On this Day:
In 1913, the 1st crossword puzzle (with 32 clues) was printed in NY World.
A crossword is a word puzzle that usually takes the form of a square or a rectangular grid of white- and black-shaded squares. The game’s goal is to fill the white squares with letters, forming words or phrases, by solving clues, which lead to the answers. In languages that are written left-to-right, the answer words and phrases are placed in the grid from left to right (“across”) and from top to bottom (“down”). The shaded squares are used to separate the words or phrases.
The phrase “cross word puzzle” was first written in 1862 by Our Young Folks in the United States. Crossword-like puzzles, for example Double Diamond Puzzles, appeared in the magazine St. Nicholas, published since 1873. Another crossword puzzle appeared on September 14, 1890, in the Italian magazine Il Secolo Illustrato della Domenica. It was designed by Giuseppe Airoldi and titled “Per passare il tempo” (“To pass the time”). Airoldi’s puzzle was a four-by-four grid with no shaded squares; it included horizontal and vertical clues.
Crosswords in England during the 19th century were of an elementary kind, apparently derived from the word square, a group of words arranged so the letters read alike vertically and horizontally, and printed in children’s puzzle books and various periodicals.
On December 21, 1913, Arthur Wynne, a journalist from Liverpool, England, published a “word-cross” puzzle in the New York World that embodied most of the features of the modern genre. This puzzle is frequently cited as the first crossword puzzle, and Wynne as the inventor. An illustrator later reversed the “word-cross” name to “cross-word.
Crossword puzzles became a regular weekly feature in the New York World, and spread to other newspapers; the Pittsburgh Press, for example, was publishing them at least as early as 1916 and The Boston Globe by 1917.
A 1925 Punch cartoon about “The Cross-Word Mania”. A man phones his doctor in the middle of the night, asking for “the name of a bodily disorder of seven letters, of which the second letter must be ‘N'”.
By the 1920s, the crossword phenomenon was starting to attract notice. In October 1922, newspapers published a comic strip by Clare Briggs entitled “Movie of a Man Doing the Cross-Word Puzzle”, with an enthusiast muttering “87 across ‘Northern Sea Bird’!!??!?!!? Hm-m-m starts with an ‘M’, second letter is ‘U’ … I’ll look up all the words starting with an ‘M-U …’ mus-musi-mur-murd—Hot Dog! Here ’tis! Murre!” In 1923 a humorous squib in The Boston Globe has a wife ordering her husband to run out and “rescue the papers … the part I want is blowing down the street.” “What is it you’re so keen about?” “The Cross-Word Puzzle. Hurry, please, that’s a good boy.” In The New Yorker’s first issue, released in 1925, the “Jottings About Town” section wrote, “Judging from the number of solvers in the subway and ‘L’ trains, the crossword puzzle bids fair to become a fad with New Yorkers.” In 1925, the New York Public Library reported that “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 first book of crossword puzzles was published by Simon & Schuster in 1924, after a suggestion from co-founder Richard Simon’s aunt. The publisher was initially skeptical that the book would succeed, and only printed a small run at first. The book was promoted with an included pencil, and “This odd-looking book with a pencil attached to it” was an instant hit, leading crossword puzzles to become a craze of 1924. To help promote its books, Simon & Schuster also founded the Amateur Cross Word Puzzle League of America, which began the process of developing standards for puzzle design.
The crossword puzzle fad received extensive attention, not all of it positive: In 1924, The New York Times complained of the “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.” A clergyman called the working of crossword puzzles “the mark of a childish mentality” and said, “There is no use for persons to pretend that working one of the puzzles carries any intellectual value with it.” However, another wrote a complete Bible Cross-Word Puzzle Book. Also in 1925, Time magazine noted that nine Manhattan dailies and fourteen other big newspapers were carrying crosswords, and quoted opposing views as to whether “This crossword craze will positively end by June!” or “The crossword puzzle is here to stay!” In 1925, The New York Times noted, with approval, a scathing critique of crosswords by The New Republic; but concluded that “Fortunately, the question of whether the puzzles are beneficial or harmful is in no urgent need of an answer. The craze evidently is dying out fast and in a few months it will be forgotten.” and in 1929 declared, “The cross-word puzzle, it seems, has gone the way of all fads.” In 1930, a correspondent noted that “Together with The Times of London, yours is the only journal of prominence that has never succumbed to the lure of the cross-word puzzle” and said that “The craze—the fad—stage has passed, but there are still people numbering it to the millions who look for their daily cross-word puzzle as regularly as for the weather predictions.”
The term “crossword” first appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1933.
The New York Times began to publish a crossword puzzle on 15 February 1942, spurred on by the idea that the puzzle could be a welcome distraction from the harsh news of World War II. The New York Times’s first puzzle editor was Margeret Petherbridge Farrar, who was editor from 1942 to 1969. She was succeeded by Will Weng, who was succeeded by Eugene T. Maleska. Since 1993, they have been edited by Will Shortz, the Times’ fourth crossword editor.
