On December 21, 1913, the first crossword puzzle appeared in newspapers. Now considered “the most popular and widespread word game in the world,” the puzzle was invented by British-born Arthur Wynne.
At nineteen, Wynne immigrated to the United States. He worked for various newspapers until he landed at the New York City-based New York World. His editor asked Wynne to create a new game for the Sunday “Fun” section. As a child, Wynne played a game called “Magic Squares.” Played in ancient Pompeii, the game’s goal was to arrange words that read the same way across and down. Wynne took the basic concept of “Magic Squares,” added a larger complex grid as well as gave the player clues to help solve it. He also pioneered the use of adding blank black squares to the puzzle
The first crossword puzzle was diamond-shaped and was initially called “word-cross.” It was a huge success with the newspaper’s readers. The name was soon changed to “crossword” after a typesetting error. Soon other newspapers were running the puzzles. Initially, the only major American daily to refuse to use the puzzle was the New York Times. The crossword finally found its way into the paper’s Sunday edition eighteen years after the puzzle’s introduction. It has since become a staple of the newspaper and just the word “crossword” seems to be synonymous with the New York Times.
Almost one hundred years later, Wynne’s invention proves to be more than a fad. Books of crossword puzzles can be found in stores. Puzzle applications can be downloaded onto cell phones. Perhaps more importantly to Wynne though would be the fact that the puzzle still dominates the “Fun” section of most major newspapers.
“Inventor of the Week: The Crossword Puzzle,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Aug. 1997.
Eric Shackle, “The World’s First Crossword Puzzle,” fun-with-words.com, 2002.
Mary Bellis, “The History of Crossword Puzzles,” about.com.