Yep, I didn’t know it either, but it’s true. The first crossword puzzle is generally considered to have been this one, from 1913, but the idea didn’t catch on until the Twenties. In 1921, the N Y Public Library reported, “The latest craze to strike libraries is the crossword puzzle,”–but they weren’t happy about it. Those crossword fanatics hogged the dictionaries! What really drove the fad was the book of crossword puzzles that Simon & Schuster published in 1924. By the next year, nine New York newspapers and fourteen others across the country were carrying crosswords.
The Twenties was a decade devoted to fads, most of which came and went in the blink of an eye. Everyone assumed that these controversial new puzzles (were they a waste of time? the spawn of Satan? an intellectual stimulant?) were just another short-lived fad. The New York Times noted, “Fortunately, the question of whether the puzzles are beneficial or harmful is in no urgent need of an answer. The craze evidently is dying out fast and in a few months it will be forgotten.” That newspaper would not give in and publish its own crossword puzzle until 1942 when, presumably, they were quite sure it wasn’t a passing fancy.