Crossword Puzzles

views updated


The crossword puzzle is a game in which a number of clues, divided in groups titled Across and Down, lead the solver to answers that are placed accordingly in a grid, one letter per square. The most important precursor to the crossword puzzle was the word square, created in England. In 1859, the earliest-known example of a word square used the words shown in Figure 1.

Published in the same year in the United States, it inspired the creation of many other puzzles with words crossing based on geometrical forms, from the late 1860s onward. On 21 December 1913, the editor of The New York World 's Sunday "Fun" supplement, Arthur Wynne (1862–1945), published another of these forms, resembling a hollow diamond and containing sixteen across and sixteen down answers—with two major innovations: the words were to be placed inside a grid, one letter per square, and, in ten of the lines and columns, two words were defined instead of just the usual one. First titled Word-Cross Puzzle, Wynne's creation became CrossWord Puzzle from 11 January 1914 on.

Soon, the World readers began sending their own puzzles to Wynne, who published the first of them on 8 February 1914. Despite the popularity of these puzzles, until 1924, only a small but growing number of U.S. newspapers (around twenty) offered crosswords in their Sunday editions. On 10 April 1924, Simon and Schuster began its business with The Cross Word Puzzle Book, the first book ever published containing only crossword puzzles

At this point, the crossword craze took over the United States. The three Simon and Schuster Cross WordPuzzle Books published in 1924 became best-sellers; sales of dictionaries increased tenfold; newspapers and magazines offered up to $30,000 in contests; dresses, bracelets, watches, hats, and fabrics with crossword themes were produced; tournaments attracted hundreds of enthusiasts; libraries limited the reading time of dictionaries, avidly sought by contestants. Even the radio, through aired programs, explored the novelty, and the puzzle became a regular feature in many newspapers and magazines.

In 1925, the crossword turned into an international fad. Then, a slow technical evolution began, in which the rules of the modern American game were established: symmetry in the overall disposition of the black squares; all-over interlocking of words; no words with fewer than three letters; short and precise clues; a minimum of obscure or archaic answers. The 1960s saw the inclusion of themes and wordplay, and, in the 1980s, popular culture increasingly found its place in the puzzle.

In England, the cryptic style was created in the 1930s. Its clues contain two parts, the first one being a synonym of the answer, which is also indicated enigmatically by the second part, by means of a pun, anagram, reversal, dropped letter, and so forth.

By 2003, thousands of daily newspapers and monthly magazines published crosswords in the United States and throughout the rest of the world. Didactic books used the puzzle to fix their lessons, and doctors recommended it to strengthen the memory, for both the young and the old. On the Web, interactive puzzles abounded, showing why the crossword is the most popular word game in history.

See also: Board Games, Hobbies and Crafts


Arnot, Michelle. What's Gnu? A History of the Crossword Puzzle. New York: Vintage Books, 1981.

Hovanec, Helene. The Puzzlers' Paradise. From the Garden of Eden to the Computer Age. London: Paddington Press, 1978.

Millington, Roger. The Strange World of the Crossword. London: Book Club Associates, 1975.

Sérgio Barcellos Ximenes