On April 10, 1924, Simon and Schuster published the first crossword puzzle book. A dollar thirty-five bought all the fun and challenge of 50 puzzles, and to top it off, the book came with a free pencil. Within a few months the whole nation had puzzle mania. A minister used the lure of crossword to enlarge his congregation by announcing that a puzzle would be put on a blackboard at the front of the church and had to be solved before he would begin the sermon. The solved puzzle was the scriptural text for the sermon.1 By December of that year, the London Times noted in an article headed "An Enslaved America" that "all America has succumbed to the crossword puzzle," and estimated that five million hours daily of American people's time - most of them nominally working hours - were being used in this unprofitable trifling."2
It wasn't only adults who were working the puzzles feverishly. One of the bookstores which placed a modest order for the new puzzle book in April, 1924, was The Bookshop for Boys and Girls, a Boston bookstore for children, which had been established in 1916 as the first bookstore dedicated to children's books. The puzzle books were set out on a table, and within fifteen minutes most of them had been sold. One of the puzzle books was headed for a trans-Atlantic trip, one for a trans-Pacific holiday and one was bound for Australia. Within 25 minutes the small pile had been depleted and the stockboy was sent for more. Before long, the entire order had been sold and they placed another. The bookstore staff were often asked if this book would be good for a person in the hospital and they refused to take any responsibility for an answer, feeling that working the puzzles could raise someone's already too high temperature, or perhaps cause the "beginning of a complex, perhaps an inferiority complex."3 (11)
Several weeks after purchasing a puzzle book, a mother came into the shop. "You have no idea," she said, "what an expense the Crossword Puzzle Book is to us. We have had to get an atlas and a new dictionary and now I want a good reference book on Greek mythology. It is terrible what deep water we get into, and the children are developing very inquiring minds. I don't know what will be the next thing, but probably the New International Encyclopedia.4
1 Millington, Roger. Crossword Puzzles, their History and their Cult.,
"The Crossword Puzzle Book," in The Hornbook, October-November 1925, p. 11-12. New York: AMS Reprint Company.
Copyright 2005© Rita Smith
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Wednesday, 30-Mar-2005 11:45:28 EST