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100th anniversary of the first crossword

Some notes on 100th anniversary of modern crossword puzzle


This year we celebrate publishing of the first modern crossword puzzle so I tried to find as many data about the “queen of puzzles” (križanka/crossword is feminine in Slovene). A lot has been written but with quite different views. I used sources mentioned at the end of the article since they proved to be most reliable. I would also like to state my disagreement with some of those statements mostly because they are biased and insufficient. First of all I have a problem about first crossword puzzle being the one Wynne published in New York world magazine on December 21st 1913. (Picture 1)


Claiming that crossword puzzle became such when so called black square was added is true, but Wynne’s first crossword puzzle doesn’t have one. This crossword puzzle or better shape was probably developed by chance as were similar shapes before this. That “hole” in the diamond shape is not a black square but just empty space was cleverly shown by Harry Cliver from Montreal in his puzzle published in issue No. 13 of the same paper (New York World) on March 15th 1914. He managed to make another crossword puzzle inside that space. (Picture 2)


It was only later that Wynne figured out what the “hole” in his first crossword puzzle was so he published first crossword puzzle with black squares on May 31st 1914. (Picture 3)


Statement that crossword puzzles didn't exist before that date and that all similar puzzles were just magic squares is hard to swallow. All things in the world developed from modest beginnings full of shortcomings and same goes for crossword puzzle. Even Wynne's first crossword puzzles had quite a lot of mistakes (by today's standard): same word used twice (DOVE), illogical numbering of clues, clues aren’t divided to Across and Down. Same goes for some older pre-crossword puzzles. Only using black squares allowed flexibility in puzzle making, so shapes became larger and more versatile and used greater number of words across and down.

Correct crossword puzzles without the black square and with words of different length existed even before Wynne’s first puzzle as was shown by Will Shortz. (Pictures 4, 5)


A puzzle called connected magic squares was a puzzle that has all elements of a modern crossword puzzle, it just wasn't made in a grid. Holes in this puzzle can be marked as black (originally they are white), there can be two words in a line or column, words are of different length, all words are connected, all words are different. So why can’t this puzzle be crossword puzzle? (Picture 6, words in Serbian Cyrillic)


I believe that we should simplify rules and consider development of the crossword puzzle with all its faults, which inevitably follow such new ideas, including puzzles developed from magic squares on one side and modern crossword puzzles that have at least one black square.

One such definition is this:

-      Magic squares are puzzles in a grid that have same words across and down. Today we have many shapes of such puzzles, not just squares.

-      Crossword puzzle is a puzzle in a grid that has different words across and down.

-      Crossword puzzles made before May 31st 1914 could be called primary or old style crossword puzzles and all made later modern crossword puzzles, since they have black squares.

As far as I know the oldest crossword puzzle by definition stated above was published in German language in Ljubljana (Slovenia) in Illyrisches Blatt (Ilirski list/Illyrian paper) on August 31st 1833 (discovered by Slovenian puzzle maker Bruno Gričar) and was called Quadratt Räthsel (literally Square puzzle). Numbers represent letters so it is obvious that all words (across and down) are different. (Picture 7)


First modern crossword puzzle is Wynne’s, published on May 31st 1914. So Wynne retains primacy in making FIRST MODERN CROSSWORD PUZZLE, only the date is moved few months later.

Branko Milovanović



  1. 1.Barcellos Ximens Sergio: Historia das Palavras Cruzadas
  2. 2.Živomir Jevtić: Razonoda uz ukrštene reči (in Serbian)
  3. 3.Radislav Marinković: Ogled o najstarijm ukrštenicama (in Serbian)
  4. 4.Zagonetač Bjelovar (in Croatian)
  5. 5.Živomir Jevtić: Priča o slovnim kvadratima (in Serbian)