It was today in 1913 that the New York World newspaper published the first modern crossword puzzle.
It was then called a “word-cross,” thanks to editor Arthur Wynne, and while the idea of intersecting words was not new, Wynne’s word-cross had all the clues and entries that we see today (though his was shaped like a diamond rather than the now-standard square).
The puzzles continued in the newspaper, but they became even more popular after then-new publishing house, Simon and Schuster, put out a book of them.
They sold hundreds of thousands of copies: there was a sales boom not only for crossword books but for dictionaries, as people tried to find those words that popped up frequently in puzzles but not in regular use.
The term for those is “crosswordese,” by the way.
The rise of the crossword got some linguists and English teachers extremely excited.
They thought this might be the beginning of a new age in which people were more in tune with words and language than ever before.
But not everyone was excited.
The editorial page of the New York Times – the paper whose crossword puzzle is the puzzle of record today – called crosswords “sinful waste” in 1924!
The Times changed course two decades later, on the ground that if World War II led to blackouts or lockdowns, people were going to need something quiet to do to pass the time.
Cruciverbalists the world over have been grateful ever since.
Here’s a story about an invention that didn’t last as long as the crossword – though it definitely could have.
It was today in 1961 that the Pentagon called on the cereal makers of the world to produce huge quantities of what it called the “All-Purpose Survival Cracker.”
The Cold War authorities wanted a simple, shelf-stable biscuit people could hang onto and break open if everybody had to move to their fallout shelters.
That didn’t happen, but the crackers didn’t go to waste.
They were given to international aid groups to head off famine in developing countries – in the 1970s.
Those crackers really did last a while, right?
100 years of crosswords: the first appeared in New York on 21.12.1913 (The Guardian)
Crossword Puzzles (Quartz Obsession)
The Doomsday Diet (Eater)
The seven-letter word that makes this show possible: Backers
Crossword photo by falsecognate via Flickr/Creative Commons