Welcome to a cruciverbalistic centennial.
The very first crossword puzzle was concocted by one Arthur S. Wynne, a journalist from Liverpool and games section editor of the New York World newspaper. On Dec. 21, 1913, Wynne’s poser appeared in the Sunday edition of the World, radiating into a diamond and containing no black squares. He modeled the puzzle after the traditional British word square, also called magic square, a group of words whose letters are arranged so that they read the same horizontally and vertically. No surprise, then, that Wynne christened his creation word-cross.
Four weeks later, typesetters at the newspaper inadvertently switched the two halves of word-cross and dropped the hyphen, and — presto! change-o! — the crossword puzzle was born.
In 1924, in an era of mah-jongg, goldfish swallowing, flagpole-sitting and telephone-booth stuffing, two New Yorkers published 3,000 copies of a book of 50 crossword puzzles titled “The Cross Word Puzzle Book.” The two men chose the imprint “The Plaza Publishing Company” (Plaza was their telephone exchange) in order to deflect the unfavorable feedback they were anticipating. Instead, the book sold 40,000 copies right off. Those two men were Richard Simon and M. Lincoln Schuster, and the publishing company of Simon & Schuster began life.
In 1924, The New York Times lamented the “sinful waste in the utterly futile finding of words, the letters of which will fit into a prearranged pattern, more or less complex. This is not a game at all, and it can hardly be called a sport. … (Solvers) get nothing out of it except a primitive form of mental exercise, and success or failure in any given attempt is equally irrelevant to mental development.”
Nonetheless, the New York Times crossword puzzles, which started running in 1942, are now the most prestigious and challenging distributed in American newspapers, including the U-T, in which they repose daily. Incredibly, in more than 70 years, those puzzles have been overseen by only four editors — Margaret Farrar, Will Weng, Eugene Maleska and, since 1993, Will Shortz. In 1925, the Times clucked that “the craze is evidently dying out, and in a few months it will be forgotten.” Instead, the rage for crossword puzzles continued full blast into, through and past the Great Depression. Crossword was first enshrined as a word in dictionaries in 1930, and even today, crossword puzzles remain the most popular word game in the world.
To celebrate the centennial of Arthur Wynne’s invention of the genre, I, along with award-winning constructor Gayle Dean, have created 100 original crossword puzzles that we believe go across and up in the hierarchy of cruciverbal challenges.
With loving labor we have combined the classical elegance of American crosswords with the sprightly word play of the British approach. Thus, we have themed every puzzle with a number of clues relating to puns, rhymes, anagrams, palindromes, bloopers and the like.
I invite solvers to unlock my clues with wordplay as the key. Here’s a sampling:
Ashtray: A place to rest your butt; Atlas: World’s biggest hold-up man; Drama Teacher: stage coach; Elopes: Takes the honey and runs;
Eve: First lady; Gigolo: Fee-male; Hen: Mother clucker; Kiln: Hot spot for feats of clay;
Lion: predator-in-chief; Magi: They made a star trek; Midas: Gilty king, The Original Goldfinger; Oscar: Statue of imitations;
Santa Claus: Nick name, the Abdominal Snowman, the Deer Sleigher; Tax: Capital punishment; Tee: Driving platform, Fore site, a Half giggle; Toga: The sack of Rome.
I also love concocting clues that involve letter play:
Assess: Pin the tail on the donkeys; Dog: A reflection of God; Nor: When it comes before Easter, you’re in trouble.
Omen: Beheaded women are a bad sign; Smiles: A mile long from ear to ear; Tint: I am in the middle of an explosive situation.
When filling in a crossword, may you never utter a cross word. And when you depart this life, may you go across and up.
Please send your questions and comments about language to firstname.lastname@example.org