He came from Liverpool, England and changed our lives with a fun intellectual pursuit of words. His name was Arthur Wynne and on this date, 100 years ago, December 21, 1913, he debuted the first daily newspaper crossword puzzle in the now defunct New York World.
The crossword puzzle had been around for hundreds of years in various forms. British magazines had featured “word puzzles” in cruder forms for over fifty years prior. But that slow news day, just before Christmas, in 1913 Wynne’s section editor came to him in a panic, desperate to fill column spaces. This may or may not have been the first documented incident of the phrase “win Wynne” later adapted to “win win”.
When you click on “Google” today, you’ll see a neat tribute to the leanred man from Liverpool, who emigrated to Pittsburgh at age 19, worked for two newspapers, then moved to New York City and created the American crossword puzzle. He would outlive his own newspaper, The New York World. It said goodbye in 1931. Arthur Wynne died quietly in retirement in Clearwater, Florida in 1945 at 74-years-old
Growing up, I would read the sports section of the Atlanta Journal or Atlanta Constitution, then search for the lifestyle section, a pencil, and a quiet place to exercise my brain. Those puzzles were modern versions of Wynne’s creation.
When I went to college, I would do the New York Times puzzle. It was and still is the gold standard in crosswords, although the Times didn’t start printing theirs until 1942 because the old gray lady looked down at the yellow journalism of the New York World and considered crossword puzzles beneath them. Some people can do their puzzle in less than 10 minutes. It would frustrate me for a half hour, I’d set it down, then return and eventually fill out the columns in less than an hour. Crossword puzzles are great for vocabulary expansion and encyclopedic knowledge.
These days, with the newspaper industry suffering a slow death, I usually get crossword puzzle fix from word search books bought from dollar stores or I look at the New York Times online.
This post isn’t as sexy as arguing about Yuppie duck call salesmen disguised as reality stars or wondering if Santa Claus is white but it’s important. It’s how many children and later adults learned from media.
For 100 years there’s been an oasis of intellectualism available on the pages of newspapers and magazines. I’ll never take for granted the smell of pencil erasers and the my gray-stained fingertips. Happy Birthday Crossword Puzzle and thank you Arthur Wynne. You were slightly less famous than John Lennon, another Liverpudlian who was great with words and changed our lives.
Lennon was a huge fan of crossword puzzles and bragged to friends he could do the New York Times one in minutes. May both of rest in peace.
Here’s The Beatles with Across The Universe.
Stuff your stockings with my books:
The Ballad of Helene Troy, an underdog story about a female musician in New York City, and Soul To Body, about an ex-1990s guitar player trying to raise his teenage daughter after the death of his wife, her mother, are available, digitally, on Amazon.com for your kindles, and in paperback from Lulu.com