Welcome to the world's first virtual art exhibition of the best crosswords from the world's leading crossword puzzle authors.
We humans love puzzles. Whether in the form of riddles, jigsaws, whodunit novels, word searches and beyond, our brains crave exercise. Puzzles combine testing oneself with a quest to reveal a hidden secret. If there’s one thing we humans like more than puzzles, it’s learning secrets. If you’ve ever seen some people surreptitiously whispering and wanted to lean in and hear what they were saying, then you’ll know that feeling. Puzzles are tests with secrets as the reward. That’s a combination that is catnip for intelligent humans. And the king of all puzzles is the noble crossword.
HISTORY OF CROSSWORDS
Think of a written quiz puzzle and you’ll likely see a vision of the white grid dotted with black squares that is the traditional, American-style crossword. The tradition of this form of puzzle dates back to 1862, when the term was coined—“cross word puzzle”—in a book entitled Our Young Folks, published in the US. The first magazine to contain such puzzles was called St. Nicholas, which launched back in 1873. The earliest form of crosswords was the Double Diamond shape. The first in Europe appeared in the 14 September 1890 edition of the Italian magazine, Il Secolo Illustrato della Domenica, designed by Giuseppe Airoldi. It was labelled as something “to pass the time:” a simple four-by-four grid with no black squares, but with clues both horizontal and vertical.
This word square format—no black squares but answers arranged so that they could be read horizontally and vertically—was the most popular 19th century approach. The first crossword specialist of renown was Arthur Wynne, a journalist from England. His puzzle published 21 December 1913 in New York World newspaper, a Double Diamond puzzle, is often cited as the first crossword, though this is not historically accurate. His puzzle did initiate the first weekly feature of crosswords in New York World. He called them “word cross puzzles,” but they eventually were untangled into “crosswords.” They really took off, particularly in the anglophone world of newspapers, in the 1920s, until they became a favorite feature for readers eager to challenge themselves. In the inaugural issue of The New Yorker magazine, in 1925, they published a note that “Judging by the number of solvers in the subway and trains, the crossword puzzle bids fair to become a fad with New Yorkers.” This was confirmed the same year in a report from the New York Public Library stating that “the latest craze to strike libraries is the crossword puzzle.” In an era long before electronic games, and even before most board games, crossword puzzles offered something fun for adults.
Not everyone was a fan. A 1924 article in The New York Times moaned that they were a “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.” How foolish that sounds now! The New York Times is now bastion of the crossword, with incrementally trickier puzzles starting with the easiest on Mondays and the trickiest on Sundays. And scientists have demonstrated the mental health benefits of solving crosswords.
MENTAL AND HEALTH BENEFITS
Numerous scientific studies have demonstrated just how wrong that old New York Times article has proven to be. Anna Lukits wrote about a study that demonstrated that solving puzzles boosts verbal skills and lowers the risk of dementia, improving “memory and brain function in older adults” and “improve mental functions in patients with brain damage or early dementia.” In short, it can heal those with diminished mental functionality and empower those with normal functionality. The term “use it or lose it” comes to mind—your brain must be exercised, or it will grow stagnant and lose functionality. Puzzles, logic, problem-solving, reasoning, theorizing, learning new languages, testing oneself all stretch and engage the brain at many levels, keeping it “fit” and healthy. The Alzheimer’s Association recommends daily crossword puzzle activity to keep the brain active and sharp as you grow older.
According to Lifehack, “involving yourself in a brain-consuming activity helps you vastly by improving your verbal skills, making you solve problems and causing you to think deeply.” That deep thinking is helpful not just as a brain exercise but also because it distracts you from the worries of daily life. It requires focus on something that you’re choosing to do as a pastime, giving you a breather from your quotidian concerns and work. In short (and paradoxically), it gives your mind a rest because it’s putting your mind to work.
You might think of crosswords as a solo entertainment, but it is extra beneficial when you use teamwork to solve it. There’s even a fancy term for this: “collaborative cruciverbalism,” teaming up to think creatively to solve puzzles. This produces a team bonding effect similar to that found in sports teams.
VARIOUS CROSSWORD STYLES
Whether you tackle them on your own or with partners, there are a variety of crossword puzzle types that differ in more profound ways than just their shape and the manner of presenting clues.
Crusadex puzzles offer a grid and a list of words—the solutions—but don’t tell you where they go. Your job is to figure out how all the words fit into the grid.
