The History of Crossword Puzzles and the Puzzling People Who Can’t Live Without Them

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Duration 00:00:03

Princeton University

Crossword enthusiast Adrienne Raphel teaches creative writing at Princeton University and has written for The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, and Slate, among other publications. She holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop and a PhD from Harvard University.


The History of Crossword Puzzles

According to Adrienne Raphel, “It’s hard to imagine modern life without the crossword.”

In a 1924 editorial headlined A Familiar Form of Madness, the NY Times expressed its disdain for that vulgar new entertainment, known as the “cross-word”. A year later they wrote “The craze evidently is dying out fast and in a few months it will be forgotten.” How and why this craze arose and has persisted, as well as the cultural history of crosswords and the “puzzling people who can’t live without them” is the focus of this class. The very first puzzle in 1913 was in the shape of a diamond, or perhaps as close to a Christmas wreath as newspaper graphics of the time could provide. The clues were straightforward — “What we should all be” yielded the answer “MORAL” — but the essential idea of a modern crossword, an interlocked array of words in which each solution provides clues to the next, was there. And the rest, as they say, is history.


Learn More About the History of Crossword Puzzles

Learn more about the history of crossword puzzles by visiting our online history lectures. With new educational and entertaining history lectures every week, we’re constantly adding great history courses to our online video library. Listen to history and political courses online & on-demand, including courses in history, politics, & international relations, political theory, political psychology courses, and more! Below are some recent additions as well as some student favorites, including 6000 Years Of Religion, American Democracy: Where Are We Now, & FDR & The Evolution Of An American Ideal.



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