Publishers Weekly: The Cross Word Puzzle Solved

Publishers Weekly: The Cross Word Puzzle Solved

Ever since the crossword craze kicked off on April 10, 1924 with The Cross Word Puzzle Book, a mystery had lingered in the publishing world. Who was behind the publication, which bore the nondescript imprint of the Plaza Publishing Company? A month and a half after the book appeared and catapulted to the top the best-sellers' list, Publishers Weekly could finally divulge the answer to the mystery.

The May 31 issue of the trade magazine broke the news:

The Cross Word Puzzle Solved
The Plaza Publishing Company Is Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Now that "The Cross Word Puzzle Book," released in April under the imprint of the Plaza Publishing Company, is listed as a best seller, it is possible to present a solution of one of the puzzling mysteries of the book-trade.

For it now develops that the Plaza Publishing Company is a subsidiary owned and controlled by the new firm of Simon & Schuster, Inc., whose entry into this field was briefly chronicled in a previous issue of the Publishers' Weekly. The announcement that Simon & Schuster are the real publishers of "The Cross Word Puzzle Book" was held up until the present in order not to give the impression that the new firm would specialize in novelty books. But so much interest has been aroused by "The Cross Word Puzzle Book” as one of the outstanding current successes, that Simon & Schuster have decided to place it under their own imprint.

The article included photos of the dashing young publishers, revealed as Richard L. Simon and M. Lincoln Schuster, and announced that their fall list would include such highbrow fare as a biography of Joseph Pulitzer. The runaway success of The Cross Word Puzzle Book, despite its "novelty" status, allowed Simon & Schuster to diversify its publishing portfolio in a matter of months.

The publishing plan of Simon & Schuster is to make excursions into all fields of literature, holding to the policy of concentrating intensively on a small list of books discriminatingly selected and aggressively exploited. "The Cross Word Puzzle Book" seems to have fulfilled that promise, for, according to the New York Times, "it is sweeping the country with a whirlwind rush." This seems to be good evidence that Simon & Schuster know a good idea when it strays into their office and know how to put it into book form and how to sell it.

Amusingly enough, the quote from the New York Times is taken from the famously sniffy review of May 4, "Cross Word Puzzles Embalmed Between Covers." (The full quote goes, "Every now and then some game comes along that acts with a peculiar stimulus on the mass mind—perhaps something like catnip on cats—and sweeps across the country with a whirlwind rush...") But all publicity was good publicity for the young Columbia grads, who had caught lightning in a bottle with the crossword craze and could now build a publishing empire on top of it.

Here in 2024, I had the pleasure of appearing on Mignon Fogarty's Grammar Girl podcast, where I talked all about the Crossword Craze project. Welcome, Grammar Girl listeners! If you'd like to receive these dispatches from a century ago in your inbox, hit "subscribe" at the top of the page.

You can enjoy the Grammar Girl episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your podcatcher of choice. It's also available on YouTube, and a transcript is here.