For more than a century, The New York Times has been confounding and delighting our readers with word games. Some of the earliest ones — like “Two Hundred Hidden Books,” from 1903 — appeared in The New York Times Sunday Magazine, but the Book Review began dreaming up its own literary quizzes soon after that. They ran most frequently in the 1980s, when Anatole Broyard, an editor and critic at the paper, indulged his love of bookish trivia.
At the Book Review today, we love a good word game (and even have a mostly friendly competition to see who can reach “Queen Bee” first on Spelling Bee every morning).
Tracy Bennett, an associate puzzle editor on The New York Times Games desk, crafted it after immersing herself in our history.
If you’re so inclined, follow these crossword “rules” that The Times laid out in 1953: No help from family or friends, and no reference books! From the earliest days of the crossword, dictionaries were seen as the ultimate cheat, even as some train lines stocked them to keep their puzzle-mad passengers happy. Almost a century ago a Book Review columnist sniffed that “in the vicinity of City Hall Park and of Times Square, dictionaries of the English language are now being vended at 5 cents the copy. The reason, I assume, is the cross-word puzzle.”
Though the Book Review editors were certain in the 1920s that the crossword trend would be a short-lived one, by 1930 they conceded that “the crossword puzzle craze has been threatened with extinction for so long that it will probably live forever.”