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A Brief History of Crossword Puzzles May 5, 2010

Filed under: Brilliant things,Crossword — Amanda @ 5:38 PM

Arthur Wynne's original crossword puzzle from December 21, 1913.

It’s no secret that we here at the Kori and Amanda Learn blog love crossword puzzles.  Who doesn’t?  But do you know who invented the crossword puzzle and when?  How are American crosswords different from British or Japanese crosswords?  Read on, dear reader.     

The first example of a crossword puzzle appeared on September 14, 1890, in the Italian magazine Il Secolo Illustrato della Domenica. It was designed by Giuseppe Airoldi and titled “Per passare il tempo” (“To pass the time”). Airoldi’s puzzle was a four-by-four grid with no shaded squares, but it included horizontal and vertical clues.      

On December 21, 1913, Arthur Wynne, a journalist from Liverpool, England, published a “word-cross” puzzle in the New York World that embodied most of the features of the genre as we know it. This puzzle is frequently cited as the first crossword puzzle, and Wynne as the inventor. Later, the name of the puzzle was changed to “crossword.”     

The crossword phenomenon was slow to take hold.  Our own Boston Globe, as early as 1917, was one of the first papers to regularly publish crosswords.  

In 1921, the New York Public Library reported that “The latest craze to strike libraries is the crossword puzzle,” and complained that when “the puzzle ‘fans’ swarm to the dictionaries and encyclopedias so as 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?”  Initially, some viewed the crossword puzzle with alarm, and some expected (even hoped) that it would be a short-lived fad. 

The New York Times didn’t publish its first puzzle until 1942.  In fact, the paper was quite critical of these kinds of puzzles.  On November 17, 1924 The New York Times complained of the   

“sinful waste in the utterly futile finding of words the letters of which will fit into a prearranged pattern, more or less complex. This is not a game at all, and it hardly can be called a sport… [solvers] get nothing out of it except a primitive form of mental exercise, and success or failure in any given attempt is equally irrelevant to mental development.”    

In The New York Times on December 23, 1924 a clergyman called the working of crossword puzzles “the mark of a childish mentality” and said “There is no use for persons to pretend that working one of the puzzles carries any intellectual value with it.”  

  

Types of Crossword Grids       

American Style Crossword

Crosswords in North America typically feature solid areas of white squares. Each answer usually is required to contain at least 3 letters and shaded squares are typically limited to one-sixth of the crossword design.  In both North America and Britain crossword grids should have a 180-degree rotational symmetry, so that its pattern appears the same if the paper is turned upside down.
 

UK Style Crossword

Crossword grids elsewhere, such as in Britain and Australia, have a lattice-like structure, with a higher percentage of shaded squares, leaving up to half the letters in an answer unchecked. For example, if the top row has an answer running all the way across, there will be no across answers in the second row.    

The design of Japanese crossword grids often follows two additional rules: that shaded cells may not share a side and that the corner squares must be white.  Due to the Japanese writing system, which uses characters rather than letters, each cell is typically one syllable rather than one letter.

In Poland (shout out to Martufo!) crosswords typically use British-style grids, but do not have shaded cells.  Shaded cells are instead replaced by boxes with clues.  Also, in most Polish crosswords nouns are the only allowed words.

Crossword puzzles RULE!

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