Farrar, Margaret (1897–1984)

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Farrar, Margaret (1897–1984)

American crossword-puzzle editor for the New York Times. Born Margaret Petherbridge on March 23, 1897, in Brooklyn, New York; died on June 11, 1984, in New York, New York; daughter and one of three children of Henry Wade (an executive with the National Licorice Company) and Margaret Elizabeth (Furey) Petherbridge; graduated from Berkeley Institute, Brooklyn, New York, 1916; B.A. from Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts, 1919; married John Chipman Farrar (a publisher, co-founder of Farrar, Straus, and author), on May 28, 1926; children: John Farrar; Alison Farrar ; Janice Farrar .

Once called the "world's supreme authority on crosswords," Margaret Farrar was the first editor of the much-revered crossword puzzles of The New York Times and also collaborated on the first Cross Word Puzzle Book. Before her retirement in 1968, she had edited over 130 collections of puzzles.

A history major at Smith College, Farrar worked in a bank before finding a position with the New York World, where, as secretary to the Sunday editor, she was placed in charge of the weekly crossword puzzle, a feature the World pioneered in 1913. By 1924, crosswords had become a national pastime, and Farrar and two colleagues from the paper, F. Gregory Hartswick and Prosper Buranelli, edited the Cross Word Puzzle Book, the first of its kind. Publisher Simon and Schuster was so dubious about its success that they issued it under another imprint. The book sold nearly 400,000 copies the first year, and Farrar continued to edit puzzle books for Simon and Schuster at the rate of about two a year. Later, she also produced similar books for Pocket Books as well as a Crossword Puzzle Omnibus series. In 1942, The New York Times, the only major American newspaper to hold out against the crossword-puzzle craze, called on Farrar to edit a puzzle for the Times Sunday Magazine. In 1950, under Farrar's editorship, the newspaper introduced a daily crossword puzzle, and over the years also produced 18 collections of puzzles.

Although Farrar constructed many puzzles herself, she usually edited the work of other constructors. She began by working out the puzzle to make sure it was interesting and of sufficient difficulty. In final editing, she would check again for errors and to make sure that words and definition were not being repeated from puzzle to puzzle. Farrar admitted that she made enough mistakes to prove she was human. "During the war we had the Russians taking an important objective two weeks before they really got there," she once related. "I suppose they're still marvelling about the prophetic insight of Times reporters and the queer places they hide their news." Farrar was credited with modernizing the numbering system and using more lively definitions based on current events, including the titles of movies, books, and plays. She also introduced topical puzzles that centered on a single theme, like Christmas, food, animals, or sports.

Farrar also edited a mystery book for Farrar, Straus, the publishing company cofounded by her husband. The mother of three children, she was a member of the Children's Book Committee of the Child Study Association (1935–1942) and was active on various school committees. During World War II, she worked for the Red Cross and the War Council in Ossining, New York.


Current Biography 1955. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1955.

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1983.

Read, Phyllis J., and Bernard L. Witlieb. The Book of Women's Firsts. NY: Random House, 1992.

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