CrosswordsCrosswords have a long history, they can be traced back to ancient letter squares, acrostics, etc. Today they are an established part of Western cultural life - almost every newspaper and magazine you can buy has a crossword, often especially themed. For many of us the daily crossword is part of our morning routine.
Crossword solvers are sometimes known as cruciverbalists and the at of setting the puzzles is called cruciverbalism.
HistoryThe modern crossword is a relatively new innovation on the puzzle scene. It began life in 1913 under the title word-cross. This was a puzzle invented by journalist Arthur Wynne and published in the December 21, 1913 edition of the New York World. Although this is recognisable as a crossword, it was shaped as a diamond rather than a square and had no black squares.
In 1922 the first British publication of a crossword took place in Pearson's Magazine. By then crossword mania was really taking hold of the US and there were alreay compilation books available to buy from 1924. It's perhaps surprising that it was another eight years until the first London Times crossword was published in 1930. Today the London Times crossword is seen as setting the standard for crosswords puzzles in the UK as the New York Times is in the US.
Since then crosswords have become big business. As well as books of crosswords you can buy crossword dictionaries to help solve them and, if you're really stuck, you can even use an online crossword solver. If you want to make your own then there is a variety of crossword maker software available to help you create your personalised puzzle.
VariationsWithin the established setting of the crossword there are numerous variations. Some of these involve changing the grid (eg bars instead of squares). A wide open crossword with no black squares and limited word intersections is usually referred to as a criss cross puzzle. These tend to be easier for puzzle generating software to produce.
Other variations involve changing the style of the clues or even breaking the link between clue and answer location (eg alphabetical jigsaws). Probably the biggest distinction is between US style and UK style crosswords. Although both forms occur in both countries, there are definite regional preferences.
US CrosswordsAmerican crosswords usually attempt to minimise the number of black squares in a grid. This resuts in a large number of clues however the average word length is usually short. Symmetry, usually rotational, is considered a necessary aesthetic feature.
American style crossword clues are normally of the straight or quick variety: the clue is a definition or synonym for the target word. Where something like an anagram is used this is normally stated explicitly by the use of "(anag)" or similar.
UK CrosswordsBritish crossword compilers prefer a more open grid with more black squares, less words but longer average word length. Standard grid size is a 15 x 15 square and some form of symmetry - rotation and/or reflection - is considered necessary.
The most significant distinguishing factor of British crosswords is the popularity of the cryptic variety. Here the clue usually consists of two parts, one a straight clue and the other an anagram or similar. The best clues are those where both parts read together as one coherent sentence, making a short riddle. A simple example might be:
Meteor explodes in the distance (6)
Here the answer is "remote". The cryptic part of the clue is "Meteor explodes" - meanining an anagram of meteor. The straight part is "in the distance" which means "remote".
Over the years a number of standard indicators (such as "explodes" for "anagram") have developed, although crossword setters often deliberately misuse these to confuse the solver! There are also a set of rules - the Ximenes "fair setting" rules - that most setters follow to a greater or lesser degree.