’80s that mixed punk and reggae-infused ska elements. Although the band never made a splash in the United States, they had a UK Top Ten hit with “Babylon’s Burning” in 1979.

And as it turns out, the crossword design is part of an actual crossword, complete with clues related to the band and the single, as well as some random obscurities meant to poke fun at the challenging clues featured by some crossword outlets.

[Image courtesy of Punky Gibbon. Click the link for a larger
version, though honestly, it’s not much easier to read.]

Apparently, the crossword aesthetic was part of a marketing campaign, complete with a contest to see who could solve the crossword!

According to the website Punky Gibbon:

The single was promoted with a crossword competition that featured on the front and rear cover of the sleeve. First prize was a night out with the band (“You win – they pay”). One lucky punter secured this great opportunity to see his heroes in the flesh…

[Image courtesy of Punky Gibbon.]

Once again, we discover that there’s virtually no corner of pop culture that hasn’t been touched by puzzles in some way, shape, or form. And not only did I get to explore a curious diversion in puzzly history, but I got to do so while listening to one of my favorite genres of music.

Puzzles… is there anything they can’t do?


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