On December 21, 1913, the Sunday New York World printed a puzzle called the “word-cross” created by Liverpudlian, Arthur Wynne. The puzzle became an immediate success, eventually becoming a weekly feature of World. Sometime later, the name changed to “cross-word” and later still, the hyphen was also dropped. These two changes effectively shaped the crossword puzzle into the modern version we are familiar with today. Until 1924, crossword puzzles were only being printed in the New York World paper, but then, publishing company Simon & Schuster published a collection of World’s puzzles in book form, renewing the crossword puzzle craze.
A collage of crossword puzzles from the Daily Telegraph with clues bearing codenames describing the operations and landing site of the secret Invasion of Normandy by the Allies during WWII.
I think of crossword puzzles as a fun, brain-teasing way to pass the time. Never did it cross my mind that, at one point, crosswords puzzles could have changed history. During World War II, the secrecy of the 1944 Invasion of Normandy (D-Day) was apparent by the use of codenames. The entire operation had the codename of “Overlord”; the naval operation was “Neptune”; the two beaches where the allies were to land were named as “Omaha” and “Utah”; and the artificial harbor that would be set up was code named “Mulberry”. By coincidence, between May and June 1944, the crossword puzzles in the British Daily Telegraph newspaper contained the codenames as some of the answers to the questions of the crossword puzzle. Eventually, all of the codenames were released and the creator of the puzzles, Leonard Dawe, headmaster at the Strand School in Surrey, England, was arrested on suspicion of conspiring with the Nazis. Years later in 1984, a Ronald French, allegedly one of Dawe’s pupils in 1944, gave his version of events. He claimed on BBC television that it was he who inserted the codenames into the crosswords. Apparently, Dawe used to allow his students to help write the puzzles. French had learned the codenames from US and Canadian soldiers while proclaiming Dawe’s innocence. This was all just one big coincidence!