[Image courtesy of Amazon.]
When you think of comic books and puzzles, one character instantly springs to mind: The Riddler. He’s easily the most iconic puzzly figure in comics, and his many twisty challenges for Batman have ranged from simple word games to death-defying escape rooms.
But did you know that Superman also has some puzzling in his expansive superheroic past?
In fact, Lois Lane’s life once depended on Superman’s ability to complete crossword puzzles!
[Image courtesy of Superman Fandom Wiki.]
Yes, back in 1948, from April 15th until May 3rd, The Adventures of Superman radio show (aka the Superman Radio Program) featured Superman facing off against a gang of kidnappers and thieves, as well as a devious mastermind, in “The Crossword Puzzle Mystery.”
At that point, the crossword hadn’t even become a daily feature in The New York Times yet. (The first Sunday edition crossword debuted in February of 1942. The daily version wouldn’t appear until 1950.)
So how did crosswords cross paths with The Man of Steel?
Well, it all starts with Lois Lane on an airplane, solving a crossword in order to find out where she’s going. Lois had received a tip from Horatio F. Horn, a local correspondent for The Daily Planet, and now she finds herself on a hunt across (and down) America for her next destination.
[Image courtesy of DC Comics, via Alpha Coders.]
The puzzle leads her to Moundville, a mining town where Horatio has gone missing. She meets a sinister gold-toothed man, and then goes missing herself. Cub reporter Jimmy Olsen soon arrives in Moundville, trying to locate both Lois and Horatio, but having no luck.
Eventually, Clark Kent gets involved, solving the same crossword puzzle as Lois and heading to Moundville himself. He arrives just in time to save Jimmy Olsen from being dragged off a cliff by a spooked horse. (You know how it is with spooked horses in old mining towns.)
After a hotel fire (an attempt on Jimmy and Clark’s lives), Clark finds three more crossword puzzles, but they’re partially destroyed. So he returns to Metropolis to track down solvable copies of each crossword, hoping they’ll reveal the whereabouts of Lois and Horatio.
Yes, one of the episodic cliffhangers was Clark solving crosswords while Lois and Horatio were held in a secret cave at gunpoint. It’s gloriously silly.
[Image courtesy of DC Comics, via David Morefield.]
Solving the crosswords leads Superman to believe that someone in Moundville is planning to steal a shipment of gold, so he returns to the town and teams up with Jimmy and a local sheriff to get more information. He deduces that a particular shipment going out that night is the target, and manages to rescue Lois and Horatio from the gang of ruffians planning the theft.
It turns out that the mastermind of the thefts is the owner of a Metropolis newspaper syndicate — who supplies puzzles to all the papers, including The Daily Planet — and would alert a vast network of gangs in the West to various gold shipments going out by putting the name of the town in the puzzle.
That’s how Horatio ended up investigating in the first place: he’s a crossword fan himself and noticed the pattern.
The serial concludes with Superman capturing the rest of the thieves in Moundville while the Metropolis police arrest the nameless puzzle mastermind. Good job, everyone! Another crime spree thwarted, thanks to solving puzzles!
[Image courtesy of DC Comics, via View Comic.]
The plot of this radio serial is quite similar to the plot of the first Crossword Mysteries film — both featuring thieves informed about targets through the local crossword — and honestly, it tickled me to imagine all these gun-toting ne’er-do-wells scattered throughout the western states, solving crossword puzzles every day and waiting to see where they’d need to go robbing.
This plan also implies that the crossword constructor NEVER mentioned towns or cities at other times, because that would send his goons on wild goose chases. Imagine all the abbreviated Canadian provinces they’d be searching, not to mention the European rivers.
Perhaps this fiasco resulted in The Daily Planet hiring their own crossword editor, because later on in the comics, we see someone in the newspaper offices with a crossword pattern on his wall:
[Image courtesy of Adam Talking Superman, who offered this caption: Huge fan of the newest Daily Planet character, crossword puzzle guy listening to Perry White’s vocabulary!]
Still, it’s fascinating to know that a major radio program — one with over two THOUSAND episodes — devoted literal weeks of airtime to a crossword-themed mystery.
It also makes you wonder what else is lurking in the daily crossword grids. What other devious crimes are afoot right under our noses?
I guess we better keep solving, folks! Our puzzly vigilance could be a crime-riddled town’s only hope!
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