A crossword is a type of puzzle in which words are written across and down in a (usually square) grid, and clues are supplied for the words. Black squares are used to separate words which appear in the same row or column.

There are several different varieties of crosswords (see also other word puzzles): American crosswords, cryptic crosswords and British-style crosswords, Pencil Pointers, etc.

Crosswords have been around since the early 20th century. What is commonly called the first crossword puzzle, by Arthur Wynne in 1913 and now out of copyright, is presented in its entirety on E2.

The crossword is derived from a 19th-century crossing-word puzzle called the form, which is a simple geometric shape filled in with words. Forms included word squares, diamonds, hexagons, pyramids (really triangles, but they were called pyramids), stars, and some more elaborate shapes. Forms often used the same words reading across and down, but some forms, called double forms, use different words across and down.

Forms are still alive today in the National Puzzlers League, and as the occasional word square, but outside of small groups like this they are rarely seen.

Indeed, the "first crossword puzzle" is a valid form, a type called a (double) hollow diamond, but what makes this puzzle different is:

  • It uses a numbering system more like the one used today. Forms typically just numbered the rows and columns, and provided a clue or set of clues for the word or set of words in each row and column. In Wynne's crossword, each clue is labeled with the numbers of its start and end squares, and those squares are numbered in the grid in the usual left-to-right and top-to-bottom fashion.
  • It presents a grid, with black squares indicating the spaces where no letters are entered. Forms usually didn't provide a grid, but depended on solvers understanding the form shapes that were used, and being able to construct a grid based on the number of rows/columns.
  • It was the first in a regularly published series which within a year, transformed into something much like the American-style crossword of today.

In the next 10 years the crossword became very popular, and many newspapers started publishing weekly or even daily crossword puzzles. In 1924 the first book of crossword puzzles was published by Simon & Schuster. This book found overwhelming success and spawned a series of crossword puzzle books still being published today.

The following is a short essay I wrote about Cryptic Crossword puzzles. (Partly to exorcize the subject from my mind, as it had been rattling around for ages, and partly to see I could write about such a lack-luster subject in an entertaining manner.)

Did I succeed? You be the judge.

Okay. Here's a puzzle which has an answer.
"Contained park owner has no third to name." The answer has two words, one 7 letters long, and the other is 5. Go to it!

Well, if you're like me, then upon discovering that the answer is, "Bottled water," you'll blink and say, "Huh? ‘Bottled Water' is the answer? How the heck is that? I don't get it."

You might even try to wrap your head around the logic, and again, if you're anything like me, you'll just get a headache. And finally, when you ask the smug ass who gave you the puzzle how the heck ‘Bottled water' could have anything to do with some park owner who has no third name, or whatever, he'll tell you the following:

Okay. ‘Contained' is another word for ‘Bottled', and Walt Disney, (a famous park owner), aka, ‘Walter', when you remove the third letter of his name, becomes, ‘Water." Hence, "Bottled Water."

Get it?

Well, if you're anything like me, you'll sit there and think, "Yeah. I guess the answer is ‘Bottled Water', isn't it." But then immediately afterwards, you'll squint at the guy and demand, "Hey! Are you some kind of trouble maker!?"

--Because if the path you need to follow to get from a, ‘Contained park owner' to ‘Bottled water,' isn't a very seriously convoluted and annoying bit of puzzling, then I don't know what is! And frankly, if a guy comes up to you and says, "Hey, I have a puzzle! Solve this: ‘Contained park owner has no third to name,' well, as far as I'm concerned, you would be fully justified in slapping him across the cheeks and telling him to smarten up.

Or once again, if you're anything like me, (and heaven help you if you are!), then you throw up your hands and demand, "What kind of puzzle is that? That's bloody impossible! Nobody could be expected to assume convoluted logic like that! People do this for fun?!"

And yes, actually they do.

The puzzles are called ‘Cryptic Crosswords', and they appear in newspapers every weekend from sea to shining sea, and each one comes with about thirty or forty clues of similar difficulty.

As it happened, (and this is probably another part of why I find cryptic crosswords so annoying), my father was very good at solving them; every now and again, he'd yawn and say, "I think I'll do the crossword this weekend." And then he'd have it finished by Sunday evening. Just to keep his mind occupied. And on the occasions when I'd look over his shoulder and think to myself, "Won't I impress my father if I could solve one or two of those clues!" I'd find myself faced with utter bafflement. I'd start, for instance, like this. . .

"Okay. This isn't so tough. I'm a smart guy. I know how to think outside of the box! So let's see here. . . ‘Contained park owner'. Contained? Like in jail? Hm. Maybe it's a fellow who's been caught for tax evasion or something; for not properly recording the proceeds from the entrance fees to his Theme Park. –Or maybe they mean a municipal park, with benches and trees and ladies with strollers, and the collective owner would be who. . ? Us, the tax payers? But how are we contained? Within the restraints of the democratic system? ‘We the People', (assuming this is an American crossword). And how do we not have a third to name? What the heck does that mean? Do they mean like a ‘second' in a duel?

And so on. . , entirely dealing with the wrong layer of logic and word meaning. Thus, with my head set up like that, I could literally go around in circles forever and never come up with the right answer.

Or worse, I'd come up with something which sort of fit the logic but never quite felt right; ‘Trapped Folks', (or something equally lame.) And then, with my head swimming like this, my father would declare, "Ah!" And write, ‘Bottled Water' into the little blank boxes. And the letters would actually fit, interconnecting with all the words already in place from previous clues he'd solved that morning over coffee and English toast with marmalade.

Invariably, I'd throw up my hands. "That's INSANE!" I'd cry. "They're nuts! Nobody thinks like that! How can ANYBODY do these stupid things!" And I'd feel impotent and dumb. But my father would assure me that once you got into the rhythm, you began to see that all the clues used the same type of thinking and patterning. And like anything else, once you understand the rules, it becomes much like any other puzzle. Doable.

Anyway, since the day I was born, I've never once picked up a newspaper and thought to myself, "Hey! I know! I'll blow an afternoon scratching letters into blank boxes printed on a patch of newsprint! What fun!" Indeed, my only exposure to the puzzle form was my father's involvement. And as such, I believed right into my twenties, that cross word puzzles were ALL like the stupidly difficult ones my father used to do. And this drove me nuts for an entirely different reason.

See, every now and then I'd run across people who liked to do crosswords. People at the shopping mall I once worked at. Other kids at school. They'd come up to me and say, "What's a three letter word for-", and I'd stop them in their tracks and say, "Forget it! I'm lousy at those things. How can you do them? They're so difficult!"

To which the reply was always a sympathetic, "Well, they can be tough, but if you just spend enough time, the answers come. They can be quite fun. Me and the guys down at the doughnut shop like to work on the daily puzzle."

And this baffled me. (I actually spend a lot of time baffled by relatively normal things.) You see, while the people I worked with in the mall and the kids I went to school with were by no means stupid, not a single one of them was anywhere nearly as brilliant as my father. Indeed, I tended to regard myself as having something of a powerful mind when compared to most of the people my own age. So upon hearing that they had no problem solving crossword puzzles, I just shook my head and put it down as just another one of those things normal folks seem to be naturally wired for and which I seem entirely incapable of comprehending due to a particular strain of brain damage which seemed to exist in the depths of my so called, ‘powerful mind.' Fair enough. They could have their crosswords, and I'd be the cartoonist. We all have our parts to play. This is what I'd say to myself before settling down to get on with the job of being alive.

Well, one day when I finally decided to take another look at some of the clues in a T.V. guide crossword puzzle, I was taken aback. "Ohhh! Wait a moment! I get it! These are easy!" Or rather, "There are two kinds of cross words! Impossible ones for people like my father, and the kind for everybody else.

Upon discovering this, I was elated, and naturally I set about trying to share what I had learned with all and sundry, (who rightfully wondered why the heck I was excited over a subject as dull as that of crossword puzzles). And worse, when trying to explain to people the difference between regular cross words with clues like, "Cat and -----", and the multi-level difficulty of a cryptic clue, (and for some reason, I have met very few people who are even aware that cryptic crossword puzzles exist), I always seemed to find myself at a loss. Usually my explanations would turn into confused babbles because I would never be able to think of an appropriate example of a cryptic clue. –Heck, I could never solve or properly understand the formulas upon which they functioned, so how was I expected to keep an example filed in the recesses of my head for later retrieval years after? I know some people who can do stuff like that, (like my father), but that just wasn't going to happen in my case. And moreover, I didn't actually care enough to dig out a newspaper from which I could lift a decent example.

