Learn The History Of The New York Times Crossword Puzzle

There are plenty of crossword puzzles in publications across the country, but when we think of the pinnacle of puzzledom (Not officially a word, but, perhaps, it should be?), the purveyors of the most preeminent puzzles, we bow to The New York Times (NYT).

For more than 75 years, the NYT crossword puzzle has been stumping readers with its clever clues and then sending them soaring when they finally fill in all the squares.

When did the NYT Crossword begin?

When crossword puzzles first came about in the 1920s, the NYT turned up its nose at them. In 1924, the paper ran an opinion column that dubbed them “a primitive sort of mental exercise.” (Here, we’re inferring they meant primitive as in “simple; unsophisticated”—Dictionary.com’s ninth entry for the adjective) and a “sinful waste.” Harsh!

So, what absolved the crossword puzzle in the illustrious publication’s mind and made them eat their words? Reportedly, it was after the bombing of Pearl Harbor that Lester Markel, the paper’s Sunday editor at the time, decided the country could use some levity, primitive or not.

The first puzzle ran Sunday, February 15, 1942, and it was, in fact, a primitive pursuit, (Dictionary.com’s first definition for the adjective: “Being the first or earliest of the kind or in existence”), as they were the first major US paper to run a crossword puzzle. By 1950, the paper began running a crossword puzzle daily.

At the helm of the NYT Crossword

Since that time, there have only been four editors of the NYT Crossword puzzle, beginning with Margaret Farrar, who served as editor from the publication of the first puzzle until 1969. Will Weng and Eugene Maleska followed in her footsteps before Will Shortz took the coveted reins in 1993.

Shortz has gained widespread notoriety since that time, taking the puzzle to higher and higher heights over the years. Fun fact: He’s the only “academically accredited puzzle master” in the world, holding a degree he designed himself in “enigmatology.” It’s such a specialized degree, there’s not even an entry for it on Dictionary.com, but it stems from the word enigma.

The NYT Crossword today

Today, the crossword has moved far beyond its primitive origins. Not only does it run in the paper seven days a week with varying degrees of complexity, but you can also complete NYT Crossword puzzles online, and there’s even a video game adaptation of it for the Nintendo DS.  

As for the crossword puzzles being “sinful”… we’ll give you a clue. What’s a five-letter word for one of the seven deadly sins you may be in danger of committing after completing a NYT Crossword puzzle?

Answer: PRIDE.

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