A crossword convention? It's a great age we live in!

A crossword convention? It's a great age we live in!

Lucy Jeanne Price was a syndicated columnist whose "New York Letter" carried dispatches from the Big Apple to the rest of the country. On May 6, 1924, Price broke some momentous news from the crossword world.

There is nothing too serious or too light to be the subject of a convention. The latest to raise its flag upon our horizon is that of the National Committee of Cross Word Puzzlers! These Sunday morning amusements have taken such a hold upon "our national consciousness" that a meeting has been called of 100 "experts" from all districts of this vast continent, to be held here this month, when such notables as Hendrik Van Loon, Gelett Burgess, Alice Duer Miller and Dr. F. Spencer Halsey will discuss the vital questions of whether or not foreign words, abbreviations and slang terms are admissable to the realm of cross words. It's a great age we live in.

Price's column was published on May 6th in the Poughkeepsie Eagle-News. Over the next several days, it appeared in such papers as the Santa-Rosa (Calif.) Press Democrat, the Albany-Decatur (Ala.) Daily, the Carbondale (Pa.) Daily News, the Muncie (Ind.) Evening Press, and the Portland (Me.) Evening Express. Her column was syndicated in more than a hundred newspapers, so she commanded a national audience of readers curious about New York City goings-on.

We'll have much more to say about the first crossword convention beyond this early preview. Price doesn't mention it, but the convention was scheduled for May 18th, to be held at the Hotel Ambassador in midtown Manhattan. And the group would be known not as the National Committee of Cross Word Puzzlers but the Cross Word Puzzle Association of America. Perhaps they were still working out the name when Price got the news!

The "notables" mentioned by Price include a few names we've already come across. The report on the crossword craze from "The Literary Lobby" in the New York Evening Post of Apr. 26, 1924 gave the names of Hendrik Van Loon, Gelett Burgess, and Alice Duer Miller as literary lights who (along with Franklin P. Adams) gave the crossword "a running start" before the craze began. Van Loon was a best-selling author of books about history, including the popular 1921 children's book The Story of Mankind. Burgess was a humorist best known for light verse like "The Purple Cow" and the Goops books. And Miller was a poet and novelist who was active in the women's suffrage movement.

Hendrik Van Loon, Gelett Burgess, and Alice Duer Miller (Wikimedia)

As for the fourth name mentioned in Price's column, Dr. F. Spencer Halsey, he wasn't a literary celebrity like the others. Rather, he was a New York physician who evidently took a keen interest in crosswords and wanted to help organize the convention. (He died on Aug. 4, 1924, just a few months after the convention was held.) And how would Halsey and the others rule on whether "foreign words, abbreviations and slang terms" should be allowed in crosswords? Just wait and see!