In 1924 two young graduates of Columbia University’s Journalism School, Richard Simon and Max Schuster, were starting a publishing company. According to legend, Simon was having dinner with his Aunt Wixie, who requested a volume of crossword puzzles for her daughter — her daughter being a fan of the weekly challenges in the World.
Discovering that no such volume existed, they commissioned the World’s puzzle editors (a trio with the impressive names Prosper Buranelli, F. Gregory Hartswick, and Margaret Petherbridge) to edit such a book from a drawer full of unpublished manuscripts. The Cross Word Puzzle Book, released in April, was the first crossword book in the world, and the first book of any sort from the fledgling firm of Simon and Schuster. As a promotional gimmick, the book had a loop attached on the back cover with a Venus pencil inside it.
Sales took off immediately. The first printing of 3,600 copies sold out in a matter of weeks. A second printing did likewise. Then numerous printings of ever-increasing numbers followed. Two more volumes were rushed into print, and other publishers followed with their own. By the end of the year the Cross Word Puzzle Books ranked #1, #2, and #3 on the national nonfiction bestseller list, with 400,000 copies in print. Altogether, six of the top 10 volumes on the list were crosswords.
The success of the crossword books launched a nationwide craze, even more furious than the hula hoop, pet rocks and Beanie Babies.
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