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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Birth of the Crossword (or "Word Cross")

Today marks the anniversary of the first modern crossword puzzle, published in the New York World on Sunday, December 21, 1913.

By 1913, the World was one of the most famous newspapers in, well, the world. Joseph Pulitzer had purchased the paper in 1883 and raised its circulation through sensational news coverage (so-called "Yellow Journalism"), stunt reporting, like that of Nellie Bly, and a focus on distractions and pastimes. The World was beloved for its comic strips and Sunday Fun section.

The crossword (then called a "word cross") was added to the Sunday Fun section by Arthur Wynne, an English emigrant who worked for the World and had been asked to create a new puzzle for the paper. Remembering a game called magic square that he'd learned as a child, Wynne created a simple, diamond-shaped grid and wrote short clues. The puzzles became an overnight sensation, copied by newspapers throughout the city, and--eventually--the world. (Notably, the New York Times was slow to join the party. A Times editorial called crosswords "a primitive form of mental exercise" in 1924, and the paper did not publish the first of its famous puzzles until 1942.)

We've included Wynne's first crossword at left; if you can't read the clues, a clearer version is here. Notice that the clues are written to let you know which space the word starts and ends on; e.g., "1-32 To govern" is the 4-letter word that stretches from cell #1 to cell #32. Have fun!

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Read more about Joseph Pulitzer and the New York World in

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