Simon & Schuster continues to publish the Crossword Puzzle Book Series books that it began in 1924, currently under the editorship of John M. Samson. The original series ended in 2007 after 258 volumes. Since 2008, these books are now in the Mega series, appearing three times per year and each featuring 300 puzzles.
The British cryptic crossword was imported to the US in 1968 by composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim in New York magazine. Until 2006, The Atlantic Monthly regularly featured a cryptic crossword “puzzler” by Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon, which combines cryptic clues with diabolically ingenious variations on the construction of the puzzle itself. In both cases, no two puzzles are alike in construction, and the intent of the puzzle authors is to entertain with novelty, not to establish new variations of the crossword genre.
In the United Kingdom, the Sunday Express was the first newspaper to publish a crossword on November 2, 1924, a Wynne puzzle adapted for the UK. The first crossword in Britain, according to Tony Augarde in his Oxford Guide to Word Games (1984), was in Pearson’s Magazine for February 1922.
The 2006 documentary Wordplay, about enthusiasts of The New York Times’s puzzle, increased public interest in crosswords. It highlighted attendees of Will Shortz’s American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, including former American president Bill Clinton and American comedian Jon Stewart (per Wikipedia).
First, a Story:
While doing a crossword puzzle, I asked for my wife’s help.
“The word is eight letters long, starts with m, and the clue is ‘tiresome sameness.’”
“Monogamy,” she answered…
Second, a Song:
The Two Ronnies is a British television comedy sketch show created by Bill Cotton for the BBC, which aired on BBC1 from 10 April 1971 to 25 December 1987. It featured Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett, the two Ronnies of the title. The usual format included sketches, solo sections, serial stories and musical finales.
Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett met in 1963 at the Buckstone Club in the Haymarket, London, where Corbett was serving drinks between acting jobs. At the time, Barker was beginning to establish himself as a character actor in the West End and on radio. They were invited by David Frost to appear in his new show, The Frost Report, with John Cleese, but the pair’s big break came when they filled in, unprepared and unscripted, for eleven minutes during a technical hitch at a British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards ceremony at the London Palladium in 1970. In the audience was Bill Cotton, the Head of Light Entertainment for the BBC, and Sir Paul Fox, the Controller of BBC1. Cotton was so impressed by the duo that he turned to Fox and asked: “How would you like those two on your network?” Unknown to them the pair had just had the renewal of their contract declined by London Weekend Television of rival network ITV, and so were free to change channels. Barker and Corbett were given their own show by the BBC.
The show featured comic sketches in which Barker and Corbett appeared both together and separately, with various additions giving the programme the feeling of a variety show. The sketches often involved complex word-play, much of it written by Barker, who also liked to parody officialdom and establishment figures, as well as eccentrics. Corbett appeared quieter, more often acting as a foil for Barker, but remained an important part of the chemistry. Many of the jokes revolved around his lack of height, with him delivering many of them himself: when Barker said that the next part “does suit Ronnie C. right down to the ground”, Corbett replied “Mind you, that’s not far is it?”. Other jokes could be of a sexual nature of the sort found on seaside postcards: for example:
“Tickle your botty with a feather tonight?” (sotto voce)
“I beg your pardon?” (outraged)
“Particularly grotty weather tonight”
Some of the show’s material contained elements of surreal or left field humour, in the vein of Monty Python, and was considered edgier and more sophisticated than the more traditional routines of Morecambe and Wise. The duo had formed some time after their peers by which time the comedy world had moved on to satire, absurdist surrealism and the beginnings of alternative humour. Furthermore, there was more comedic parity between the show’s two stars, with the diminutive Corbett less of a foil to Barker than Ernie Wise was to Eric Morecambe – they were clear comedic equals.
• Made Simple (1974) – In a wood-panelled restaurant, a Swedish waiter simplifies his customer’s orders using subtitles where each word is translated to a letter.
• Candles (1976) – A hardware shopkeeper becomes increasingly frustrated while misunderstanding what a customer is requesting.
• Mastermind (1980) – A contestant on the quiz show Mastermind answers each question before last.
• Sweet Shop (1980) – A sweet shop owner sees the danger of the words ‘nothing is too much trouble’ through the asks of a pushy customer.
• Crossword (1980) – A simple man struggles out-loud with his simple crossword on a train next to a serious man trying to complete his own intellectual crossword.
• Lines (1981) – Two men next to each other at supermarket payphones have their conversations unintentionally grouped together.
• Quiz (1984) – Patrick Troughton plays a judge overhearing a cross examination that takes the form of quiz show questions.
Here are the Two Ronnies in their comedic sketch “Crossword”. I hope you enjoy this!
Thought for the Day:
“‘Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid’ was my favorite of all the things I ever did, because it was like doing a Sunday crossword puzzle and beating it.” – Carl Reiner
Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky