National Crossword Puzzle Day is celebrated each year on December 21.
You’ve probably played a crossword puzzle or two and enjoyed the challenge. Getting the right answers and “solving” the puzzle provides immediate gratification. The puzzles are so popular that National Crossword Puzzle Day was created.
When is National Crossword Puzzle Day?
Each year National Crossword Puzzle Day is December 21.
The date of December 21 was chosen to commemorate the publishing of the first crossword puzzle in 1913 (see below). However, after a lot of research for this article, we still could find out who and when the day was first started. Very puzzling, pun intended.
History of the Crossword Puzzle
The first crossword puzzle was published in 1913 on December 21st, and the word challenge quickly gained popularity. The first puzzle is credited to Arthur Wynne’s writing for The New York World.
Wynn wanted a new word puzzle for his readers. He had seen some in England before he emigrated to the United States.
Wynn came up with a puzzle that he called Word-Cross. The puzzle required readers to know obscure facts and details. A slight mistake from the designer laying out the jokes and puzzles page changed the name to Cross-Word. The name stuck, and the rest is history.
The First Crossword Book
The publishing firm of Simon and Schuster published the first book of crossword puzzles in 1924. Simon and Schuster were so worried about the book’s reception that their names did not appear in the book. However, the book was a hit and led to sales of 100,000 copies.
Simon and Schuster were very savvy marketers (the book even came with a pencil), and they established The Cross-Word Puzzle League of America. The organization was tasked with establishing a standard format for the puzzles. The organization and players snowballed, and America became obsessed with crossword puzzles.
The market in the United Kingdom was fascinated with how Americans could not get enough of the puzzles and said we were enslaved. As if to provide an answer, a song was recorded in late 1924 titled “Cross-Word Mamma You Puzzle Me (But Papa’s Gonna Figure It Out).”
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The Surprising Influence of The New York Times
As Crossword puzzles became more and more popular, the puzzle became more ingrained in our culture. Through the end of the ’20s and until the start of the ’40s, crossword fans were fanatical. The venerable New York Times seemed to be the only holdout, not running a crossword puzzle.
With the U.S. entering World War II, readers searched for things to take their minds off the war. Crossword puzzles provided the perfect diversion. A bonafide crossword pioneer, Margaret Petherbridge Farrar, wrote a letter to the Sunday Editor of the New York Times imploring them to publish a crossword puzzle.
The New York Times Editor acquiesced, and the first Times crossword puzzle was published on Sunday, February 15th, 1942. Margaret Farrar had been named Editor of the Time’s crossword puzzles. The crossword puzzles began being published daily in 1950.
The New York Times puzzles would be easier on Mondays and increase in difficulty until Sunday. It was important to the world of crossword puzzles that the New York Times was on board. It gave the puzzles legitimacy and, in the end, longevity.
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Here are some crossword puzzle fun facts:
The standardized layout for crossword puzzles makes them function with an identical grid pattern. The pattern is the same if the puzzle is right-side up or upside down. This is true in Britain and North America.
Crossword Puzzles were banned in Paris during World War II. The newspaper was worried that secret messages could be passed in the crossword clues.
In Japan. The crossword puzzle is called a nomogram or paint-by-numbers. Players do not have to fill in words. Each square contains a syllable.
Two main clues in crossword puzzles, straight crosswords, require the player to find the right word based on the definition. And cryptic crosswords that challenge the player to solve a puzzle within the puzzle.
In 1930, a board game based on anagrams and crossword puzzles was developed by architect Alfred M. Butts. The board game featured a familiar crossword design and, with some minor changes, became the game we know today as Scrabble™.
The New York Times receives 125 crossword submissions each day.
Crossword Puzzle Quotes
You can’t think of your troubles while solving a crossword.
Margaret Farrar, Founding Crossword Editor, The New York Times
I don’t think any other puzzle in the country goes through such rigorous editing and testing before publication.
I do the New York Times Crossword Puzzle every morning just to keep the old grey matter ticking.
My activities tend to revolve around crossword puzzles, reading, playing the piano, and games with my friends.
Watching CSI: Miami is like watching Teen Jeopardy! or doing the crossword puzzle in People Magazine. It makes you feel smart even when you’re not.
