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One Hundred Years of the Crossword

Did you know that the crossword has just turned 100 years old? The puzzle was first published in what would be recognised as a modern form on 21st December 1913 in the USA. The puzzle was created by a British journalist, Arthur Wynne. And it has gone from strength to strength since then.

A very healthy percentage of people admit to doing a crossword at least once a week, and for a considerable number, it is their favourite part of their daily newspaper. No wonder then, in a time of declining print sales, virtually every newspaper has a crossword in its daily puzzle section, as it is an important draw, with people getting attached to certain setters when it comes to the mysterious variant, the cryptic crossword.

Since the first crossword, different styles of grid have become popular around the world. The grid pattern used in the US leads to there being a lot more words per grid size than in the UK, since every white square is fully checked, or crossed, meaning that it appears in both an across and a down clue. This means that, in theory, you only have to solve all the across clues or all the down clues in order to solve the puzzle. In the UK, there are usually a considerable number of white squares that only appear in either an across or down clue, and there tend to be many less words in a grid of a given size as a result. In Europe, different styles of grid pattern or grid display again are popular, for instance the arrow word, or crosswords with thick lines between white cells rather than black cells, indicating word boundaries.

So why is the crossword such a popular puzzle? It is always tricky to work out what makes something popular. Certainly it seems that the fact that there are no real rules to grasp is a big draw: whereas with some logic puzzles there are quite a few rules to consider which can confuse people, with a crossword the aim is simple: just answer the clues and write those answers in the grid!

Secondly, being a word puzzle, every puzzle you solve will be different, with different clues and answers, and often the puzzle will provide an educational experience too. There are three main types of clue set: quick clues, which are short, synonym based clues, general knowledge puzzles, and cryptic puzzles: which use a large variety of different clue types to put the solver off the scent, typically with a clue containing a definition (that may not be exactly what comes to mind when you think of the solution word, but is close enough) and then a cryptic clue that also leads to the same answer; this could be an anagram, a combination of words, one or more words sandwiched in other words, a homophone or various other types too.

Will the crossword still be around in a 100 years time? It's impossible to predict, but one thing seems certain: if puzzles are still around in 100 years, there's a fair bet that crosswords will be too!
Date written: 23 Dec 2013

Category: crosswords | Keywords: crosswords


Thanks for the overview. I have tried the cryptic puzzles in newspapers but without success. I would be very interested in some small, simple cryptic crosswords to ease me into it gently but can't find any anywhere, is this something you can help with?
By: Jon Jones - 20 May 2014 17:44:53

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