By five-letter-across emmet
It starts the day, when the NEWS amazingly arrives on the lawn of Cobb Manor, sometime around sunrise. I rush through the news, sports and funnies then settle down with my very special pen.
It ends the day, as I hang on until 10 p.m. (0n the dot) when the sacrosanct New York Times finally releases its classic crossword to the masses. (I pay something like $40 for the privilege of printing this document). In bed, I half-watch the Red Sox lose again, then finish the puzzle before I allow myself to fall asleep.
On Saturday, it takes me all damned day to finish the TIMES puzzle, since they save the best (and most hellacious) puzzle for last. After one hour, I fall to Google to find that 18nth Century French Impressionist. By comparison, the Sunday puzzle (much larger) is a piece of cake, or more appropriately, an onion bagel.
First of all, let’s dismiss that doing a crossword puzzle is a sign of intelligence. It is not, any more than knitting or throwing horseshoes. I consider it food for the head. It just makes me feel good.
The habit, or weakness, if you prefer, started on the New Haven Railroad train to South station when I was 14 and working in my uncle ‘s (he jumped at D-Day) bakery in Cambridge. I bought the Record because it was a tabloid and easy to read on the train. I finished the Red Sox (another loss) news and began to look around the paper for the funnies. When they were done, I started looking at the crossword.
The Record’s puzzles were sinfully simple and I usually did them between MTA stops.
My father brought home the evening Globe and that puzzle was always much harder. There was no Google search then. I started hanging around the Owens family house in West Roxbury in later years and the mother, Gertrude actually did the NYT puzzle, every day. That was unheard of, to a minor leaguer.
There was no Internet then and one had to BUY the paper to get the puzzle. I can remember buying the Times and throwing it away, except for the puzzle. I always looked for discarded Times on the busses and trains of my youth.
My very, very favorite crossword story occurred when I discovered that the NEWS puzzle and the Boston Globe puzzle were the very same. I would do the NEWS puzzle at home in Tenants Harbor, then buy the Globe and take it to Rockland’s Coffee Shoppe where I spent most of my day.
I would read the funnies then take out the puzzle which I would do, just as fast as I could write. It impressed the people at the back table, let me tell you. Did I ever tell them my secret? I did not.
Because I have (virtually) nothing to do other than crosswords, I researched the phenomenon this week.
Let’s go back to a snowy night in the early 1900’s, when New York World editor Arthur Wynne was looking for something different for the Christmas week issue, always a big seller. He remembered those small word squares he solved as a youth in Liverpool, long before the Beatles or even David Grima.The expanded puzzle appeared Dec. 21, 1913, and the 42-year-old Wynne had created the first crossword puzzle.
You have to be a pain in the rear to become an editor and Winnie was no exception. In his first puzzle he had “Doh” with the hint that it was the “fiber of the gomuti palm.” Puzzle editors still do that today and you bypass this effect by getting all the intersecting words.
Wynne pushed for the newspaper to copyright it, but his bosses, who included two of Joseph Pulitzer’s sons, considered the crossword a passing trifle. New York Times editorials labeled them a “waste of time.”
The New York Times!
By 1921, Winnie felt he was ready for bigger things and foisted the crossword project to Smithy grad Margaret Petherbridge who likewise felt she was meant for stardom, not crossword puzzles.
After complaints from other editors about her mistakes (they even do it to other editors) she started standardizing the puzzles in the files and eliminated the “doh” answers. Crosswords were booming by 1924 when two Columbia grads, Dick Simon and Max Schuster decided to publish the first crossword collection book. It sold 400,000 copies in a few months.
Do I have to tell you that was the start of Simon and Schuster Publishing? Do I have to tell you that Petherbridge was the Simon and Schuster crossword puzzle editor for 60 years?
All the while, the Times called crossword solving “a temporary madness,” serving “no useful purpose whatsoever,” and an “epidemic” that would soon be over.
Now, I am paying the damned Times to get their puzzle each day. And I have to wait until 10 p.m. to get it.