A short history of crossword puzzles

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Crosswords are often referred to as the most popular of puzzles across the world, but their history is brief.

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The humble beginnings of a classic puzzle

The 19th Century saw the beginnings of the crossword in England, likely developed from the word square, and was initially a popular pick for children’s game books.

Often recognised as the inventor of the crossword was Arthur Wynne, a journalist from Liverpool. The first published puzzle was seen in the New York World, a Sunday publication on December 21st 1913. The world’s first was a little different to the contemporary crossword in that it lacked blackout squares and instead formed a diamond shape. Throughout the 1920s, other newspapers utilised this puzzle and it wasn’t long before all newspapers across America featured one. Over this decade, they grew in popularity and evolved in format, becoming more like the crosswords we recognise today with black squares. Within another 10 years, the crossword travelled the ocean to become popular in Europe.

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When the crossword reached Britain, the first publication was in February of 1922 in Pearson’s Magazine, with The Times publishing its first crossword the same month, eight years later, on February 1st 1930. In comparison to puzzles favoured in America, the British crossword was seen as being more complex and they took on a flavour of their own. Cryptic crosswords, for instance, with D S Macnutt and A F Ritchie laying down rules for its format, soon became a popular choice among readers.

A growing trend

It’s a classic many will enjoy, whether in the comfort of their own home at the kitchen table or on a padded lap tray like those at Cushioned Lap Trays, or while travelling on public transport and waiting for a doctor’s appointment.

The world’s hardest crossword puzzle hit the news recently with reference to a puzzle created by Marc Breman, who anticipated it could take puzzlers two years to accurately complete it. The attention this received from the media and crossword fans shows how competitive and enjoyable this favourite pastime has become.

The crossword trend has grown considerably since the first publication in 1913, taking on a common format and solidifying itself as a traditional favourite that’s relevant in contemporary times, such as with increasingly difficult versions and puzzles available on tablet devices.

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