December 21st – The first crossword puzzle is published

The first crossword puzzle published, by Arthur Wynne on December 21st, 1913

The first crossword puzzle published, by Arthur Wynne on December 21st, 1913

On this day in 1913, exactly one hundred years ago, the first crossword puzzle was published in the New York World. Though crosswords had been invented earlier in the 19th century, it was not until Arthur Wynne, an English journalist from Liverpool, published the crossword that this time-killer became popular worldwide.

Following the first publication of Wynne’s crossword in 1913, the word puzzle quickly spread to other newspapers. Much like the Sudoku craze that took over in the mid-2000s (hard to believe it is only that old!), the crossword puzzle was an instant hit. Interestingly, in the 1920s there were negative reactions to the increased popularity of the crossword. Here are a few I found particularly interesting (taken from the Wikipedia article):

The New York Public Library (1921): “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?”

The New York Times (1924): “A 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.”

The New York Times would not print crosswords in its pages until 1942; ironically, the New York Times crossword is now one of the most played crosswords in America.

Crosswords have appeared in multiple languages since Wynne’s 1913 crossword, including many European languages such as French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, German, and Russian. Japanese crosswords also exist, where instead of placing a letter in a box, a syllable is often placed (in katakana, one of the three written “alphabets” in the Japanese language).

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