The World's First Crossword - The History

Arthur Wynne had the job of devising the weekly puzzle page for Fun, the eight-page comic section of the New York World. When he devised what he called a Word-cross for the Christmas 1913 edition, published on 21 December he could have no idea that he would be starting a worldwide craze.

The puzzle page had previously featured plenty of word squares, rebuses, hidden words, anagrams and connect-the-dots drawings. For this edition Wynne decided he would have something new. He sketched out a diamond-shaped grid, wrote FUN, the name of the comic section, across the top squares, and started filling in the rest of the grid. He numbered the squares at the start and end of each word, and wrote definition clues for the words he had filled in. The puzzle was printed with the instruction to the solver: "Fill in the small squares with words which agree with the following definitions.". Thus was the crossword born.

The new puzzle became popular immediately, and continued to appear every week. One change was that after a few weeks the name was changed from Word-cross to Cross-word. After experimenting with different shapes, including a circular puzzle, Wynne eventually settled on a rectangular pattern. It was not until some time later that the hyphen was dropped, and the Cross-word became a Crossword.

From the very first, readers began sending in crosswords they had composed, and by February 1914, Wynne was regularly using these readers' submissions. There was a problem, however: the weekly crossword was plagued by typesetting errors, and as a result it was decided to drop the crossword. An immediate howl of outrage came from the readers, and the crossword was reinstated after an absence of only one week.

Surprisingly, despite their popularity, crosswords appeared nowhere else but the New York World. Then in 1924, a couple of newly-qualified graduates of the Columbia School of Journalism, called Dick Simon and Lincoln Schuster, set up in business as publishers. Looking for something to publish, they settled on a book of the puzzles from the New York World. This book was an immediate massive hit, and launched the crossword craze worldwide.

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