So for the most part, I just let it go, and whenever the subject came up in discussion, I'd just flounder again through attempts to explain the differences between, "Cat & -----," and this, "Other type of logic which is so weird and alien that I can't even explain it properly!"

Well, eventually, one rainy afternoon my lazy brain finally decided that enough was enough. I decided that I should actually put some thinking into this, now decade old problem, if just to put an end to my idiotic babbling about crossword puzzles. So I sat down and came up with the ‘Bottled Water' example. It's not a brilliant example; there have been some really amazing, even famous cryptic clues invented over the years. But a ‘Contained park owner,' would suit my purposes.

Actually, a while back, I in fact met the editor of the Cryptic Crossword for the Toronto Globe & Mail newspaper. She lived in my building with her husband and professional writer, Andy Turnbull. A very nice and entertaining couple. Anyway, she had a knack for creating really good cryptic clues, and she had carved a well paid job out of the craft, selling cross words to newspapers internationally. I was given a copy of one of her puzzle collections, and I sort of winced when I took it, because cryptic crosswords still held a weirdly Freudian charge for me. (Damn my brilliant father!) It strikes me now that I could have asked her what the heck was going on with those bent clues. She would have been the perfect person to ask!

But that's not how it went. And indeed, now having gone through the alien logic of a cryptic clue from the opposite end, (‘Contained park owners!' Argh! Contain this you bastards!), I now suddenly understand that rhythm my father told me about long ago. Mind you, while I doubt I'd be particularly adept at solving the weekend Globe & Mail cryptic by Sunday afternoon, the ‘alien-ness,' has finally vanished. What a relief! That only took two and a half decades! Why don't they teach this stuff to kids? It would have saved me two decades of hassle.

So, with the final key strokes of this little editorial, I can finally put away that problem which has been bubbling on a very distant back burner in my mind for so long. And having done this, I do hereby officially declare a, ‘Case Closed!' —You won't catch me wasting another moment of my life on a crossword puzzle ever again, cryptic or otherwise!

Ahh! Now that feels good!

Probably the most popular word puzzle in the world. Its estimated that over 40 million people in the United States try and solve a crossword on any given day. So how did they begin?

It turns out that crossword puzzles have a relatively brief history. The precursor to the crossword puzzle was something called the word square. The earliest known word square was found in the Roman ruins of Pompeii and looked something like this.


I digress, a gentleman by the name of Arthur Wynne from Liverpool is generally credited for publishing the first crossword puzzle. It appeared in the December 21, 1913, Sunday New York World. It was originally called a "word-cross" puzzle but over time evolved into the its current name. At first, the World only carried the puzzle on a weekly basis. In 1924, the publishing company that went on to become Simon and Schuster came out with the first collection of crossword puzzles in book form. It was an instant success and helped launch a craze that featured crosswords being placed on everything from clothing to jewelry.

As time went on, crossword puzzles evolved even further. The advent of "themes" brought about a different kind of puzzle and made them harder to solve. In addition, the British came up with something they called the "cryptic" puzzle. Cryptic clues will often look something like this

"Beat in return game here" (4). Huh? Well it turns out this clue would turn the word "golf" for the (game) portion of the clue and "flog" for the (beat) portion of the clue. Spelled backwards, golf and flog take care of the (in return) portion of the clue.

Anyway, some software programs have been developed that enables regular folks such as you and I to create our own crossword puzzles. In 1997 a US company called Variety Games Inc. was issued the first US patent on using a computer to create crossword puzzles.

Interesting side note. One of the last holdouts in the publishing of crossword puzzles was none other than the New York Times. It published its first Sunday puzzle in 1942 and didn't start a daily puzzle until 1950.

sources - www.infoplease.com/spot/crossword1.html

I guess this is one of the things that old people start doing to kill time, and now it's happened to me. I have always loved word puzzles and games such as Scrabble, but crosswords seemed a bit too time-consuming in my youth. I would see older folks working away at them in an office or on a bus and think, "You have a lot of time on those liver-spotted hands, don't you?" It seems that I have a lot of free time nowadays.

A few months ago, I noticed a big brouhaha in the local paper about the fact that they'd cut down from two crosswords to one. I didn't pay much attention, but the Letters to the Editor were coming fast and furious with a venom usually reserved for topics such as abortion or gun control.

Now that I have become a daily crossword puzzle lover, I wish I knew which one of the two daily puzzles they tried to eliminate, because I can now see clearly that if it was the NY Times one as opposed to the "Universal" one, I'd be threatening to cancel my subscription as well.

