November 19, 2020

#08-012: Crossword Puzzles

screen shot of a crossword puzzle

Note: Before I get down to the hard business of writing, I like to "warm up" by doing a crossword puzzle. These puzzles, like almost everything around us, were invented--and, just like many of those things, exactly who invented them is disputed!

Get Ready: Do you enjoy doing crossword puzzles? If so, how often do you do them? Are you good at them? If not, are there other types of paper-and-pencil (not digital!) games you enjoy?

From what scholars of such things can determine, it seems that an "ephemeral publication," called The Stockton Bee, published the first puzzles in 1793-1795. But the first known use of the name "cross word puzzle" (note that it's three words, not two) was in the 1860s in an American monthly children's magazine called Our Young Folks.

A forerunner to such puzzles was the "word square," in which squares divided into an equal number of rows and columns--say, three by three or four by four--would be filled in, with no blank spaces (indicated in modern puzzles by black squares). For example, if you write the following words one above the other in horizontal rows: ONE - NEW - EWE, you'll find that the vertical columns read the same. (This is a fun way to play with words!)

The first actual crosswords were fairly simple, being individual, free-standing words intersecting each other (like in the game of Scrabble); the complicated blocks of words came later. It wasn't until 1913 that a journalist from Liverpool, England, named Arthur Wynne, published what he called a "word-cross puzzle" in the New York World newspaper. This had most of the features we see in crossword puzzles today. But an illustrator inadvertently swapped the words, so that we got our modern word "crossword."

From that time, crossword puzzles became regular features in the dailies. The first issue of The New Yorker magazine, in 1925, noted that, "Judging from the number of solvers in the subway and 'L' [elevated] trains, the crossword puzzle bids fair to become a fad with New Yorkers."

The New York Times, on the other hand, called the puzzles a "sinful waste" of time and effort, and a clergyman called their popularity "the mark of a childish mentality." Nevertheless, whoever invented it, what had been labeled a "fad" has hung on for well over a century!


Read more:

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. dailies
  2. disputed
  3. ephemeral
  4. ewe
  5. fad
  6. inadvertently
  7. indicated
  8. intersecting
  9. swapped
  10. warm up

  1. uncertain; disagreed upon
  2. daily newspapers
  3. short-lived; transitory
  4. switched; traded
  5. shown; represented
  6. craze; popular phenomenon
  7. accidentally; not on purpose
  8. get ready, as an athlete for a competition
  9. crossing; meeting each other
  10. female sheep

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for November 19, 2020

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. b; 2. a; 3. c; 4. j; 5. f; 6. g; 7. e; 8. i; 9. d; 10. h