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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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!

Happy Anniversary, Crosswords!

Today is the 100th anniversary of the crossword. (Not yesterday, as Google’s marvelous Merl Reagle-penned crossword doodle might’ve had you believe.) One hundred years ago today, Arthur Wynne’s “word-cross” puzzle debuted in The New York World, kickstarting a phenomenon that has gone well past pencil-and-paper, more relevant and influential today than ever before.

Let’s take a look at that very first puzzle, shall we?

[For the solution and a slightly larger grid image, click here.]

In modern crossword terms, this diamond shape is known as an open puzzle or a cut puzzle, since it’s not the standard crossword square. I’m a fan of cut puzzles, because their shapes draw the eye. H-shaped, Z-shaped, and diamond-shaped puzzles aren’t uncommon among cut puzzles, and it’s always a treat to see one when flipping through a book of crosswords.

And it’s sort of fascinating to see all the differences between this puzzle and the modern crossword, despite its utter familiarity.

There’s the set word, the singlet letters at the puzzle’s four corners that don’t get crossed, and those enormous numbers that leave no writing space for the actual letter. There’s also that very curious cluing order, which took me a second to decode: the acrosses along the left side of the diamond grid, then the acrosses along the right side of the diamond grid, then the downs from furthest left to furthest right. Figuring that out was something of a puzzle in itself!

It’s not hard to see the appeal of the crossword from the very beginning. The grid is open, not daunting at all, and that casual spirit no doubt attracted plenty of intrigued first-time solvers. The mechanics of the puzzle are solid, and the synonym-heavy cluing style is an easy introduction to cluing.

Some of those clues, like 23-30’s [A river in Russia] for NEVA wouldn’t be out of place in a grid today. Though hopefully you wouldn’t come across a clue like 10-18’s [The fibre of the gomuti palm] for DOH too often. Wow, that is a seriously tough one. (Plus, I suspect modern solvers would get it much faster if clued as [Homer’s exclamation].)

Still, there’s a sense of humor to the construction. Look at clue 18-19 [What this puzzle is]. HARD. Well, no kidding, Mr. Wynne, when you expect us to know the fibre of the gomuti palm. *laughs*

What about clue 6-22? [What we all should be] MORAL. Wynne’s puzzle has a message. =)

Solving the puzzle was a curious experience, both as a solver and constructor. On the construction side, the word DOVE appears twice, a serious no-no in the modern puzzle community.

It would need editing to make the cut these days, but Wynne’s word-cross remains a worthwhile and laudable start for a long, proud legacy of wordplay and puzzling.

That legacy is quite personal for me, since this year also marks my ten-year anniversary working in the puzzle business. (That anniversary came less than a week before today’s centennial celebrations.)

I make a living thanks to Arthur Wynne’s wildly-successful creation, and I am grateful every day that I get to work on puzzles, or come here and write about them, all the while contributing to a community with a century-long tradition of humor, playfulness, intelligence, and style.

Thank you, Arthur.

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!

Crossword History: A Timeline

The hundredth anniversary of the crossword is nearly upon us, and we at PuzzleNation Blog thought we’d take a look at the long (yet surprisingly short) road it took to get to this marvelous centennial!

And so, without further ado or folderol, we proudly present:

A Brief History of the Crossword
(by Glenn Dallas and the PuzzleNation Team)

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

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.

1920

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.

1924

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.

The Sunday Express becomes the first newspaper in the United Kingdom to carry crosswords.

1926

The cryptic crossword is invented by Edward Powys Mathers, who uses the pseudonym of Torquemada. He devises them for The Observer newspaper.

1931

Dell Puzzle Magazines begins publishing.
(Dell Publishing itself was founded in 1921.)

1941

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. (Click here to read more about this.)

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. (Click here to read more about this.)

1950

The crossword becomes a daily feature in the New York Times.

August 26, 1952

Future New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz is born.

1968

Lyricist Stephen Sondheim begins creating cryptic crosswords for New York Magazine, helping introduce Americans to British-style crosswords.

1969

Will Weng succeeds Margaret Farrar as the second crossword editor for the New York Times.

1973

Penny Press is founded.

1977

Eugene T. Maleska succeeds Will Weng as the third crossword editor for the New York Times.

1978

First year of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament,
later featured in the documentary Wordplay.

1979

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.

1993

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.

June 23, 2006

Wordplay documentary hits theaters, featuring both celebrity solvers of crosswords and the participants and organizers of the 2005 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).

August 2008

Lollapuzzoola, a crossword-solving tournament with a more tongue-in-cheek, freeform style, launches in Jackson Heights, New York.

October 6th, 2008

Patrick Blindauer’s famous dollar bill-inspired crossword puzzle is published.

2009

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 11th, 2011

PuzzleNation.com goes live.

June 2012

David Steinberg launches the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project, intending to create a complete database of every New York Times crossword.

August 13th, 2012

PuzzleNation Blog is launched.

June 14th, 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 21st, 2013

The Crossword officially turns one hundred years old.


Additional information:

February 15th, 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 2nd, 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.


Thanks for visiting the PuzzleNation blog today! You can like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, cruise our boards on Pinterest, check out 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!