April 10, 1924: The craze begins

April 10, 1924: The craze begins
Max Lincoln Schuster and Richard Simon promoting The Cross Word Puzzle Book

When Dick Simon and Max Schuster published The Cross Word Puzzle Book in the spring of 1924, they weren't brave enough to put their own names on it, using "The Plaza Publishing Company" as the imprint (after their telephone exchange, PLaza). Little did they know they would be setting off a global mania for crosswords that continues to this day.

In those early days, there weren't too many champions of the new puzzle form, but one was Franklin P. Adams, aka FPA, who wrote his column "The Conning Tower" for The New York World. The World was where Arthur Wynne invented the crossword in 1913, and where Margaret Petherbridge (later Farrar) had taken over the duties of editing the puzzle. FPA was, in fact, the one to introduce young Simon and Schuster to Petherbridge when they first conceived of publishing a book of crosswords (thanks to an idea from Simon's Aunt Wixie, the story goes). Petherbridge enlisted the help of fellow editors Prosper Buranelli and F. Gregory Hartswick to edit 50 unpublished puzzles that had been submitted to The World.

On publication day, FPA celebrated with a brief couplet in his column.

FPA's "The Conning Tower" column, Apr. 10, 1924(syndicated in The Press of Atlantic City)

You can page through an online scan of The Cross Word Puzzle Book, thanks to Internet Archive and the Library of Congress. Here on "Crossword Craze" we'll be delving into the immense impact this book had on popular culture, and along the way we'll explore parallels between a century ago and today. Join us on the ride by subscribing for updates!

Also check out my Wall Street Journal piece commemorating the centennial of the crossword craze here.