You all know crossword puzzles, and whether you like them or not, I bet you have done at least a few during your lifetime. Do you know how and when these puzzles were born? In today’s Bite, we will learn about the Birth of a Puzzle, and not any puzzle; it’s the birth of the crossword puzzle.


Birth of a Puzzle

Crossword puzzles are so common that almost everyone knows how they work. Yet crosswords as we know them first appeared less than a hundred years ago. Before then, the only known word puzzles were simple British children’s games. In these, letters could be arranged into connecting words. A clever child could read words both across and down.

In 1913, newspaper editor Arthur Wynne wanted a unique activity for the “Fun” page of his Sunday paper. He retrieved the old idea of the children’s word puzzle. Wynne’s innovation was to expand it into the larger written format. He drew interlocking boxes in a diamond shape. He gave clued to help solvers fill the boxes with letters to form linking words. Wynne’s puzzle started a trend that others would perfect.

In 1924, Margaret Farrar published the first book of crossword puzzles. It became an instant best-seller. People did crossword puzzles to relax, to improve their vocabulary, and to keep their minds nimble.

Crossword puzzles quickly became a fad, and nearly every American newspaper featured them. In the days before television, people gathering to solve puzzles became a jovial social event.

The fad grew into a familiar feature of daily life. Soon, serious puzzle solvers demanded more challenges. Puzzle makers began to develop larger diagrams with a minimum of blank spaces. They wrote hard clues based on obscure facts, current events, quotations, puns, and riddles. In 1942, the New York Times added a Sunday puzzle, edited by Mrs. Farrar. This happened at an opportune time — during World War II — when war-weary readers were glad for a break from bad news. Farrar’s puzzles were wildly popular. Today, you will find crossword puzzles everywhere — in newspapers, magazines, books, at online interactive websites, and even on place mats.

I hope you learned something new from today’s story, but that’s not all. We will take a closer look at six keywords from the text: retrieve, innovation, format, nimble, jovial, and minimum.

Ready to figure out what these words mean? First, try to guess the meanings on your own with the help of the context above, and only when you want to check your answers, take a look at the answer key below.


Let’s Build our Vocabulary

Choose the best answer:

  1. The meaning of retrieved is
    • copied
    • researched
    • brought back
    • invented
  2. The meaning of innovation is
    • change
    • repetition
    • outline
    • separation
  3. Format most nearly means
    • contract
    • novel
    • design
    • box
  4. Nimble most nearly means
    • stiff
    • blocked
    • jolly
    • quick
  5. Jovial is best defined as
    • gloomy
    • cheerful
    • crabby
    • intellectual
  6. Minimum is best defined as
    • great number
    • small number
    • equal number
    • surplus

I hope you got all the answers right, but above all, I hope you learned something new today. Don’t forget to tune in every day for a new English Plus Bite.


  1. brought back
  2. change
  3. design
  4. quick
  5. cheerful
  6. small number

I hope you got all the answers right, but above all, I hope you learned something new today. Don’t forget to tune in every day for a new English Plus Bite.


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<a href="https://englishpluspodcast.com/author/dannyballanowner/" target="_self">Danny Ballan</a>

Danny Ballan

Author

Danny is a podcaster, teacher, and writer. He worked in educational technology for over a decade. He creates daily podcasts, online courses, educational videos, educational games, and he also writes poetry, novels and music.

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