I like doing crosswords in the New York Times, not watching E! on TV.
My favorite thing is to do crossword puzzles. I do the New York Times one every morning. Then I go to the barn to see my horse.
Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid was my favorite of all the things I ever did because it was like doing a Sunday crossword puzzle and beating it.
One thing I do find sexy is a girl who’s good at crossword puzzles.
I pay attention to the news; I take the New York Times. (And) I do the Saturday crossword.
Dick Van Dyke
I didn’t realize how much I loved crosswords, but when I look back at it, all the clues were there.
Did you hear about the crossword puzzle fan who wanted to be buried six down and three across?
Tom woke up with a puzzled look on his face. As it turns out, he had fallen asleep on his crossword.
Best not to bother someone working on a puzzle. You might hear some crosswords.
My brother worked on his newspaper’s team for the crossword puzzle, but in all of his years, he only contributed one clue. Yup, he was a one-hint wonder.
Famous Crossword Puzzles
American Crossword Puzzle Tournament
Founded by The New York Times Puzzle Editor Will Shortz, he is still directed. The tournament offers a $5,000 grand prize, with 20 other prizes awarded in various categories. Scoring is based on accuracy and speed. Next year will be the 43rd annual competition, which is typically held each April.
World’s Hardest Crossword Puzzle
The Guinness Book of World Records lists the World’s Largest Crossword Puzzle at seven feet by seven feet. The puzzle features 28,000 clues that must be answered to fill its 91,000 squares.
In 2018, renowned crossword puzzle writer Marc Breman created the world’s most challenging cryptic crossword. While the puzzle contains only 64 clues, they are complicated.
The puzzle is filled with obscure and misleading clues and wordplay. It has been estimated that an average crossword puzzle solver would take two years to solve the puzzle.
Wheel of Fortune Crossword
The popular TV Game Show Wheel of Fortune has even adopted a “game within a game” crossword format. Play is the same as their regular rounds, but players must solve multiple words depicted in a crossword pattern.
The popularity of crossword puzzles has spawned its unique language. For example, a “cruciverbalist” refers to someone who creates or solves crossword puzzles. The New York Times Puzzle Editor Will Shortz is the only person in the world with a degree in Enigmatology. Enigmatology is the study of puzzles.
But you do not need to speak your language or have a degree in Enigmatology to enjoy crossword puzzles. A rainy day is a perfect time to grab a pencil (or a pen if you feel confident) and have fun solving a crossword puzzle.
People Magazine’s crossword puzzle can be quite easy for folks who follow pop culture news. Comparing their puzzle to the New York Times is like comparing little league baseball to the Majors.
Tips For Solving Crossword Puzzles
- Work with a pencil and a good eraser.
- Have a good dictionary at hand.
- If you’re new to the game, start with easier puzzles to build confidence.
- Involve others – many hands make light work.
- Think about the puzzle’s theme – which is typically listed – as you attempt answers.
- Answer the questions you know, and don’t spend too much time the first go-round on tougher clues where the answer isn’t immediately apparent.
- Start to master the shorter words, and they’ll reappear in many crossword puzzles.
- Ensure you know if the clue calls for a plural or singular answer.
- Check off each clue you answer so you don’t spend too much time looking for unanswered clues.
- Don’t be afraid to guess. Just fill it in lighter in case you’ll need to erase it.
- A question mark at the end of a clue typically indicates there is some wordplay going on.
- Be patient and have fun with it. Take a break if you need to. A good night’s sleep may make you look at certain clues in more effective ways.
- Make sure to go through and check the answers the following day or week. By reviewing correct responses, you’ll be in a better position for subsequent puzzles.
Inside the Minds of Crossword Puzzle Makers Video
These links may be helpful:
XWord Info features every New York Times puzzle clue and answer since 1942.
Crossword Tournament is a fun site for enthusiasts
Hope you enjoyed it.
By T. R. Moodie and Mike O’Halloran
As a young, fledgling Advertising Manager, T.R. Moodie used a series of crossword puzzles to deliver clues for an internal sales contest. Mike enjoys his crossword puzzles like he does his yard work – completed! Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen often.
You’re on our National Crossword Puzzle Day page.
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