Written word games are probably as old as the first alphabet and stylus which allowed man to scratch a cryptic message in the dirt or sand or on stone. Word squares were found in the ruins of Pompeii (79AD). In the 19th century, word games were included in children’s puzzle books.
The first adult crossword puzzle appeared on September 14, 1890 in an Italian magazine under the heading: “Per passare il tempo” (to pass the time). Nearly a quarter of a century later, Arthur Wynne created a weekly puzzle page for the New York World newspaper. In it he devised a “word-cross” for the Christmas edition on 21 December 1913. For the word-cross he created a diamond-shaped grid. This first puzzle appears below. Despite its popularity, publication of word crosses spread slowly to other papers. In 1924, two new graduates of the Columbia School of Journalism, Dick Simon and Lincoln Schuster, set-up a publishing house and were looking for materials for print. They selected puzzles from the World to publish in a book. It was an instant success and crossword puzzles became one of the 1920’s crazes, thereby creating for some of society’s arbitrators a “mental outrage” and for others a “mental exercise.” What many consider the most challenging current crossword puzzles, the ones in the New York Times were not published until its Sunday puzzle appeared in 1942 and the daily puzzle appeared in 1950.
|World's First Crossword Puzzle|
|Solution to the World's First Crossword Puzzle|
Puzzles and Languages
A 1925 crossword puzzle that appeared the Daily News-Record is found below. Looking at the words in this puzzle and the 1913 puzzle, one can observe word changes. A word may virtually disappear from the lexicon and another word is added to our vocabulary -scrofula/AIDS; word usage may evolve - the task/is tasked; and a word meaning is changed - gay nineties/gay pride.
Today, crossword puzzles are found around the globe and in many languages. The French and Italian crossword puzzles are smaller and do not necessarily use the square grid of American and British puzzles. The Japanese and Hebrew puzzles are adapted to the uniqueness of their languages. In the sub-continent of Asia, Kannadu and Bengali puzzles are popular.
Rules for American Crossword Puzzles
Creators of crossword puzzles are called “cruciverbalists” or “constructors.” For the plain or fancy creator, the following guidelines are a few of the conventions used by American constructors:
- Use a square grid in one of five sizes: 15, 17, 19, 21, or 23. (The 15x15 is the most popular.)
- The placement of black squares is symmetrical.
- 2-letter words are not allowed; 3-letters should be kept to a minimum.
- Every letter must be part of an across and a down word.
- No duplicate words.
- Words used must be found in standard dictionaries, atlases, and encyclopedias.
- About 1/6 of the squares are black.
 DNR July 20, 1925.