Little Bits of History

Puzzling

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 18, 2014
Simon & Schuster with the first crossword puzzle book.

Simon & Schuster with the first crossword puzzle book.

April 18, 1924: Simon & Schuster publish the first crossword puzzle book. Crossword puzzles are said to be the most popular word game in the world. They first appeared in England in the 1800s in an elementary form and a type called Double Diamond Puzzles appeared in a magazine called St. Nicholas. An Italian magazine first published a crossword puzzle in 1890 and was called (in Italian) “To pass the time”. This simple puzzle was a four by four grid without shaded squares, but it included both horizontal and vertical clues. On December 21, 1913 a puzzle that looks fairly similar to today’s puzzles was first published in New York World, a newspaper published in New York City. They were a hit and soon the Boston Globe also began putting a puzzle in the papers as a weekly feature.

When Simon & Schuster began published books full of the puzzles, they attached a pencil to the book to make sure all equipment was available. The same year as the first puzzle books appeared, 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.” The prestigious paper did not start published crossword puzzles until 1942.

There are several different types of grids available for standard crossword puzzle construction. Many of them have a 180-degree or rotational symmetry meaning the grid looks the same even if the page is turned upside down. American and Japanese style look quite similar but there are two extra rules for the Japanese grid – the shaded spaces may not share a side and all four corners must be white. The lattice structure is used in England and many of her colonies. The Swedish style does not have lists of clues or any numbers as the clues are inside the cell that would be shaded in other countries. Arrows indicate which way the answer should run. There are many other types of grids, as well.

There can be themed puzzles and clues can be direct or indirect. Sometimes the clues are purposely ambiguous and at other times clues are linked to each other and solving one word helps to solve the other. The New York Times, when they did finally join in, added another layer of fun. Earlier in the week, the puzzles are easier. But as the week progresses, they get more and more difficult until by Sunday, one can spend the entire day working on the larger puzzled included for the day of rest. As leisure time increased, so did the different types of puzzles available and today there are many ways to play with words and numbers while filling in a grid. There are also many varieties of puzzles available online.

It’s the boredom that kills you. You read until you’re tired of that. You do crossword puzzles until you’re tired of that. This is torture. This is mental torture. – Jack Kevorkian

The nice thing about doing a crossword puzzle is, you know there is a solution. – Stephen Sondheim

I am interested in a lot of things – not just show business and my passion for animals. I try to keep current in what’s going on in the world. I do mental exercises. I don’t have any trouble memorizing lines because of the crossword puzzles I do every day to keep my mind a little limber. I don’t sit and vegetate. – Betty White

I get up, go and get a coffee, and go do the crossword – I’m loyal to one particular paper, the ‘Guardian’ – and that’s my idea of a perfect morning. – Laura Marling

Also on this day: The Great Quake – In 1906, a large earthquake devastates San Francisco.
The House that Ruth Built – In 1923, Yankee Stadium opened.
One if by Land; Two if by Sea – In 1775, Paul Revere took a ride through the countryside.
Suicide Bomber – In 1983, the US Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon was destroyed.

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