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The crossword puzzle, which has been called "the most popular and widespread word game in the world," was invented by Arthur Wynne in 1913.

Wynne was an immigrant from England who worked for the New York World. One day, his editor asked him to invent a new game for the newspaper's Sunday "Fun" section. Wynne recalled a puzzle from his childhood called "Magic Squares," in which a given group of words had to be arranged so their letters would read the same way across and down. Wynne created a larger and more complex grid, and provided clues instead of giving the necessary words.

Wynne's puzzle first appeared in the December 21, 1913 edition of the World, as one of the "Fun" section's "mental exercises." It was diamond-shaped, without blackened-out squares, and with easy clues. However simple, it was a huge success. Before long other newspapers had borrowed Wynne's puzzle; the first book of crossword puzzles was published in 1924. By then, the fad had travelled back to Wynne's homeland. In 1930, the London Times printed their first sample of what had only recently been dubbed "the crossword puzzle."

After 1942, it was the New York Times that set the standards for professional crosswords: e.g., symmetrical grids, with answers at least three letters long. In time, the puzzles also became more subtle, including pun-based clues, multiple-word answers, and overarching themes.

Today, crossword puzzles can be found in every major alphabet-based language, all over the world---including the Internet. Some are even computer-generated. In the US, the annual American Crossword Tournament (founded 1978) draws experts from every walk of life. (One "cruciverbalist" who is too busy to attend is Bill Clinton, an ace solver who can finish the Sunday New York Times puzzle in twenty minutes.) Arthur Wynne's "mental exercise" has become a national and international institution.

[Aug. 1997]

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