It might make one across, but don’t get too down

The ‘tem­po­rary mad­ness’ hasn’t waned as cross­words cel­e­brate their 100th birth­day, writes MERLE REA­GLE

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

ON A SNOWY evening in the early 1900s, a news­pa­per ed­i­tor at the New York World was hunched over his desk try­ing to think of some­thing spe­cial for the Christ­mas is­sue. Re­mem­ber­ing the small word squares he’d solved as a young Brit in Liver­pool, he drew a di­a­mond-shaped grid with num­bered squares and num­bered clues. It con­tained 32 words, and his sim­ple in­struc­tion read: “Fill in the small squares with words which agree with the fol­low­ing def­i­ni­tions.”

The puz­zle ap­peared De­cem­ber 21, 1913, and what 42-year-old Arthur Wynne had cre­ated was the first crossword puz­zle.

It was an in­stant suc­cess. Mail poured in. Read­ers didn’t mind that the first puz­zle con­tained some very un­usual words, such as “neif ”, “tane”, “neva” and “nard”. Or that the word “dove” ap­peared twice, once clued as”a bird” and once as “a pi­geon”. Or that the most un­usual word was “doh”, de­fined as “the fi­bre of the go­muti palm” a clue that, if it ap­peared to­day, would elicit much the same re­ac­tion from solvers as it would from Homer Simp­son.

Wynne pushed for the news­pa­per to copy­right it, but his bosses con­sid­ered the crossword a pass­ing tri­fle. New York Times editorials la­belled them a waste of time.

Af­ter just a few years, Wynne’s in­ter­est waned. He still made cross­words, but he also ac­cepted reader sub­mis­sions, be­com­ing the coun­try’s first crossword ed­i­tor as well. By 1921, af­ter eight years as cap­tain of the crossword, Wynne handed the wheel to some­one else.

That some­one was a Smith grad named Mar­garet Pether­bridge, a World sec­re­tary who had hopes of be­ing a jour­nal­ist. Like al­most ev­ery­one on the staff, she was ut­terly un­in­ter­ested in the crossword and sim­ply picked the ones that had in­ter­est­ing shapes. She never tried solv­ing one.

How­ever, the pa­per’s most pop­u­lar colum­nist, Franklin P Adams, was an avid fan and be­gan leav­ing his solved puzzles on Pether­bridge’s desk, with the mis­takes high­lighted. Be­cause the grids were a pain to cre­ate, the pa­per’s type­set­ters did their best to kill the crossword, run­ning the clues in ever-de­creas­ing tiny type and omit­ting some al­to­gether.

Af­ter a year, Pether­bridge had been shamed enough. She de­cided to try to solve a puz­zle – and couldn’t. Rather than feel Adams’s glare, she set about or­gan­is­ing the puzzles in her files. Within months she had de­vised rules for crossword creators – amaz­ingly, a list still fol­lowed to­day. She sim­pli­fied the num­ber­ing sys­tem, stressed the use of com­mon English words, lim­ited the black squares to one-sixth of the grid and, in essence, stan­dard­ised the crossword puz­zle.

From then on, puzzles that had a high de­gree of crafts­man­ship were first to be cho­sen. The crossword fi­nally looked like a fea­ture that was here to stay.

Then, in 1924, two Columbia grads de­cided they wanted to get into pub­lish­ing. Crossword puzzles were more pop­u­lar than ever, yet there had never been a col­lec­tion in book form. So they en­listed Pether­bridge and two col­leagues to com­pile one. The Cross Word Puz­zle Book sold 400 000 copies in only a few months.

Two more books fol­lowed, sell­ing 2 mil­lion copies in two years. The two young pub­lish­ers were Dick Si­mon and Max Schus­ter, and the first crossword book launched their ca­reers.

And Pether­bridge’s ca­reer. With the books, cross­words be­came a na­tional phe­nom­e­non. Pether­bridge mar­ried in 1926, be­com­ing Mar­garet P Far­rar, and un­der that name she would go on to edit the Si­mon & Schus­ter crossword se­ries for 60 years. She called it her “in­ad­ver­tent pro­fes­sion”.

There was a crossword-re­lated news story in the New York pa­pers al­most ev­ery week: a Bap­tist preacher con­structed a crossword for a ser­mon. A man re­fused to leave a restau­rant un­til he fin­ished a crossword and had to be es­corted out by po­lice. A Cleve­land woman was granted a di­vorce be­cause her hus­band was ob­sessed with cross­words. A Bu­dapest waiter ex­plained in a crossword why he was com­mit­ting sui­cide; po­lice were un­able to solve it.

