Monthly Archives: December 2009

This Day in History 12/21: The Birth of the Crossword Puzzle

If you’ve ever thrown down a pencil at frustration at the New York Times, today’s post is right up your alley.

Today we celebrate the birthday of the crossword puzzle, that criss-cross table of craziness and insanity that has distracted commuters and early risers at Sunday breakfast for decades.  There are two stories to the birth of this puzzle: the first involves an Italian magazine in 1890.  The Italian puzzle had a grid with no diagram i.e. no black squares, so it’s a puzzle, but not really a crossword.

The modern puzzle began on December 21, 1913. when Arthur Wynne, a journalist from Liverpool, Scotland, created a puzzle for the New York World called a “word-cross”.  The names were reversed and a legend was born.

Yet the crossword was not without its critics.  It exploded in the 1920s, and many conservative pundits viewed it as a sign of the loose morals of the period–a passing fad.   According to a 1924 New York Times article, a clergyman called the working of crossword puzzles “the mark of a childish mentality” and said “There is no use for persons to pretend that working one of the puzzles carries any intellectual value with it.”  Some thought the craze would end with the decade. 

Even the New York Times itself, which would become famous for its crossword, was a critic.    In 1924, the Times complained of the “sinful waste in the utterly futile finding of words the letters of which will fit into a prearranged pattern, more or less complex. This is not a game at all, and it hardly can be called a sport… [solvers] get nothing out of it except a primitive form of mental exercise, and success or failure in any given attempt is equally irrelevant to mental development.”

Funny how the Times would start a crossword itself by 1942, and would be the most well-known of puzzles in America and the world, along with the Times of London’s puzzle.

Almost every daily newspaper, including web editions, has some form of the crossword puzzle.  Many, like Will Shortz’ acclaimed Times puzzles, become progressively harder each day of the week, so that by Saturday you just look at it and whimper like a small child about to get paddled.  Crosswords are also a great way for students to stimulate vocabulary–by using common definitions or clues for complex words, students can build their word power and make new connections in their brain, allowing them greater cognitive function.

Here are some websites to some more crosswords fun at home or in the classroom:

Puzzles from USA Today, including Crosswords – okay, so its USA Today; we’re not dealing with the varsity.  Still it’s good practice.

Washington Post Crosswords – these kept me going in college, and are pretty good.  They hold up well to the NYT standard.

Yahoo! Daily Crossword – great to pass the time.

Crossword Puzzles – This one is a great clearinghouse for US and UK crosswords.

New York Times Crossword – The one by which all are measured.  It’s a pay site, so getting the print edition may be cheaper (maybe not).  The ultimate in crossword practice.

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Musings for the Shoveler: Random Thoughts on Snow

Since I’ve been breaking my back shoveling a foot of snow outside, what a better way to relax than to think random thoughts on the white stuff that will eventually give me a heart attack.

Any child goes bananas at the concept of snow.  It was the only time you watched the news with any degree of enthusiasm–just think, a swoop of the radar and “presto!”, no school!

In my house, that depended on the weatherman on duty that morning, or the night before.  As a child watching News 12 on Long Island, it was a waiting game to see who would announce our joy–or our doom.  If Norm Dvoskin was announcing, it was a fair bet that there’s at least a two-hour delay, if not more. 

 Joe Gioffi, on the other hand, was the grim reaper.  The local school districts must’ve paid him off each year, because whenever that bastard went on the air, there was no hope.  It would only be a sprinkle, or the good snow would be “north and west” of the city.  Oh, how we longed to live “north and west”, with all their snow days…

Well, as adults we have a far more complex relationship with snow.  We shovel the stuff.  Our cars slip on the stuff.  You shoo away the kids that want to sled down your driveway.  God forbid it snows during rush hour.  Here are some other grown ups, and their opinions on the subject.

“A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water.” — Carl Reiner

“Courtesies cannot be borrowed like snow shovels; you must have some of your own.” — John Wanamaker

“I grew up thinking of snow as a luxury you visit.” — John Landis

“I seemed to vow to myself that some day I would go to the region of ice and snow and go on and on till I came to one of the poles of the earth, the end of the axis upon which this great round ball turns.” — Ernest Shackleton

“I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.”  — Mae West

“Minneapolis has two seasons: Road Removal and Snow Repair.” — Steven Brust 

“Snow and adolescence are the only problems that disappear if you ignore them long enough.” — Earl Wilson

“The Eskimos had fifty-two names for snow because it was important to them: there ought to be as many for love.” — Margaret Atwood

“We build statues out of snow, and weep to see them melt.” — Walter Scott

“Unless we make Christmas an occasion to share our blessings, all the snow in Alaska won’t make it ‘white’.” — Bing Crosby

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The holiday party–every kid wants it, but you, as a teacher, dread the day. 

For those who’ve lived through that last day, it is always memorable.   It moves in slow motion, as the consumption of sugar and salty snacks makes your monsters reach a feer pitch.  At least one piece of school property must be broken, especially when the overzealous kids decide to clean the entire room with buckets of dirty, soapy water.

Don’t even mention how the Secret Santa went.

As we approach the winter break, I would like to compile an anthology of the best stories from your classroom parties.  Did a kid puke into the sink?  Did a pack of boys collide into desks like bowling pins?  Any amusing allergic reactions from the kid who’s allergic to EVERYTHING?  Mr. D wants to know.

I’ll be collecting any stories you have over the next couple of weeks.  No contest, so no pressure–I’m just curious as to how other classes endure the holidays.

We at the Neighborhood look forward to hearing your stories.

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