December 21: The Crossword

First_crosswordIt was on this day in 1913 that the New York World newspaper published the first modern crossword puzzle.

Although the modern crossword puzzle is barely a century old, primitive crosswords were popular in 19th century England. These simple word puzzles were word squares in which all lines read the same across and down. For example:

LANE

AREA

NEAR

EARS

English journalist Arthur Wynne was quite familiar with these word squares when he created the diamond shaped “Word-Cross Puzzle” (seen above) for the World. However, he pioneered a few techniques that would become staples of crossword design: Namely the use of crossing, numbered horizontal and vertical lines that were symmetrical like the old word squares, but formed complex grid instead of a simple square. Additionally, each answer was unique with no two repeated. In ensuing puzzles, Wynne added the familiar black squares that divide words and columns. The Word-Cross ran every week in the Globe and its popularity inspired imitators, with the Boston Globe adding their own crossword puzzle in 1917 and many newspapers subsequently following suit.

Finally, how did Wynne’s Word-Cross Puzzle become known as a crossword puzzle? Well, ironically for a puzzle that requires absolute accuracy when its laid out by its author, the name came from a printing error. A few weeks into the puzzle’s run, a lay out gaffe caused Word-Cross to be transposed into Cross-Word and the phrase has struck ever since.

Getting stuck on that one last word is the bane of any crossword enthusiast’s existence, so let’s acknowledge this source of consternation with a cocktail called The Last Word. According to bartender Ted Saucier’s 1951 book Bottom’s Up, this biting gin cocktail was born at the Detroit Athletic Club sometime during Prohibition (through a quirk of Prohibition law, individuals and private clubs were allowed to keep and serve the alcohol stock they had acquired before Prohibition).

The Last Word

  • 1 ounce Gin
  • 1 ounce lime juice
  • 1 ounce Green Chartreuse
  • 1 ounce Maraschino Liqueur

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Tomorrow: Something for the bridges and tunnels crowd.

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