Crossnumbers offer a mathematical variant: solve equations and insert the answers into the grid.
Cipher crosswords were invented in Germany in the 19th century. The goal is to spell out words, but numbers between 1 and 26 are placed in each white box in the grid—the numbers are ciphers representing letters and the solver must first figure out which numbers represent which letters in the alphabet before filling out the answers. These are even more fun (if you’re into that sort of thing) because they are usually pangrammatic, meaning that every letter in the alphabet appears at least once within the puzzle.
If that isn’t complicated enough, then consider skeleton crosswords, which feature a grid but with the locations for the clues unspecified. Thus, you have to solve each clue and figure out where in the grid to put the solution.
Acrostics likewise pile on an extra layer of complexity. You begin with the standard crossword, but the solutions also provide letters to spell out a word or phrase as a second puzzle.
European crossword puzzles tend to favor arroword formats (sometimes called the Scandinavian crossword, as it originated in Sweden). There are few or no black squares, but instead arrows inside the white squares indicate in which direction numerical clues are to be answered (left to right or top to bottom).
CAN CROSSWORDS BE WORKS OF ART?
So crossword puzzles are intelligent fun, they’re good for your mental health, and they have a rich, diverse and interesting history. But those are all practical elements. Can a crossword puzzle be a work of art?
One way to answer this is to ask what makes for a good work of art? During the Renaissance, artists and thinkers looked to the classical authors of Antiquity for wisdom and found it in the words of Aristotle in his book, On Poetics. Aristotle was writing about what makes for great poetry, but his ideas were applied to art and continue to be to this day.
To paraphrase Aristotle, you should ask yourself three questions. First, is it good? Does it exhibit skill on the part of its creator and does it successfully accomplish what the creator set out to do? Second, is it beautiful? This is a subjective question and could be simply down to aesthetics, or could be interpreted as “is it beautifully done?” Third, is it interesting? This considers how engaged it makes the viewer and how it compares to other creations of its type.
This approach of Aristotle’s works perfectly well when applied to crossword puzzles. For each puzzle, ask yourself the three questions. Is it good? Well, what do you think? Was the maker of the puzzle skillful? Is the puzzle well made? Is it beautiful? Well, perhaps the shape or way in which the clues are laid out is aesthetically pleasing and the whole feels “beautifully done?” Finally, is it interesting? That one is easiest to respond to in the affirmative. Crosswords are indeed interesting to solve and some might be cleverer and more engaging than others.
There is a small but ingenious community of top international crossword puzzle designers who have developed cult followings. They are the Michelangelos and Picassos of puzzledom. These are the puzzlemasters we feature here at Devarai Crosswords.
On this site, you’ll find the first international virtual exhibition space for crossword art. We showcase the best-crafted American-style crossword puzzles made by the world’s leading crossword authors working in a variety of languages (with a focus on English, Italian, Spanish and German).
This site is being regularly updated with a goal to provide an inventory of all of the world’s leading crossword authors, ranked and featured. There are many puzzles available to all to play for free. Just click on a crossword author, then click on the puzzle numbers in blue. For full access, there is a subscription system. You can fill out the puzzles online with an easy, engaging interface. An ever-expanding world of crosswords is open to you!
Our website features a leaderboard system and various leagues in which you can advance if you are successful during the weekly competitions. Your statistics and streaks are tracked so you can monitor your progress and select new puzzles to tackle suitable to your level. The website works well on desktop and mobile, with one of the most popular approaches being to use it on an iPad, filling out the puzzles by hand with an Apple Pencil. You can even go “hands-free” and ask our software to read you the clues aloud and use dictation software to fill in your answers. Devarai offers a multidimensional experience, providing not only world-class puzzles but also a beautiful aesthetic and even custom-composed music from Devarai’s own record label, Nightdaisy.
Devarai’s unique approach is to showcase, for the first time, the crossword authors themselves, providing them with a platform to be the front men (and women) for their creations. In the Middle Ages, artists did not sign their work and their roles were largely anonymous. The art they created was important, but no one much bothered with the creators. The world of crosswords is largely similar today, but all that should change. During the Renaissance, the artists themselves came to the fore, with patrons wishing to commission a work by a specific artist, not just wanting a good version of the work. This is Devarai’s approach, lifting the art of the crossword puzzle out of the Middle Ages and launching a crossword Renaissance in which the authors are the stars. And you, the solvers, reap the benefits!