The crosswording household of Heywood Broun and Ruth Hale

The crosswording household of Heywood Broun and Ruth Hale
Left: Heywood Broun (1930); Right: Ruth Hale and son Woodie (1918).

Among the early adopters of crosswords were the New York literati of the Algonquin Round Table. We've already met the leading light of Franklin P. Adams, aka FPA, whose column in The New York World, "The Conning Tower," carried humorous dispatches of the nascent crossword craze. Heywood Broun, FPA's colleague at The World (and fellow charter member of the Round Table), had his own popular syndicated column, "It Seems to Me." And while Broun wasn't as much of a crossword fan as FPA, his column did carry mentions of the puzzles – mostly due to his wife, Ruth Hale, who would play a key role in the craze.

(Hale's story is far too rich and complex to deal with here, but for more see Chapter 2 of Anna Shechtman's new book, The Riddles of the Sphinx, which delves deeply into Hale's advocacy of feminist causes and crossword puzzles, as well as her unconventional relationship with her husband.)

Here, then, is a small glimpse into the home life of Heywood and Ruth, as reflected in "It Seems to Me." This particular column was syndicated in The Boston Globe on April 12, 1924 and in The Buffalo Courier three days later. (Since The World has yet to join digitized newspaper databases, we're reliant on syndication in other papers, which sometimes carried columns such as FPA's and Broun's on different days.)

Heywood Broun, It Seems to Me
I've been thinking over this business of wistfulness and have decided to go in for it. And why shouldn't I be wistful? I'm living in a house where one person has chicken-pox and the other has a bunch of crossword puzzles. And here it is just practically 6 o'clock and the column is still in the first paragraph.

It's not hard to piece together that the one with chicken-pox is Heywood and Ruth's son Woodie, aka Heywood Hale Broun, who was 6 years old at the time. And the one with "a bunch of crossword puzzles" is none other than Ruth Hale herself, perhaps enjoying the recently published Cross Word Puzzle Book.

We'll have more to say about Hale in future installments, especially in her role as cofounder of the Amateur Cross Word Puzzle League of America. And we'll see further traces of her influence on her husband's column – which shouldn't be surprising, since, as Broun later revealed, much of what appeared under his byline was actually the work of his wife.

Heywood Broun, lithograph by Peggy Bacon (1930)