As the omicron variant rages through my body this week, I’m enjoying taking my mind of my concerns by solving crossword puzzles. As it turns out, that’s a timeless (or rather, somewhat time-sensitive but historically precedented) pursuit: crossword puzzles became popularized during WWI, when headlines grew darker and darker and newspapers were desperate to point their readers to a spot of joy.
Today in 1913, pre-WWI, Arthur Wynne ran the first crossword puzzle of all time in the New York World; he, an editor there, invented the puzzle himself and called it “FUN’s Word-Cross Puzzle.” (A few weeks later, a typographical error rendered the puzzle’s title “Cross-Word,” and the name stuck.) Starting there, crossword puzzles became more and more popular; the World started running front-page banners pointing readers to the puzzle, and the crossword became a selling point.
As Adrienne Raphel reported in Thinking Inside The Box: Adventures with Crosswords and the Puzzling People Who Can’t Live Without Them, despite readers obviously loving crossword puzzles, for decades one institution disdained them: The New York Times. For a few decades, the Times was the only major metropolitan newspaper in America without a crossword puzzle, and through the 20’s and 30’s, the paper ran op-eds decrying crosswords as a passing lowbrow craze. But in 1942—two months after Pearl Harbor—the Times gave in and added a crossword section, to “keep readers sane with the rest of the news so bleak [and] provide readers something to occupy time during coming blackout days.”
So if you’re looking for a throwback—or just a simple and fun task—in these precedented times, try solving that very first crossword puzzle that ran in the New York World today 108 years ago:
You can check your answers here.