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They can be frustrating and challenging but the sense of achievement one gets upon completing them is like none other! In case you are wondering, we are talking about the crossword puzzle, the word game that celebrates its 100th birthday this week!
Created by Arthur Wynne, the editor of the New York World's 'Fun' section, the crossword made its debut on December 21st, 1913. Designed as a diamond shaped grid with no black squares, it was pre-filled with the letters 'F' 'U' 'N', in the top three boxes to indicate to users its true purpose. The London-born reporter had called it 'word cross', but for reasons unknown, the words got switched when they appeared in print and the crossword was born.
While Wynne had hoped it would be popular, even he was stunned at the amount of fan mail he received for his diamond shaped puzzle. Within a few years, crosswords became a fixture in newspapers and magazines all over the country. They apparently became so popular that people started neglecting their work and doing them even during office hours.
In 1924, two young entrepreneurs, Richard L. Simon and M. Lincoln Schuster decided to cash in the popularity by publishing the first crossword book, leading to the establishment of Simon and Schuster, one of the most prominent book publishers in the world today.
There were however some skeptics. One of the biggest was New York Times whose editorial staff believed that crosswords were a sinful time-waster and resisted adding them to the prestigious newspaper until 1942. Ironically, today the paper's daily crossword puzzle that is syndicated to over 300 publications, is one of its biggest draws.
Like everything else, the crossword puzzle has evolved with time. There are now specific guidelines on word length and count, and the grid has become diagonally symmetrical so that each black square has an opposite. Also, only words that contain three-letters or more can be included and orphaned letters are not allowed - that means that each letter has to be part of an across and down answer. As the years go by, there will probably be more changes, but the one thing is for sure - The crossword will continue to live on even after all of us are long gone - something, Arthur Wynne would have never envisioned when he created his first 'Word Cross'!
Happy Centennial Birthday !
Resources: puzzles.about.com, blogs.smithsonianmag.com