The Broad­way show Puzzles of 1925 had a skit in which crossword fans were de­picted as pa­tients in a san­i­tar­ium. Com­muter trains started putting dic­tionar­ies in ev­ery car. The Los An­ge­les Pub­lic Li­brary had to en­force a limit on how long you could use the dic­tionary. The Chicago Depart­ment of Health de­clared that crossword solv­ing was ben­e­fi­cial to health and hap­pi­ness. And Th­e­saurus

‘In­ven­tor Arthur Wynne never made a penny off the crossword puz­zle. In this, the 100th an­niver­sary of his in­ven­tion, I hope he can set­tle for recog­ni­tion’

au­thor Peter Ro­get was de­clared “the pa­tron saint of cross­worders”.

All the while, the Times called crossword solv­ing “a tem­po­rary mad­ness,” serv­ing “no use­ful pur­pose what­so­ever”, and an “epi­demic” that would soon be over.

In 1942 the Times fi­nally gave in and hired Mar­garet P Far­rar as its first crossword ed­i­tor.

So what­ever hap­pened to Arthur Wynne?

As read­ers of The Wash­ing­ton Post may know, I make the crossword for the Post mag­a­zine ev­ery Sun­day. I live in Tampa, Florida, but in this age of in­stant ev­ery­thing, I just at­tach the puz­zle in an e-mail and click “send”.

Such tech­nol­ogy has made my puz­zling life much less puz­zling. And it was while surf­ing the web in the 1990s that I found Wynne’s grainy As­so­ci­ated Press obit from the Jan­uary 17, 1945, Toronto Daily Star. It was one para­graph.

“Clear­wa­ter, Florida. (AP) – Arthur Wynn, credited with in­vent­ing the crossword puz­zle, died Sun­day… Wynn was born in Liver­pool, Eng­land, and came to the US 50 years ago to en­ter the news­pa­per busi­ness.”

First, I was stunned that the man who had in­vented a fea­ture that was in nearly ev­ery news­pa­per in the world, even in 1945, was given such short shrift. Sec­ond, that they spelled his name wrong. And third, that he died in Clear­wa­ter. There I was, a life­long puz­zle guy in Tampa, read­ing that the man who in­vented the crossword puz­zle had died 25 miles (40km) from where I was sit­ting.

Or, stand­ing, since I had bolted out of the chair. I asked an ed­i­tor friend at the St Peters­burg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times) to check its archives for ar­ti­cles. There were pre­cious few, with noth­ing new.

I did know what most of us in the crossword world knew. Ex­cel­lent books have been writ­ten about the crossword’s early days. I knew that when Wynne was a boy he loved word games and the vi­olin.

He wanted to be a news­pa­per­man, but his fa­ther, a news­pa­per­man him­self, for­bade it.

At 19, Arthur packed one bag and his vi­olin and sailed to the US. (Strangely, this mir­rors my own life: at 20 I was a puz­zle fan, played the or­gan and pi­ano, and worked as a news­pa­per copy ed­i­tor.)

Wynne found a news­pa­per job in Pitts­burgh and played the vi­olin in or­ches­tras. Then he got the job at the World. He moved to Cedar Grove, New Jersey, and com­muted ev­ery day. Af­ter in­vent­ing the crossword he be­came a fre­quent cus­tomer at New York’s fa­mous Palm restau­rant, where a wall car­i­ca­ture of him re­mains to this day. He worked for the Hearst pa­pers in the 1930s. In 1941 he moved to Clear­wa­ter for health rea­sons and died four years later.

And that be­came the puz­zle with no an­swer: where was he buried? Some­where in Tampa Bay? If so, is there a grave­stone? Or was he trans­ported to a fam­ily plot in Liver­pool? Fif­teen years later I still had no an­swer.

The break came in July this year. While surf­ing the web my wife, Marie, found the home-town obit of Wynne’s old­est daugh­ter, Janet. It men­tioned that there was another daugh­ter liv­ing in Clear­wa­ter. Wynne had mar­ried a third time to a much younger woman and had fa­thered a child at 62. That daugh­ter’s name was Cather­ine Wynne – they called her Kay – and she was 11 when her fa­ther died.

Her mar­ried name was Kay Wynne Cut­ler. She had turned 80 in April and was liv­ing in Clear­wa­ter. It took Marie only min­utes to find her num­ber and call. A bright-sound­ing woman an­swered. The con­ver­sa­tion lasted 15 min­utes. We tried not to show that we were giddy as kids in an ice-cream par­lour. We agreed to meet.

Kay walks with a cane but is sharp. She laughs eas­ily. She brought ar­ti­cles about her fa­ther. As far as she knows she is the only one in the fam­ily who is a crossword fan.

