The first crossword puzzle was written by journalist Arthur Wynne (Born on June 22, 1871, in Liverpool, England) and was published in New York World in December 1913. In fact, National Crossword Day is held annually on December 21 in recognition of the very first modern crossword published on that day. Mark those calendars! Here are ten facts you probably did not know about crossword puzzles.
Arthur Wynne created the crossword puzzle for the “Fun” section of the Sunday edition of New York World. He introduced the word diamond puzzle, calling it a “Word-Cross Puzzle,” later introducing some innovations to the puzzle like the use of horizontal and vertical lines to create boxes for letters. A few weeks after the first “Word-Cross” publication appeared, the name was changed to “Cross-Word” as a result of a typesetting error. The rest, as they say, is history.
In honor of Arthur Wynne, we went searching for some interesting facts about the crossword puzzle that had us all a bit puzzled and amazed ourselves!
1. The most significant published crossword puzzle contains 132,020 squares with 12,842 clues across and 13,128 clues down. Compiled by Ara Hovhannisian from 2007-2008, the puzzle appeared in a special edition of Russiky Crossword. However, the longest word ever set in a crossword was Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, which oddly enough is a Welsh town comprised of 58 letters. It was the answer to one of Roger Squire’s clues – a UK designer of crossword puzzles who has been known to have created the most crosswords in the world.
2. Crosswords have different appearances and variations depending on the country and language system. In North America and Britain, it is considered traditional for crossword grids to have 180-degree rotational symmetry for the patterns of the puzzle to appear the same if the paper is turned upside down. Hebrew crosswords only use consonants, and Japanese crosswords use one syllable per square, instead of one letter.
3. Crossword aficionados are called “cruciverbalists,” defining a person skillful in solving or creating crossword puzzles. The term is not often used, however, the creator of crosswords is more commonly referred to as a ‘constructor,’ ‘compiler,’ or a ‘setter.’
4. Crosswords were looked down upon by the New York Public Library due to people running to dictionaries and encyclopedias for crossword references in the 1920s. The NYPL thought that those crazed puzzle ‘fans’ were driving away readers and students who needed those books in their daily work, while the Library questioned their duty to protect their legitimate readers and researchers. Of course, cut to present day and you’re likely to see more people sitting in a library with an open laptop other than a crossword puzzle, but those rare sightings are probable and welcome to many nostalgia lovers.
5. Crosswords were banned in Paris during World War II in case they were used to pass secret messages to the enemy. In fact, in 1944, allied security officers thought journalists were sharing top secret information when a series of Telegraph crosswords included secret code words for military operations. Investigators later concluded that the incident was nothing more than a coincidence. However, Britain’s central decryption establishment, Bletchley Park, asked its cryptologists to solve a Daily Telegraph crossword in less than 12 minutes as part of its recruitment process
6. A plan to design a board game based on the principles of the crossword puzzle was devised by New York architect Alfred Mosher Butts in the 1930s when he found himself unemployed. That game turned out to be another beloved pastime we all know and love, Scrabble, released in 1938. Butts was also an amateur artist. Six of his drawings were acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A resident of Jackson Heights, NY, Butts is memorialized in the game’s importance with a street sign located at 35th Avenue and 81st Street stylized using letters with their values in Scrabble as a subscript
7. The fastest completion time of a New York Times crossword puzzle was set in 1996 by Stanley Newman – a puzzle creator, editor, and publisher – who completed the puzzle in 2 minutes 14 seconds. Newman has been the editor of New York’s Newsday Sunday crossword puzzle since 1988 and the editor of the Newsday daily crossword puzzle since 1992; proof that practice and passion lead to successful results.
8. In 1924, the New York Times described crosswords as a “sinful waste in the utterly futile finding of words, the letters of which will fit into a prearranged pattern.” It looks like critics were never really pleased. Now, the New York Times crossword is a popular feature, even paying crossword writers $200 for a weekday puzzle and $1,000 for a Sunday puzzle.
9. In the midst of the crossword craze in 1926, Antal Gyula, a waiter in Budapest, committed suicide, leaving behind a blank crossword puzzle with a note saying, “The solution will give you the exact reasons for my suicide and also the names of the people interested.” Unfortunately, a solution was never found, and the case has been labeled as a sort of an urban myth.
10. Many people do crosswords each day with the belief that this activity will keep the brain young while keeping Alzheimer’s or dementia at bay. Unfortunately, there is no evidence for this belief, often leading it into the myth category. However, there’s no need to give up on those thought-provoking activities you find joy in. Crossword puzzles flex one particular piece of cognition – the ability to find words, which is also known as fluency. A type of process based on the speech and language centers of the brain, fluency is an essential part of keeping your brain sharp, an overall positive benefit to keep in mind as you get older. So get out those pens and start solving!