Trivia Minute December 21, 2016

Crosswords: Puzzling Since 1913

by Marcus Michelson
(Image via Wikimedia Commons)

On this date in 1913, the first crossword puzzle was printed in the New York World newspaper.

Here are some things you may not have known about crossword puzzles.

The first puzzle was actually called a word-cross puzzle. It was created by Arthur Wynne, who was a journalist from Liverpool, England. It was based on earlier puzzles, such as the word diamond, but also included many of the features of the modern crossword puzzle, such as black squares to separate some answers. It came to be known as a crossword puzzle early on as a result of a typesetting error.

The New Yorker magazine’s first issue made mention of the large number of puzzle solvers on public transportation and noted that the puzzles had become a fad. The New York Public Library complained that puzzlers were hogging dictionaries that should be used by “legitimate readers.” The New York Times expressed alarm that so many people were wasting so much time with the puzzles. The New Republic magazine reported that the fad was sure to fade away in 1925; it repeated the claim in 1929. In 1930, The New York Times touted the fact that it had never run a crossword puzzle. The Times didn’t run one until 1942; their puzzle is now considered one of the gold standards of the genre.

In the United Kingdom and many Commonwealth countries, the dominant form of crossword is the cryptic crossword. In these, the clue is a word puzzle, which must be solved first before filling in the solution. Roger Squires, who sets these types of puzzles, holds the world record for number of crosswords created. In 2007, he published his 66,666th puzzle, all of which totaled more than 2 million clues.

During World War II, cryptologists at Bletchley Park in England were selected using a crossword competition.

Also during the war, It was also noted that an unusual number of military code words were showing up in puzzles in The Daily Telegraph.

In 1942, the French port of Dieppe appeared as an answer the day before an Allied raid on the port. Later, in the run up to D-Day, the words “Utah,” “Omaha,” “Overlord,” “Mulberry,” and “Neptune” were answers. All of them were codewords. The authorities suspected that the words were a form of espionage. An investigation by Britain’s MI5 determined that the puzzle’s creator was a school headmaster, who used answers supplied by his students. The school happened to be located next to an American and Canadian military base where the boys overheard the words.

Our question, what Broadway songwriter was responsible for introducing the cryptic crossword to the United States in New York magazine?

Today is the December Solstice, meaning it’s the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere and the longest day in the Southern Hemisphere.

It’s unofficially National Hamburger Day, National Kiwi Fruit Day, and National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day.

It’s the birthday of musician Frank Zappa, who was born in 1940; actor Samuel L. Jackson, who is 68; and athlete Florence Griffith Joyner, who was born in 1959, whose records in the 100 and 200 meters still stand.

Because our topic happened before 1960, we’ll spin the wheel to pick a year at random.

This week in 1979, the top song in the U.S. was “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” by Rupert Holmes.

The No. 1 movie was “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” while the novel “Triple” by Ken Follett topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.

Weekly question

What was the first broadcast network in the United States?

Submit your answer at and we’ll add the name of the person with the first correct answer to our winner’s wall … at We’ll reveal the correct answer on Friday’s episode.


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