In Praise of the Crossword

100 years ago this weekend, Arthur Wynne invented the crossword puzzle, as celebrated in today’s Google Doodle (you can still play with it), an interactive puzzle which took me 28 minutes and 36 seconds to solve.


I’ve been a crossword fan since about 1965. As I mentioned in a previous post about newspaper comics, when I was a sophomore at an eastern prep school, I would get up early in the morning and run across the town square to the coffee shop where I would start the day with a cup of coffee and the Waterbury Republican (25¢ total); the funnies would be read, along with any interesting news of the day. Another regular in the coffee shop was my U.S. History teacher, George Houghton.


Bless his memory; his entertaining teaching methods made the study of what was then a painfully dull subject endurable, giving out “a diamond!” and “a zero!” with the same good nature, and encouraging all his students to give the best possible recitations. Not immune to the occasional slip of the tongue himself, he once told us that after the infamous Boxer Rebellion, the U.S. provided funds for the execution of Chinese students… everyone got a great laugh out of that one, including the good professor.

He was also a crossword fan, and morning after morning I would work through the puzzles in the local paper as I sat next to him at the counter, where he generously provided me with an out-of-class education that has stood the test of time. I say with no small sense of satisfaction that I later graduated to working the New York Times crossword puzzle… in pen. As I traveled extensively overseas from 1992 to 2001, the daily crossword in the International Herald Tribune helped me pass the time on many a long transatlantic flight. And I know of no better way to entertainingly broaden one’s vocabulary than to become a crossword fan; I will never forget that an ‘ara’ is a species of macaw.

Life moved on and became busy, and with the advent of the Internet as my source of news, and the gradual decline of newspapers, my crosswording days diminished – but not my enjoyment of the pastime. My thanks to Google for reminding me that this is a very pleasant diversion for an inveterate logophile.

And if you’re curious about the solution to the Google doodle, click through for a completed puzzle.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

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