Tuesday, December 27, 2011

History of the crossword puzzle

The crossword puzzle is a beloved yet relatively new component of popular culture. Crossword puzzles have evolved into popular pastimes, educational tools for children and methods of keeping the brain sharp.

Arthur Wynne, an English journalist who emigrated to the United States in the early 20th century, is credited with the creation of the first crossword puzzle. He is the first modern-day cruciverbalist, or crossword creator. Wynne wrote the puzzle for an American newspaper called the New York World. It was published on Sunday, December 21, 1913. The first crossword was actually called a "word-cross" and was diamond shaped. The name of the puzzle was later switched to "cross-word" and then crossword.

Wynne said he based his crossword puzzle on a game that was played in ancient Pompeii. It was called "magic squares" when translated from Latin. Although the crossword puzzle became a frequent inclusion in newsprint, it wasn't until 1924 when publisher Simon & Schuster published the first collection of crosswords in book form that the crossword became available in a more widespread manner.

Crossword puzzles are governed by a series of rules. There are different types of grids for these puzzles depending on origin. For example, crosswords often follow an American style, a British style, a Japanese style, and a Swedish style. Each of these styles has their own series of rules. These rules pertain to the number of cells and how many are shaded or white. A white cell that is part of two entries, meaning part of an Across and Down clue, is called checked. A white cell that is only part of one clue is unchecked.

Crossword grids such as those appearing in most North American newspapers and magazines feature solid areas of white squares. Every letter is checked, and usually each answer is required to contain at least three letters. In these puzzles shaded squares are usually limited to about one-sixth of the design. Another component of North American puzzles is that the grid should have symmetry when rotated 180 degrees. The pattern should appear the same even if the puzzle is turned upside down. Most puzzle designs require the white cells to also be connected in one mass through shared sides, which is a concept called being orthogonally contiguous.

Puzzles are often standard sizes. Easier puzzles have fewer cells and may have 15x15 squares. Puzzles can increase in complexity as they grow larger, up to 25x25. Many newspapers start out with easier puzzles earlier in the work week and move to a harder puzzle in time for the Sunday puzzle.

In terms of American-style puzzles where all of the white cells are checked, not all of the solutions will be full words. American puzzles allow for abbreviations, variant spellings or even foreign words. This isn't the case with British puzzles. Most American puzzles follow a theme.

Crossword puzzles have become a component of the daily lives of people all around the world. They continue to be a source of entertainment and even competition.

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