Richard Simon, and Max Schuster met and became friends while both were journalism students at Columbia University. A few years later both men, who were from wealthy New York families, had a desire to start a book publishing company, so each put up $3,000 for the venture, and Simon & Schuster was born. There were, however, two big problems – neither knew anything about book publishing, and neither was sure what they should publish. Fortuitously, as it happened, Simon had an aunt who requested that her nephew publish a book that consisted solely of crossword puzzles since no crossword puzzles existed other than those found in newspapers. Despite the fear that their new publishing company would never be taken seriously if they published such a low-brow book (if you could even call it a “book”), they decided to hire three crossword puzzle editors at the New York World to come up with the puzzles they needed.
The Cross Word Puzzle Book (First Series), as it was aptly named, had a first printing of 3,600 copies. In a slick PR move which let people know that it was OK to write in the book, each copy also included a pencil with an eraser. The book, which was priced at $1.35, sold over 100,000 copies in the first three months. Within a year or so the original crossword puzzle book, and three more published by Simon & Schuster, had sold over a million copies and made Publishers Weekly’s bestseller list. And as you may know, the company has branched out a bit since then though paperback crossword puzzle books are still a mainstay of the firm.
The New York World, mentioned above, is very important because it is in that newspaper that the first modern crossword puzzle – with most of the characteristics of the standard puzzle that we enjoy today – was published on December 21, 1913 – exactly 100 years ago today. The diamond-shaped “word cross,” as it was called was the idea of journalist Arthur Wynne from Liverpool, England. Of course the shape has changed greatly, and the puzzles have become much more complex, but the basic idea is the same.
To celebrate the 100th birthday of the crossword puzzle CBS Sunday Morning recently did a segment on the puzzles and the items that have been inspired by them.
Google is celebrating the puzzle’s 100th anniversary with a Google doodle that is an actual crossword puzzle that you can solve on the Google home page. If you read this post after December 21, 2013 you can find the doodle on the Google doodles homepage for 2013. You can read about the inspiration for the doodle here.