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December 2, 2013

Happy 100th to the crossword puzzle

(Continued)

Such technology has made my puzzling life much less puzzling. And it was while surfing the Web in the 1990s that I found Wynne's grainy Associated Press obit from the Jan. 17, 1945, Toronto Daily Star. It was one paragraph:

"Clearwater, Fla. (AP) — Arthur Wynn, credited with inventing the crossword puzzle, died Sunday. . . . Wynn was born in Liverpool, England, and came to the U.S. 50 years ago to enter the newspaper business."

First, I was stunned that the man who had invented a feature that was in nearly every newspaper in the world, even in 1945, was given such short shrift. Second, that they spelled his name wrong. And third, that he died in Clearwater. There I was, a lifelong puzzle guy in Tampa, reading that the man who invented the crossword puzzle had died 25 miles from where I was sitting.

Or, standing, since I had bolted out of the chair. I asked an editor friend at the St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times) to check its archives for articles. There were precious few, with nothing new.

I did know what most of us in the crossword world knew. Excellent books have been written about the crossword's early days: "The Compleat Cruciverbalist," "Creative Cruciverbalists" and "What's Gnu?"

I knew that when Wynne was a boy he loved word games and the violin. He wanted to be a newspaperman, but his father, a newspaperman himself, forbade it. At 19, Arthur packed one bag and his violin, and with $30 in his pocket sailed to the United States. (Strangely, this mirrors my own life: At 20 I was a puzzle fan, played the organ and piano, and worked as a newspaper copy editor.)

Wynne found a newspaper job in Pittsburgh and played the violin in orchestras. Then he got the job at the World. He moved to Cedar Grove, N.J., and commuted every day. After inventing the crossword he became a frequent customer at New York's famous Palm restaurant, where a wall caricature of him remains to this day. He worked for the Hearst papers in the 1930s. In 1941 he moved to Clearwater for health reasons and died four years later.

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