Note: This is an encore post from 2005 and originally appeared on the 1947project..
A little grid, 13 boxes square, full of obscure words and frustration, the crossword emerged in The Times in November 1924 as the craze swept America following the publication of Simon and Schuster’s “The Cross Word Puzzle Book” the previous April.
Provided by the Bell Syndicate, the puzzles first appeared weekly in the Sunday magazine, including instructions on how to solve them, but soon became a daily feature.
The syndicate’s 1947 puzzles (small by today’s standard of the 15 by 15 grid) are not particularly difficult compared with current puzzles. Although many words endure (ali, eel, era, ewe, ode, ute, atone, denim) the 1940s puzzles are remarkable for their lack of compass directions, Roman numerals, books of the Bible and use far fewer foreign terms. On the other hand, words like “gerent” (a person who governs or rules) and “hispid” (covered with rough bristles) have vanished from even puzzlers’ vocabulary, as have obscure definitions: “to spread for drying” = ted.
“The Cross-Word Puzzle Book beneath a bough,
Pencil, eraser, dictionary, thou
Beside me, solving in the wilderness.
Wilderness were Paradise enow.”
Grant Overton, after Omar Khayyam.
Quote of the day: “But why do dogs have to die? What can’t they just go on forever?”
Meredith Davis, The Trouble About Having a Dog, The Times, Sept. 14, 1924