She had the an­swer to my “grave” ques­tion. There was no burial site be­cause there was no burial. Her fa­ther had been cre­mated. Kay says she was too young to know, but she thinks his ashes were scat­tered in the Gulf of Mex­ico. At the time, she was a stu­dent at Anona Ele­men­tary, a happy ac­ci­dent for the daugh­ter of a puz­zle cre­ator – the name of the school is a palin­drome.

Kay said her fa­ther used to say that he never made a penny off the crossword puz­zle. In this, the 100th an­niver­sary of his in­ven­tion, I hope he can set­tle for recog­ni­tion. – Wash­ing­ton Post HJ LOM­BARD Com­mer­cial Fea­tures writer SPARKLE Prod­ucts was es­tab­lished in 1973 and, from early on, the com­pany re­alised that there was a de­mand for its prod­ucts from house­hold buy­ers. So Sparkle Prod­ucts took the in­no­va­tive step of open­ing the first fac­tory shop in the de­ter­gent in­dus­try, sell­ing di­rectly to the pub­lic at fac­tory shop prices. A large va­ri­ety of peo­ple come from all over the Western Cape to make sig­nif­i­cant sav­ings by buy­ing their house­hold clean­ing prod­ucts di­rectly from Sparkle Prod­ucts.

In 1979, the com­pany moved into its premises at 10 Ma­rine Drive, Paar­den Is­land, which it oc­cu­pies to this day. Any­one can buy their clean­ing sup­plies di­rectly from Sparkle Prod­ucts and make a sav­ing. This pi­o­neer­ing step has stood it in good stead and the com­pany has flour­ished be­cause it pro­duces a qual­ity prod­uct, which it of­fers at at­trac­tive prices. The shop has grown into the big­gest de­ter­gent fac­tory shop in the Western Cape.

So the com­pany also of­fers an en­tre­pre­neur­ial op­por­tu­nity to trade di­rectly through the buy­ing and sell­ing of clean­ing prod­ucts to neigh­bours and friends.

Ev­ery month, t hou­sands of small busi­ness own­ers buy from the fac­tory shop with the ex­press pur­pose of re­selling.

Spar k l e Pr o d u c t s ’ un­com­pro­mis­ing ad­her­ence to qual­ity is what has en­sured the vi­a­bil­ity of the com­pany over 40 years. So con­fi­dent is Sparkle Prod­ucts of its qual­ity that it of­fers buy­ers the op­tion of re­turn­ing a prod­uct if they are not happy it. Sparkle Prod­ucts’ fac­tory shop will gladly al­low cus­tomers to swap the prod­ucts for other prod­ucts of sim­i­lar value or re­ceive their cash back.

This com­mit­ment to qual­ity is con­firmed by the com­pany’s ISO 9001 cert i f i cation and al s o by SABS-ap­proved prod­ucts. Sparkle Prod­ucts has an on­site lab­o­ra­tory that con­tin­u­ally mon­i­tors the qual­ity and con­sis­tency of its prod­ucts.

In­deed, due to its rep­u­ta­tion for con­sis­tent qual­ity, it is re­garded as one of the best, most es­tab­lished con­tract-pack­ers in the de­ter­gent in­dus­try in the Western Cape. Sys­tems have been finely honed over the past 40 years to meet your needs quickly and cour­te­ously. It is, for in­stance, pos­si­ble to place or­ders via phone, email, fax or SMS.

Sparkle Prod­ucts also de­liv­ers within the met­ro­pol­i­tan area at a min­i­mum de­liv­ery charge. The cost of de­liv­er­ies to places fur­ther afield can be ne­go­ti­ated. Cus­tomers are en­cour­aged to ar­range the trans­port that best suits their needs and take de­liv­ery di­rectly from the fac­tory shop.

The fac­tory shop stocks a range of rea­son­ably priced qual­ity clean­ing ac­ces­sories, such as toi­let pa­per, brooms and mops.

Sparkle Prod­ucts val­ues its staff and takes great care to en­sure the safety and well­be­ing of its work­force. The com­pany is proudly BEE com­pli­ant.

The fac­tory shop is open six days a week, Mon­day to Thurs­day, from 8am to 4.45pm; Fri­day from 8am un­til 4pm, and on Satur­day from 8.30am to noon.

For a de­tailed in­di­ca­tion of the prod­ucts on of­fer, see Call Sparkle Prod­ucts on 021 511 1287 or send an email to


POP­U­LAR: The early pop­u­lar­ity of the crossword was la­belled an ‘epi­demic’ that would ‘soon be over’.

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