Happy 100th birthday, crossword puzzle!

(CBS News)  In a word, it's a phenomenon one hundred years old and counting. Faith Salie spells it out for us:

If you know a three-letter word for a "sea eagle" is an ERN, chances are you like to spend your time solving crossword puzzles.

Daniel Feyer, the reigning American Crossword Puzzle Tournament champion and one of the fastest solvers in the country, told Salie he solves on average 10 crossword puzzles a day: aybe more, depending on how busy I am with the rest of my life."

Feyer says those daily 10 puzzles take him all of ten minutes to do.

Odd trivia and unusual vocabulary are par for the course for crossword puzzle enthusiasts, or cruciverbalists, like Feyer.

"I know almost every fact about Yoko Ono, because Ono is a super famous person as well as a very useful set of letters," he said.

"You probably also know a lot about Yoda," said Salie. "Yes!" he replied.

Download the "Sunday Morning" Crossword Puzzle and Answer Sheet

For a hundred years now, we've had a love affair with the crossword . . . love, as in "Zero in tennis." Or "All you need is ____, according to the Beatles."

"It keeps your mind sharp," said Corey Newman, "and it's a good way for people to get to know each other, apparently -- and eventually, it leads to marriage and family!"

So it went for Newman when, with the help of the Washington Post., he proposed to his now-wife Marlowe in a Sunday crossword puzzle.

"My heart was racing, I was real nervous," he said of the proposal-disguised-as-a-newspaper-crossword. "She sat down next to me, we started doing the puzzle. And she actually completed her name. You know, she figured out 'Marlowe Epstein' and I was so sure at that point she would know something was up. 

"And sure enough, she didn't. She just figured it was the biggest coincidence ever." 

It wasn't until 51 Across. The clue: "Words with a certain ring to them." [Answer? Willyoumarryme.] Then Newman got down on one knee.

The very first crossword puzzle ran in The New York World on December 21, 1913, a hundred years ago this week. It was the creation of Arthur Wynne.

On the Sunday before Christmas in 1913, he invented a puzzle he called a word cross.  The "Word Cross" was in a shape of a hollow diamond. The first answer across the diagram was filled in for you: F-U-N.

It was fun!

"It was an immediate success with readers," said Will Shortz, crosswords editor for The New York Times, and perhaps the most celebrated puzzle editor in the world. "So it became a weekly feature in the World.  It continued into the early 1920s, and by that time there were a few other newspapers in the country running crosswords, but very few. Hardly anyone knew this puzzle."

All that changed when two young Columbia journalism graduates, Dick Simon and Max Schuster, decided to enter the world of publishing.

"One of them had an aunt who was a big fan of the crosswords in the World, and she suggested they do a book of crosswords," said Shortz. "They went to the puzzle editors at the World, and the trio of editors there put together the world's first crossword book."

It was also the first book of what would become publishing giant Simon and Schuster (which is now owned by CBS). It became a bestseller, launching a national craze.  The B&O Railroad even installed unabridged dictionaries on its trains for the convenience of its puzzle-loving passengers.

There were crossword dresses, crossword contests. There was a show on Broadway called "Puzzles of 1925," in which the climactic scene was set in a crossword puzzle sanitorium.

But despite their popularity, Arthur Wynne -- the man who started it all -- never cashed in on his invention.

After he did the first crosswords, Wynn went to his boss and said, 'This seems to be taking off. Should I have it copyrighted?'" recalled his daughter, Catherine Wynne Cutler, of Clearwater, Fla. "[His boss] said, 'No, it's a passing fad, Arthur, don't waste your money.' And so Daddy never made a dime."

Puzzles were part of Catherine's childhood: "When I was little, he and Mother went to the store and left me alone in the house reading and he said, 'Your instructions are on the kitchen table.' And I went and looked and there was a picture of a big bee, and it was on top of a bed. And the number 9 was next to it.

"And I was supposed to figure out that this meant 'Be in bed by nine,'" she laughed. "And I did!"

Cutler said her dad was never angry about not capitalizing on the popularity of the crossword.

"He was rueful but he had the grace to laugh," she told Salie. "He enjoyed the fact that he had done it and that people did call him the father of the modern crossword."

Is the crossword as modern as ever? 

"Nowadays, people famously have shorter attention spans," said Shortz. "And think about a crossword: A daily puzzle has around 76 clues and answers, each one on a different topic.  You're solving a puzzle.  Your mind's jumping from one thing to the next.  I think it's perfect for the modern age."


For more info:

Comments

Follow Us

On Twitter