There is a pretty darn cool story at the end of all this about a dream I had last night involving crosswords. That's called a tease in journalism as well as tv and radio.

In regards to the Universal puzzle, there never is any difference depending on the day of the week, except Sunday’s is bigger. It's always stupid and it always involves words that you've never heard of. It's created primarily by Jewish folks, if the number of clues relating to Judaism is any hint. It is sometimes difficult to finish, but it hardly ever brings any joy to do so. There is no frivolity or creativity to it. It's as if someone set out with a bunch of blank squares and then used a dictionary or computer to find ways to fill them. There might be a sort of "theme" to it, but it's never clever. The fact that it relies on so many obscure words is the thing that makes it maddening. I won't bore you with examples, but suffice it to say that you'll wind up frustrated with a few of the guesses you've made and when you look the words up to see if you were correct, you'll say, "You have got to be kidding me. No one has ever heard of that term or heard it used in that way." I do not bother working this Universal crossword most days, and when I do it invariable winds up pissing me off. I wish I could go back and find all the details of the great Crossword War when the paper eliminated one of the puzzles for a few weeks. Surely it was this one, and I can only imagine the arguments for keeping this one and doing away with the smarter one.

The smarter puzzle, the NYTimes daily puzzle, is a thing of joy and wonder. As much as I detest that paper and the folks who own and run it, I can only sit in awe at the geniuses who compete to have their own puzzle accepted by them. I know there is one fellow who lives near me who has managed to do so more than once. Here's the way this puzzle works on a weekly basis. Monday's puzzle is easy as pie. You can finish it in 15 minutes. There will be a theme that you'd usually call "lame" but perhaps "cute." Tuesday's puzzle will be a little harder, but you should always be able to finish it in half an hour. Wednesday's is fun and sometimes takes an hour. There are times when I can't complete Wednesday's, but that's unusual. By the time you get to Thursday, it's hit or miss whether I'm able to finish it. If I can, it usually takes at least an hour. By Friday, the answers start being long multiword things that are darn near impossible to work out unless you have all day to work on it with a hit and miss approach that requires a pencil with a big eraser and is frankly more time than even I have to waste. Saturday's is not much different than Friday's. On Sunday, the puzzle is at least twice as big and twice as much fun. You can spend all Sunday morning with it and feel as if you've really accomplished something if you're able to finish it. Once you've figured out the theme of Sunday's puzzle, it's amazing how much enjoyment and sense of brotherhood you can feel by filling in long answers with a pun or play on words just because you have the same sense of humor as the person who created the puzzle.

I obey two personal rules about crosswords. I never cheat (except to check some answers I'm not sure of when I'm done) and I do them in pen.

So here's the dream I had last night. I was completing a crossword puzzle and was quite pleased with myself that I'd gotten the theme figured out early on and was able to figure out some very tough answers. The theme was the = sign which was in several answers. I managed to remember two of them clearly when I woke up, but there were others that were just as good that I couldn't remember; I'm sure of it. It's going to be hard to describe this without actually being able to draw a crossword, but I'll try. One answer across was the = sign in one square and a bunch of —> signs in the next square. The clue for that set of two squares across was "What blacks marched for in Selma." The answer was "equal rights" with the arrows being a bunch of symbols for "right" as in "right turn." In the squares above the —>s, there were six letters, and the clue was, "Plenty of these were left at Custer's place." That answer was "broken —>s" as in "broken arrows."

In another two-letter answer across, it was solved with the = sign in the first square and a crude drawing of a t-shirt in the second. The clue was, "What women suffered for," and the answer was "=t" as in "equality." Above the drawing of the t-shirt were ten squares, and the clue down was "Marlon Brando gear." The answer was "plainwhite(drawing)" as in "plain white tee."

I sincerely wish I could remember some of the other clues and answers with the = sign in them, but that's the best I could do. And I thought that was cool enough, but then I told this dream to a friend of mine who is fairly tuned into the mystic, if you know what I mean. He said, "You know last night was the Supermoon, right?" I said, "Yeah, I went out and looked at it. It was pretty nice." He said, "You know that's the equinox when the length of both day and night, as well as all sorts other things that we don't even understand are exactly equal, don't you?" And then it struck me where the theme of that whole dream and that puzzle came from. I wonder how many times Will Shortz's worker bees dream their puzzles. I will bet you it happens a lot.

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