For those of us who enjoy our crossword puzzles, this is an interesting piece of history from a century ago, when the now ubiquitous puzzle became mainstream. It also helped give birth to a now well-known publishing company – Simon and Schuster.

“Early in 1924, two young graduates of Columbia University, Richard Simon and Max Schuster, were intent on starting a publishing company, but they desperately needed ideas for books. As the story goes, Simon’s aunt Wixie suggested that they publish a book of crossword puzzles, a then-new diversion that she enjoyed solving in her morning newspaper, the New York World.

The two young men approached Margaret Petherbridge, who had taken over editing the World’s crossword from Arthur Wynne. He had invented the puzzle form back in 1913, but it hadn’t spread much beyond the World and some other New York papers. Petherbridge agreed to compile 50 crosswords that were sitting unpublished in her drawer, enlisting the help of two other editors, the delightfully named Prosper Buranelli and F. Gregory Hartswick.

So, on April 10, 1924, the publishing partnership that would become known as Simon & Schuster kicked off their venture with “The Cross Word Puzzle Book.”

The book was a raging success leading to more:

“The first run of 3,600 copies sold out right away, so they followed up with printings of 5,000, then 10,000, then 25,000. The men attached their names to a fast follow-up, the first official Simon & Schuster publication—and then put out two more, all edited by Petherbridge and her colleagues, within months.

By October of that year, the series accounted for four of the five nonfiction bestsellers.”

Petherbridge would go down as the creator of crossword:

“It is to Petherbridge—known as Margaret Farrar after her marriage two years later to the publisher John C. Farrar—that we owe most of the modern conventions of the crossword. She instituted rules of construction that were formulated in September 1924 at the inaugural meeting of the Amateur Cross Word Puzzle League of America. Among the rules: “the pattern shall interlock all over,” “only approximately one-sixth of the squares shall be black,” and “the design shall be symmetrical.”

Later, in 1942, Farrar would become the first crossword editor of the New York Times. Her consistent editorial style, always with an eye to fairness for the solver, would become the model for all who followed.”

Here’s what the creators had to say in the introduction of the book: “Hartswick offered a primer on how to solve crosswords, exulting in “the thrill of triumph as the right word is found, fitted, and its attendant branches and roots spring into being.” Buranelli provided background on “The Science and Lore of Cross Word Puzzles,” noting the centuries long tradition of word puzzles predating their reinvention in the pages of the New York World. And Petherbridge recounted how she became the “unwilling Cross Word Puzzle Editor” of the World and realized that the puzzles required a firm managerial hand. “I took an oath to edit the cross words to the essence of perfection,” she wrote.

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