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A journalist and word aficionado salutes the 100-year history and pleasures of crossword puzzles
Since its debut in The New York World on December 21, 1913, the crossword puzzle has enjoyed a rich and surprisingly lively existence. Alan Connor, a comic writer known for his exploration of all things crossword in The Guardian, covers every twist and turn: from the 1920s, when crosswords were considered a menace to productive society; to World War II, when they were used to recruit code breakers; to their starring role in a 2008 episode of The Simpsons.
He also profiles the colorful characters who make up the interesting and bizarre subculture of crossword constructors and competitive solvers, including Will Shortz, the iconic New York Times puzzle editor who created a crafty crossword that appeared to predict the outcome of a presidential election, and the legions of competitive puzzle solvers who descend on a Connecticut hotel each year in an attempt to be crowned the American puzzle-solving champion.
At a time when the printed word is in decline, Connor marvels at the crossword’s seamless transition onto Kindles and iPads, keeping the puzzle one of America’s favorite pastimes. He also explores the way the human brain processes crosswords versus computers that are largely stumped by clues that require wordplay or a simple grasp of humor.
A fascinating examination of our most beloved linguistic amusementand filled with tantalizing crosswords and clues embedded in the textThe Crossword Century is sure to attract the attention of the readers who made Word Freak and Just My Type bestsellers.
Alan Connor is an Oxford-educated writer, journalist, television producer, and academic. He lives in London where he writes a biweekly column for The Guardian on crosswords.