April 26, 1924: Why church attendance is falling off so

April 26, 1924: Why church attendance is falling off so
Excerpt from an advertisement promoting The Cross Word Puzzle Book

The Cross Word Puzzle Book was an instant success for a variety of reasons. For one thing, crossword puzzles had become a fad — in an era where fads themselves were enjoying a moment — but they had to that point been dripped out in weekly publications. The book was released into a storm of pent up demand for just such a collection.

For another, it had high-profile boosters. We've previously mentioned FPA's supportive comments in his popular column, "The Conning Tower," as well as a reference or two by Heywood Broun and his crosswording wife Ruth Hale. The support from New York notables was clocked in an April 26 edition of "The Literary Lobby," a feature in the New York Evening Post.

A cyclonic fad, says the Plaza Publishing Company, is sweeping the country. * * * It seems that about three or four years ago F.P.A, Alice Duer Miller, Hendrik Van Loon, Gelett Burgess, et al., gave it a running start. * * * It's why church attendance is falling off so. * * * In other words, it is the Sunday morning Cross Word Puzzle. * * * And if you want the first Cross Word Puzzle Book ever published you can now procure it at 27 West Fifty-seventh street.

A week earlier, in the same newspaper section, the Plaza Publishing Co had taken out an ad leaning into the same trendiness — and even situating crosswords in that recent history.

1921 – Coué
1922 – Bananas
1923 – Mah-Jong
1924 – Cross Word Puzzles
Cross Word Puzzles
Everybody's Doing Them!!

This list helps give a sense of how the craze was viewed contemporaneously. Crosswords were all the rage, but then so had been Émile Coué, the French "mental healer" who practiced "autosuggestion"; a novelty song about bananas inventory; and mah-jongg, thanks in large part to its import by a young retail operation called Abercrombie & Fitch. (Curiously, these dates are a bit loosey-goosey: as a former scholar of the year 1923, I can attest that Coué was really more of a 1922-3 thing, "...Bananas" was published in 1923, and the mah-jongg craze kicked off in 1920. Close enough for advertising.) Who could say if the puzzle would be around in a year or two?

One hundred years later, crossword puzzles clearly sit apart from these fads — and later ones, too. Flagpole sitting had its moment in the sun, but evidently lacked the staying power of the black-and-white grid.