“They’re ruining the country. People are obsessed. They can’t get to work on time.” Or at all! They were spending their time in libraries. What was the evil? Crossword puzzles!
The idea began in England but it was in the United States where the idea took off. The first crossword puzzle appeared just before Christmas, 1913 in the New York World. It was Sunday, Dec. 21, 1913. The creator was Arthur Wynne, from Liverpool, England. The puzzle was cleverly in the shape of a diamond, thus negating the need for black squares.
The idea took off in England after the first puzzle appeared in the February 1922 issue of Pearson’s Magazine. Englishmen created the Crostic Puzzle, too. Creators sometimes made up names for themselves. Derrick Macnutt called himself Ximenes, after a Spanish Conquistador.
These puzzles had a huge part of solving the German Enigma Code during World War Two; they were used as part of the screening tests for candidates who wanted to work on the problem of solving the code. One of the fastest, to great surprise, was a young woman, Joan Clarke, who in fact was one of the key people who broke the code. Curiously, female crossword puzzle creators are dwindling. A few decades ago, about 35% were made by women. That is now down into the low 20s.
Many newspapers are famous for their Sunday crossword puzzles. The New York Times puzzle editors become famous in their own right. When the Miami Herald asked readers for input in the late 1990s, the one directive was: Don’t mess with the crossword puzzle.
These include sudoku. Its precedent, the magic square, was created b the Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler in 1776. It was popularized by American Howard Garnes in his Dell Puzzle Magazine, first appearing in 1979. It became instantly popular in Japan, where kanji makes word crossword puzzles difficult. There it picked up its name: Su meaning “number” and Doku meaning “single.” Puzzles like crosswords and sudoku have earned a reputation to help keep people’s minds sharp as they age.