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November 30, 2013

Happy 100th to the crossword puzzle

(Continued)

However, the paper's most popular columnist, Franklin P. Adams, was an avid fan and began leaving his solved puzzles on Petherbridge's desk, with the mistakes highlighted. Because the grids were a pain to create, the paper's typesetters did their best to kill the crossword, running the clues in ever-decreasing tiny type and omitting some altogether.

After a year, Petherbridge had been shamed enough. She decided to try to solve a puzzle — and couldn't. Rather than feel Adams's glare, she set about organizing the puzzles in her files. Within months she had devised rules for crossword creators — amazingly, a list still followed today. She simplified the numbering system (Wynne had always numbered the ending square of each word as well as the starting square), stressed the use of common English words (obscure foreign terms had crept in), limited the black squares to one-sixth of the grid and, in essence, standardized the crossword puzzle.

From then on, puzzles that had a high degree of craftsmanship were first to be chosen. The crossword finally looked like a feature that was here to stay.

Then, in 1924, two Columbia grads decided they wanted to get into publishing. Crossword puzzles were more popular than ever, yet there had never been a collection in book form. So they enlisted Petherbridge and two colleagues to compile one: "The Cross Word Puzzle Book." It sold 400,000 copies in only a few months.

Two more books followed, selling 2 million copies in two years. The two young publishers were Dick Simon and Max Schuster, and the first crossword book launched their careers.

And Petherbridge's career. With the books, crosswords became a national phenomenon. Petherbridge married in 1926, becoming Margaret P. Farrar, and under that name she would go on to edit the Simon & Schuster crossword series for 60 years.

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