Twenty-thirteen has been rich in important anniversaries, 50-year and 100. Or so it seems. It was the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination, the 50th of C.S. Lewis’ passing, also the 50th anniversary of the show Doctor Who. Those of us old enough to have been in our twenties fifty years ago can at least vaguely attest to such anniversaries as that. But what about centennials?
Yesterday was supposedly the centennial of the crossword puzzle—universally proclaimed by Google’s search page. On December 20, 1913, one Arthur Wynne composed, and the New York World published, the first such thing. But a hundred years are a long time; as I pursued this subject this morning, things began to seem less clear. Wikipedia, in its article on the subject, dates Wynne’s achievement as December 21, 1913 and cites the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as its source, no less (link). Wiki adds that Wynne’s puzzle “embodied most of the features of that genre as we know it.” But the crossword is evidently older than that—going back to 1837 in the English magazine called St. Nicholas. Which means that the centennial should have been celebrated in 1937, when I had reached the ripe age of 1. Italy was not far behind. In September of 1890 Il Secolo Illustrato della Domenica published one devised by Guiseppe Airoldi. Early on the feature was named “word-cross.” If we see “the cross” as symbolizing pain, certain puzzles—certainly all those in the New York Times on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays belong to the painful variety. The words were inverted into “crossword” later—perhaps to ease our pain.
Whenever the crossword really began, it has brought Brigitte and me, both of us word-crossed sorts of people, plenty of agony, laughter, and joy—not to mention additions to our already fairly decent personal dictionaries… So let us take pencil in hand and celebrate.