The decade known as the Roaring Twenties was a time of huge change. The First World War was over, and although there was high unemployment in Britain, Australia and New Zealand, the people embraced the newfound freedom of the era. By the end of the 1920s, the world was a different place.
America had a huge influence on the rest of the world and words such as jazz, hi and cafeteria were introduced. The flapper era was here, women wore short hair and raised their hems, men wore Oxford bags, Art Deco was all the rage, traffic lights became necessary, radio was popular, black and white cinema was taking off and most important of all, the crossword had arrived!
The first crossword was published in a New York World supplement in 1913, and gained a steady following until Simon and Schuster published America’s first crossword puzzle book.
Suddenly, crossword fever swept the nation. The puzzles were so popular in the 1920s that songs were written about them. They inspired a Broadway hit called Games of 1925 and hit songs such as Crossword Mama, You Puzzle Me, Cross Word Puzzle Blues, Since Ma’s Gone Crazy Over Cross Word Puzzles, and Cross Words Between Sweetie and Me.
Sales of dictionaries soared, and libraries had more visitors than ever before. Stockings, ties and scarves with crossword motifs were the rage. Some American railway companies put dictionaries on mainline trains for crossword-crazy commuters.
By the time the crossword had its 10th birthday, it had crossed the Atlantic. The first appearance of a crossword in a British publication was in Pearson’s Magazine in February 1922, although at first they were disapproved of, being a distraction to the workers and were blamed for reductions in work levels.
Unfortunately, some puzzlers took crosswords too seriously and were driven over the edge by the craze. In 1924, a Chicago woman sued her husband for divorce, claiming he was so engrossed in solving crosswords he didn’t have time to work. The judge ordered the man to limit himself to 3 puzzles a day and devote the rest of his time to domestic duties.
In 1925, a New York Telephone Co. employee shot his wife when she wouldn’t help with a crossword puzzle. And in 1926, a Budapest man committed suicide, leaving an explanation in the form of a crossword puzzle. (No one could solve it.)
Nowadays, crosswords are a part of our lives and remains as the most popular and widespread word game in the world.