Wednesday, June 29, 2016

History of Crossword Puzzles

The Short, Important History of Crossword Puzzles

It is without question that the crossword puzzle is the world’s most popular word game, which is remarkable considering its short history. A researcher in 1981 concluded that 99% of the newspapers in the world and nearly 700 Sunday newspapers in America contained crossword puzzles. Since then, it is certain that the number of both crossword puzzles and solvers has increased. In addition to newspapers, there are thousands of magazines dedicated to crossword puzzles in bookstores around the globe. 

Who Invented It?

Arthur Wynne, born in England, published the first crossword puzzle in the New York World on a Sunday in 1913.  He was a journalist who enjoyed playing word games. He based the crossword puzzle on earlier puzzle games, but he introduced several innovations. Wynne was able to make a simple, yet enjoyable puzzle game. However, it has undergone several minor modifications to become what it is today.


Today’s crossword puzzle looks very different from when it was first created. The original wasn’t square shaped. Instead, it resembled a diamond. There were no black squares as well; just a few empty slots in the middle of the diamond. In fact, at the time, it wasn’t even called a crossword puzzle. It was named “Word-Cross Puzzle.” As crossword puzzles were being published in countries for the first time, each country would make slight modifications to the original. For example, it was France who introduced the square shaped puzzle we know today.

The Sweeping of America And The World

The crossword puzzle was an instant success in America. Newly engaged couples would make their announcement by creating a crossword puzzle and putting it in their local Sunday paper. Churches would do the same thing to promote their congregations and attract more people. In 1924, Britain took notice of the popularity of the crossword puzzle and wrote an article about it in The Times, which suggested that it had taken over America. They believed that crossword puzzles were detrimental to society because people would do them during working hours. Soon after their criticism, Britain would be the next place where crossword puzzles became insanely popular. Shortly after that, crossword puzzles were found all around the world. It took very little time for the crossword puzzle to find a place in nearly every newspaper on Earth.  

To What Is Attributed Its Popularity?

In a short time after the crossword puzzle was first published in America, it could be found in newspapers around the word. Its popularity sparked a debate among academics as to what can its rise be attributed to. The consensus became the following: self-education, society’s fascination with words, and killing time. For many people, especially those in Europe since crossword puzzles were deigned to be more difficult, there were words that they didn’t know. Doing crossword puzzles with a dictionary close-by became common in order to learn the meaning of new words or find some that would solve the puzzle. Humans have always had a fascination with words, so the crossword puzzle satisfied people. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is that the puzzle killed time, but wasn’t a boring activity.

Becoming a Pedagogical Tool

Once the crossword puzzle became part of millions of people’s daily routines, it was thought that it could be used as a learning tool. The game is based on words and thinking about words, which people really enjoyed. It was thought that schools could take advantage of that and so they introduced them in the classroom as an alternative teaching method. Those assumptions were correct, as dozens of studies have proven its success throughout the years for both young and old people. It has been proven that carefully selecting words with a degree of complexity, as well as using repetition will benefit students. Furthermore, the clues for the puzzle are very important because it’s where students begin thinking about the words. 


The process of creating crossword puzzles hasn’t changed much over the years. There are a few simple rules and guidelines to follow, which means anybody can do it. While it’s true that anyone can create a crossword puzzle, it’s quite difficult to create a fun, yet challenging one. The first thing crossword puzzle designers do, is come up with a theme. There are normally 3-4 answers for the theme and they are expected to be the longest. Next, the black squares are placed on the grid and they have to be symmetrical. When creating the pattern of black squares there are two rules to follow: each word must contain at least 3 letters and it’s considered inelegant to have too many black squares. Finally, the rest of the grid is filled with words and the clues are written. 

Adapting to the Modern World

In 1913, there were no cell phones or video games to which people could turn to for amusement. Today, crossword puzzles are attempting to stay relevant in the age of technology; it is proving to be quite challenging. The newspaper industry has been on a steady decline, which is an issue for the crossword puzzle industry. People don’t get their news exclusively from newspapers like they once used to, instead they turn to the Internet. To combat this, crossword puzzles are appearing on news sites. There are also many sites dedicated to publishing crossword puzzles. Will Shortz, editor of The New York Times’ crossword column has been able to give new life to crossword puzzles by including pop culture references. This seems to be the key to keeping them relevant; appealing to a modern audience. Crossword puzzles will be around for the foreseeable future, but their claim of being the world’s most popular time-killing activity is now in question. 



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