A Salute to the Humble Crossword Puzzle

Almost everyone knows someone who has a weird fascination with crossword puzzles. For that matter, almost everyone has probably done a crossword puzzle. They’re great. They vary in difficulty, they can be purchased for $4.99 at the airport, they can be found in almost every newspaper in the United States…they’re great.

Okay, so I’m overestimating the popularity of crossword puzzles. I get it. I happen to love them, but I know they’re not as popular as I would like. But there have been some pop culture icons to do crossword puzzles. Stanley Hudson from The Office regularly did crossword puzzles and famously let Ryan flounder at a sales pitch as Stanley worked on one. Chuckie’s dad, Chas, from Rugrats had a subplot related to him spending all his money on a crossword puzzle hotline. (I apologize for not having video, but it turns out that random memories from my childhood don’t always have an exactly corresponding YouTube clip). You can even buy crossword puzzle dictionaries!

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Recreation of Arthur Wynne’s first crossword puzzle from December 21, 1913.

While the origins of crossword puzzles can be traced back to the mid-19th century, scholars tend to believe the first modern crossword premiered in the New York World on December 21, 1913. The first crossword was actually created by an Englishman, but I still like to think of it as a truly American invention. The fact that it was in the New York World really reinforces that because Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World, along with William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal, really provided a blueprint for modern newspapers. They both featured gotcha! articles and unsubstantiated rumors mixed in with the objective news. They also both included bits of entertainment like the crossword, and were both published by well-known jerks. Seriously, Pulitzer and Hearst were complete nobs, to use British parlance. In other words, newspapers back then began running highly biased editorials fraught with sensationalism and not-fully-corroborated stories in an effort to sell papers instead of actually provide news and insight to viewers. Sound familiar? (Cough, cough, CNN, Fox News, The Washington Post, cough cough).

As an aside, that whole era in the United States was really ripe with people who were well-regarded at the time but that history has proven to be absolute garbage humans. Seriously, read some stuff about Thomas Edison sometime. World-class douchebag.

But I digress. I’ll wrap things up because I can almost feel everyone’s interest slipping. I like crossword puzzles. Before I went to law school I did the Dallas Morning News commuter puzzle almost every day. In college I did the crossword every day in our campus newspaper, The Battalion. It’s a great way to start your day and get yourself using your brain. There is some evidence that doing mental exercises like this regularly can help you prevent cognitive decline such as dementia. So on this, the 107th anniversary of the modern crossword, why don’t you do some mental exercise before you start yet another Monday with unholy amounts of coffee and mocking people who sent you stupid emails over the weekend?

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