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Plugged In

The crossword puzzle turns 100

Plugged In

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The staple of the Sunday newspaper made it to the century mark.

On Dec. 21, 1913, New York World published the world's first crossword puzzle. One hundred years later, the paper is a distant memory, but the puzzles live on.

The first of these famous puzzles was notably different than what we're used to today, however.

It all started when Arthur Wynne, an editor at the World, was told by his boss to think up some new features for the paper's "Fun" section.

After some trial and error, Wynne remembered a word game he'd played as a child called Magic Square. He came up with the idea of a diamond-shaped grid where letters could interlock. Then he wrote up some clues for the words that would fill the boxes and sent it down to the production department with orders to call it "Word cross."

The name was accidentally reversed by the typesetter, though, and the "Cross word" puzzle was on its way to becoming a phenomenon.

Wynne actually considered getting a copyright on his idea, but his boss talked him out of the plan, saying it was nothing more than a passing fancy. What’s a three-letter word for ‘Mistake, as uttered by Homer Simpson’?

While the crossword itself is turning 100, it took a decade for the fad to catch on. Wynne's assistant, Margaret Farrar, improved the crossword to the point that she was hired in 1924 by Simon & Schuster to help compile a book of crossword puzzles that proved so successful, it outsold Mark Twain. The series is still sold today.

In 1942, The New York Times hired Farrar as its first crossword puzzle editor, where she oversaw the introduction of the Sunday Times crossword. She later joined the Los Angeles Times when the NYT forced her to retire in 1968 at age 70.

The crossword craze spilled over into other areas. Dictionary sales spiked as the puzzles gained followers. The Los Angeles Public Library reportedly had to limit patrons to five-minute turns with its dictionaries to keep the peace. There even became a sub-specialty in psychology dedicated to the crossword.

And of course, it remains just as popular today. Said to be a favorite of everyone from Lee Iacocca to Bill Clinton to Jon Stewart, crosswords can be confounding, infuriating, and immensely rewarding. Though they're best played the old-fashioned way with pencil and paper (and eraser, seriously), if you’re itching to fill in a few blanks, check out some crosswords right here on Yahoo Games.

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