First Times Crossword
The 1st of February 1930 AD
The Americans may have invented the crossword, but it was the British who developed it into an art-form via the cryptic clue.
It is The Times which is perhaps most closely associated with this phenomenon, though The Telegraph introduced crosswords before its quality rival. It was indeed loss of circulation to The Telegraph which pushed The Times to hasten its own use of the puzzle.
Surprisingly it was a farmer living near Beccles in Suffolk who was recruited to set the first Times crossword; though as is the way of the British establishment he did get the job through his father, news editor of The Observer. Adrian Bell was 28 when he was recruited for the role, never having even solved a puzzle let alone set one. His first efforts were along the lines of the American pioneers, but soon he was inventing devious cryptic clues that stretched and amused devotees. Bell (father of war reporter and conqueror of Neil Hamilton , Martin Bell ) went on to set more than 5000 Times crosswords.
Crosswords have become a fascinating corner of British cultural life; Churchill was addicted to them; they were used to select some of the team that cracked Germany’s codes at Bletchley Park ; they helped Colin Dexter define Inspector Morse; and for tens of thousands of commuters on train and tube they provide a brief intellectual escape from tedium.
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