Way back in 1793, a publication named “The Stockton Bee” published some weird kind of puzzle with grids and words in them. Most crossword enthusiasts might debate that it was not exactly like the “crossword” that we know today, but that is one story that has always circled the origins of crossword puzzles.
So, where was the Crossword puzzle born?
Well, like most historical facts, there are a lot of theories that have arisen. The one which seems the most believable occurred in 1862. An illustrated magazine named “Our Young Folks” used the phrase “crossword puzzle” for the very first time. There were other variants of the same puzzle doing rounds in publications like St. Nicholas. In 1890, an Italian Publication also published a similar puzzle. It was a four by four grid with clues in both directions.
Of course, these puzzles looked nothing like the Modern-day crossword. Most of them were pretty naive compared to the ones we all are accustomed to playing today. Surprisingly, by the 19th century, the English had started publishing crosswords too. Most of them were in the format of a “word square” in their elementary form.
The most popular origin story traces back to December 21, 1913, when Arthur Wynne, resident of Liverpool published something known as a “word-cross” puzzle. The puzzle was very similar to the modern-day puzzle. Arthur Wynne has since been credited as the inventor of Crossword puzzles.
Arthur’s crossword was published in New York World, and it soon became a weekly feature thereafter. Newspapers like Pittsburgh Press and The Boston Globe also followed suit, and by the 1920s, crosswords had started making noise amongst the commoners. In 1922, popular cartoonist Clare Briggs created a comic strip titled “Movie of a Man Doing the Cross-Word Puzzle.” It received a lot of attention from the general public further emphasizing the fact that Crosswords had arrived in the real world.
People had started swarming libraries to solve crossword puzzles by now. The New York Public Library stated:
“The latest craze to strike libraries is the crossword puzzle. The puzzle ‘fans’ swarm to the dictionaries and encyclopedias to drive away readers and students who need these books in their daily work, can there be any doubt of the Library’s duty to protect its legitimate readers?”
Simon & Schuster, even though skeptical of releasing a book of crossword puzzles, printed a small run which was an instant hit. They even went on to form the Amateur Cross Word Puzzle League of America. It was the foundation stone for developing guidelines for puzzle design. The trending fad soon led to “crossword” being included in the Oxford English dictionary for the first time in 1933.
Soon, the second World War commenced and newspapers were exhausted reporting war stories. Editors were looking out for distractions, and the New York Times pounced upon the craze for crossword puzzles. They began publishing puzzles daily from February 1942. Simon & Schuster which had published the first-ever book of crossword puzzles continued its series, and their original series ended in 2007 after 258 volumes.
What was the reason for Crosswords gaining unparalleled popularity in just a few decades?
Perhaps, the common people got fascinated by the fact that they could verify their knowledge, vocabulary, and aptitude, or as some historians would say, “it was a fad that never died.” People who saw others solving a crossword interpreted that it was a benchmark of intelligence and they further contributed to the cruciverbalist movement.
In case you’re pondering over the meaning of “cruciverbalist,” we would like to let you know that you already are one.