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Crossword Mania

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RolloTreadway
1322842.  Mon May 27, 2019 4:04 pm Reply with quote

(Apologies if this is a little list-like, just wanted to share some quite interesting information about crosswords!!)

Crosswords have remained a staple part of newspapers across the UK, USA, Sweden, Japan, and all around the globe since the early 20th century, but it took a while for the puzzles to become as revered as they are today!

Arthur Wynne is usually credited with inventing the crossword in 1913 with his 'word-cross', but word-square puzzles (sets of words arranged in a square grid so that the same words can be read both horizontally and vertically), which formed the basis of Wynne's crossword, have existed for much longer; the earliest word-square we know of, the Sator Square, was found in the ruins of Pompeii! Another notable word square is that of John Renie, a man from Wales who before passing in 1832 designed his own tombstone epitaph, in the form of a 285 letter crossword puzzle! It seems at first glance to be a plethora of Js and Rs with a few other letters scattered around, but once one spots the capital H in the centre the phrase reveals itself; "Here lies John Renie" can be read in any direction from the first letter!

These word-squares would soon become crosswords, which would lead to scrabble and so on and so on as the word-puzzle craze expanded. Fast forward to the 1920s and the crossword madness was taking the world by storm, the effects reported in the papers comically catastrophic; they were known to cause eye strain, as described by The New York Times in 1924 as "the cross-word puzzle headache", and detailing that "special glasses are being offered by opticians to remedy the trouble". Another article from the Times that year was titled "CROSSWORD MANIA BREAKS UP HOMES", and put forward that "the innocent little black and white squares have fascinated so many husbands that legal organisations are being swamped with requests to solve the enigma or to start divorce proceedings"!

In Britain, crossword mania was causing an entirely different sort of panic; in May 1944, the Telegraph published multiple vital code-names for a Churchill and Roosevelt planned invasion of northwest Europe! The assault was code-named Operation Overlord, the latter word appearing as the answer for the clue 'big-wig'. 'One of the USA' led to the answer Utah, and another clue led to Omaha - both tips to where the American Forces were to land on D-Day. The same crossword featured the answer Mulberry, the harbour that was to be towed across the English Channel for the supply ships of the invasion force, as well as Neptune, the code-name for the operation's naval support!

Leonard Dawe, a 54 year old teacher and crossword compiler, was met immediately by two MI5 officers who demanded to know why their top secret codewords had ended up in a national paper! It turned out to have been an extraordinary coincidence, with Dawe responding incredulously 'why not?' to the question of why he'd chosen those specific five words for his puzzle! That being said, it has been claimed by Dawe's former students that the compiler had a habit of calling boys into his study to fill crossword blanks with words which the compiler would later write clues for. This could have had something to do with war-related words finding their way into the puzzle, unbeknownst to the compiler himself!

Crossword mania is far from over, as the puzzles have caused a stir more recently as in 2016, a 91 year old German woman was investigated after filling in the blank spaces on a crossword-themed artwork in a museum in Nuremberg. In her defence the piece, insured at 80,000, did feature the phrase "insert words".

Sources:
New York Times, December 1924.
New York Times, December 1924.
BBC, 2016.
Ben Johnson, History UK
Wales Online, 2018
Early Church History

 

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