On Dec. 21, 1913, the New York World’s Arthur Wynne created a “word-cross” for the paper’s Fun section.
Cruciverbalists from the daily obsessives (like me) to periodic puzzlers have been filling in little squares in a symmetrical grid ever since as the crossword — a typesetter’s error gave it its name — marks one century today.
I’m a lifer on the grid, bent on making all my acrosses intersect perfectly with all my downs. Try these for some fun:
>> 1. Chronological fete, two words (answers below).
According to a piece in Smithsonian Magazine, the popularity of crosswords didn’t take off for 10 years, when the crossword-fan aunt of a publisher insisted her nephew put together a book of the puzzles.
Although he capitulated in the face of auntie pressure, Richard Simon (yes, of Simon and Schuster) left his fledgling company’s name off the 3,600 books, lest the literary marketplace think he wasn’t serious about words.
Success changed that little calculus.
The book was an enormous hit, going through a number of printings and a second collection of puzzles. Both books were staples in Top 10 lists in the mid-1920s, selling more copies than “The Autobiography of Mark Twain” and George Bernard Shaw’s “Saint Joan.”
>> 2. Two-letter word from tricky homophone trio.
Crosswords became a staple of the Roaring Twenties culture, although not everyone was on board. Smithsonian reported, “The chairman of Maryland’s Board of Mental Hygiene worried that the puzzles ‘might easily unbalance a nervous mind’ and even lead to psychosis.”
Other mental health practitioners insisted the grids fulfilled some basic needs. A Columbia University psychologist said crosswords “satisfied 45 fundamental desires of the human species,” while in Chicago the health commissioner argued that crosswords were calming.
Two of the planet’s most venerable newspapers — now flagships in the crossword puzzle universe — were slow to embrace the glorious grids.
The New York Times called them “a primitive sort of mental exercise,” and a Times of London editorial fussed about “An Enslaved America.”
>> 3. An article.
The rest of the story is a 90-year run of singular success for the crossword, found not only in books but also daily in any newspaper worth its ink, whether on entertainment pages (Wynne’s Fun?) or consigned to the loud and busy classifieds where hundreds of come-ons shout for attention.
>> 4. A bit of nastiness or current subject matter.
I know this about my own nervous mind: I need a crossword fix every day. Hmmm? Maybe to stay balanced?
My journey to the joy of grids in the land of across and down came via language, but I’ve stayed for the perfection.
Not mine, the puzzle’s. It all adds up. No unaccounted-for words. No leftovers. No outliers.
And because the grid is perfect, every answer in every crossword puzzle is connected to all the other ones in sweet linguistic interdependence.
>> 5. Jigsaw but not saber saw.
Moreover, the crosswords have now attracted smarty pants in white coats who are convinced that the grid can sharpen minds and refire balky synapses at any age but especially those of us who remember Ed Sullivan and the Edsel.
Research shows that working a crossword puzzle can be an integral part of a regular brain exercise regimen. That and you’ll get to be familiar with words such as raja and rani, a variety of abbreviations, and the baseball family, Alou.
And lest you think 100 years means crosswords are a one way ticket to Geezervillle, you can play online at many newspapers. Dude, get the app. The least you can do is give one a celebratory shot today, which reminds me.
(1) Happy birthday. (2) To. (3) The. (4) Crossword. (5) Puzzle.