The History of Crossword Puzzles: A Timeline

history of crossword puzzles

The history of crossword puzzles goes back over 100 years. This timeline highlights key moments in the history of crossword puzzles.

The Beginning of Crossword Puzzles (1913-1930)

December 21st, 1913

Arthur Wynne, a journalist from Liverpool, England, created the first crossword puzzle. It was published in the New York World. Originally deemed a “word-cross puzzle,” it appeared as below.

The first crossword

We have recreated the world’s first crossword puzzle using the crossword puzzle maker at Crossword Hobbyist, and modernized the numbering so that it can be solved online. The grid, clues, and answers are the same as the original puzzle from 1913.

You may find the solution here.

November 2nd, 1924

Although Arthur Wynne himself hailed from England, a crossword did not appear in a British publication for eleven more years. Published by the Sunday Express, British crosswords quickly formed their own style, known for being more difficult than American ones.

In the same year, Simon and Schuster published the first book of crossword puzzles. Called The Cross Word Puzzle Book, it contained a compilation of crosswords from the New York World.

A New York Times opinion column during this time called the completion of crossword puzzles, “a sinful waste… [solvers] get nothing out of it except a primitive sort of mental exercise.”

February 1st, 1930

The first Times crossword puzzle was published, a mere six years after publishing a scathing opinion about crossword puzzles.

Crossword Puzzles and The New York Times (1941-1950)

December 18th, 1941

Lester Markel, the Sunday editor for The New York Times sent a memo eleven days after the attack on Pearl Harbor to the publisher, Arthur Hays Sulzberger. It said: “We ought to proceed with the puzzle, especially in view of the fact it is possible there will now be bleak blackout hours — or if not that, then certainly a need for relaxation of some kind or other.”

February 15th, 1942

Margaret Farrar
Margaret Farrar

The New York Times debuted as a weekly crossword feature in the Sunday publication. It is the last major metropolitan newspaper in the country to do so. Margaret Farrar was the crossword editor at the time, making her the first editor of The New York Times crossword puzzle. She served as editor until 1969.

November 11th, 1950

The crossword puzzle becomes a daily feature.

Crosswords Grow in Popularity (1968-1993)

April 8th, 1968

Lyricist Stephen Sondheim introduces American readers to a “real” crossword puzzle, the cryptic crossword, in New York Magazine. Also known as a British-style crossword, Sondheim argues that American crosswords require “tirelessly esoteric knowledge,” while their preferrable British counterparts “have many characteristics of a literary manner: cleverness, humor, even a pseudo-aphoristic grace.”

January 6th, 1969

Will Weng became the second editor of The New York Times crossword puzzle.

Will Weng
Will Weng, from XWord Info
Eugene T. Maleska
Eugene T. Maleska

February 28th, 1977

Eugene T. Maleska became the third editor of The New York Times crossword puzzle.

March 4-5th, 1978

The first crossword puzzle tournament in existence, the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, began. Still in existence today, it became an annual event and the largest crossword event in the world. Competitors solve eight crosswords created and edited specifically for the event, and are judged based on accuracy and speed.

September 11th, 1989

Jean Sherman, with the help of Eugene T. Maleska, proposed to Peter Sherman through a New York Times crossword puzzle. It was the first crossword proposal to appear in the paper. Will Shortz and other newspapers would go on to help similar proposals.

November 21st, 1993

Will Shortz
Will Shortz, from XWord Info

Will Shortz became the fourth editor of The New York Times crossword puzzle. He still serves as the editor today.

Crosswords On the Web (1996 – Today)

Jan 22nd, 1996

The New York Times began to post the daily crossword puzzle online. The current crossword puzzle online archive extends as far back as November 1993.

1998

Variety Games, Inc. patented and launched Crossword Weaver. Crossword Weaver was the first computer software program specifically for creating crossword puzzles.

2006

Wordplay debuts, a documentary film featuring Will Shortz and other noted crossword constructors and solvers. A significant portion of the film focuses on the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament.

October 27th, 2008

The New York Times launched the Wordplay blog. The daily posts aim to help readers better solve crosswords.

2013

Crossword Hobbyist offers the first in-browser crossword puzzle creation software for newspaper-style puzzles. Since its creation, over thirty thousand people have used Crossword Hobbyist to make crossword puzzles for newspapers, classrooms, events, promotional purposes, and personal use. The first crossword puzzle made at Crossword Hobbyist, titled “Cross Words” can be found and solved below.

In the same year on December 21st, the crossword puzzle turned 100 years old.

 

Want to test your knowledge of crossword puzzle history? Take our trivia quiz here.

Kristen Seikaly used her artistic background, research skills, and love for the internet to launch her first blog, Operaversity. Now she uses the skills to connect teachers, parents, and game enthusiasts with Crossword Hobbyist and My Word Search. She studied music at the University of Michigan, and now lives in Philadelphia.

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