The crossword puzzle was still pretty new in 1937, when this one appeared in Rhythm magazine’s June issue and, as here, experimentation was rife. The first modern-day crossword was reckoned to have been published on 21 December 1913 in the New York World. It was composed by Arthur Wynne, an immigrant from Liverpool who had played such games as a boy.
The most popular word game at the time in Britain was probably John Bull‘s ‘Bullets’. These prize cryptic competitions predated crosswords – and the magazine claimed to have paid out £620,000 prize money for its first 1000 puzzles. John Bull was selling 1m copies a week from 1914 to 1955.
The Sunday Express was the first British newspaper to publish a crossword, in 1924. The Daily Telegraph followed in 1925: ‘The initial plan was for these new-fangled puzzles to be published for just six weeks in deference to a passing American craze.’ But the idea stuck and in March 1928 the paper started publishing a prize crossword on a Saturday and in 1937 a daily quick crossword. In 1941, W.A.J. Gavin, owner of Vanity Fair, issued a challenge on the letters page to do the crossword in 12 minutes. (Daily Telegraph: 80 Years of Cryptic Crosswords by Val Gilbert.) The paper also published an article last year celebrating 100 years since the first US crossword by Arthur Wynne.
So there was lots of experimentation going on, and the idea of popular cryptic word puzzles in Britain, such as ‘Bullets’ in John Bull, was added to the simple word-definition clue concept to develop the cryptic crossword, an idea that has yet to take off in the US, where jumbo crosswords are much more popular. The Economist publishes a Christmas crossword for its US readers, complete with instructions.
Other famous crosswords include The Listener‘s, which appeared in the BBC’s weekly radio review in 1930. Both The Times and Country Life took up the idea in the same year. The Listener‘s crossword was adopted by The Times when the magazine closed in 1991. A tradition also developed of cryptic names for the compilers, so Alec Robins was ‘Zander’ in the Listener (1949-92) and ‘Custos’ for the Guardian, but used his real name in Intercity magazine.
In the 1950s, such was the level of competition for readers between and among newspapers and magazines that Tit-Bits was devoting four pages at the back of each issue to football pools, betting advice – and the solutions to the prize crosswords in Sunday newspapers and weekly rivals such as John Bull and Reveille.