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What Is a Crossword?


The Crossword Puzzle is an offshoot or variant of the acrostic. The crossword puzzle consists of a diagram which comprises blank and blocked-in squares; the blank squares will ultimately contain letters and the blocked-in spaces show the beginning or termination of a word. When the letters are all filled in they help to form words arranged horizontally and vertically. Clues to the words are given with the diagram, and may be either straightforward, deliberately ambiguous, or cryptic.

The most usual diagram consists of a square of 15 spaces each way, the blanks forming a symmetrical pattern, but oblongs and pictorial shapes are often used, and in some cases a thickened line takes the place of the blocked-in space.

Crosswords of a childish sort appeared in nursery magazines of the 19th century. The first adult crossword puzzle made its appearance on December 31st 1913 in an American Sunday newspaper, the New York World. Designed on a diamond grid, it was devised by an English immigrant journalist, Arthur Wynne. Although popular with the World's readership, and already developing some of its standard features (for example a rectangular format), the crossword remained little known for ten years.

But in 1924 two novice New York publishers brought out the first crossword puzzle book, compiled by members of the World's staff.

Its success was remarkable. Crosswords began to appear in newspapers and magazines, and the American public was captured. In England they then met with general and enthusiastic welcome, and soon became almost as familiar in a paper as the title page. Finally, in 1930 even The Times succumbed to them and now contains perhaps the best-known of all crosswords. The majority of puzzles have simple solutions, but others give scope for research. Since the 1920s various publications have organized prize crossword competitions and in 1970, The Times introduced a national championship. Thejeu de mots croises attained a certain popularity in France, and the Morning Post published several crossword puzzles in French for English readers. The Times has issued several in Latin.

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