On July 29, 1925, at 3 a.m., Eva Fenyes, unable to sleep, was quietly engaged in a rather pleasant indulgence that was sweeping the country. She was solving a crossword puzzle. Cruciverbalist, a word that would not be coined until the 1970s, would have described Eva Fenyes perfectly. She had books full of crossword puzzles, in English and in French, and she took to the task with her usual attention and purpose, analyzing and evaluating her efforts. Which puzzles were easy? When did she need to use a reference book? Which words defeated her? She even corrected errata. A student of language since childhood, perhaps even a logophile or a linguaphile, she embraced the craze.
All the rage in the1920s, the crossword puzzle obsession was featured by cartoonist Clare Briggs in his 1924 comic panel “That Guiltiest Feeling,” which depicts the earth completely wrapped-up in a giant crossword puzzle.
That same year, ninety years ago this April, Simon & Schuster launched their publishing company with the first ever compilation of crossword puzzles, The Cross Word Puzzle Book. This series continued until 2007, ending with Series #258, and was replaced with the Simon & Schuster Mega Crossword Puzzle Book.
In 1925, Simon & Schuster published a variation of their idea, The Celebrities Cross Word Puzzle Book, for which fifty celebrities of the day constructed his or her own original puzzle. The Forward assured solvers that, “The puzzles in this book are edited in conformity with the rules adopted by the Amateur Cross Word Puzzle League of America to safeguard fairness and honor among constructors, and to keep solvers out of the asylum.” One of the celebrity contributors was WWI flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker who would one day come to Pasadena and serve as Grand Marshall for the 1957 Tournament of Roses Parade. Eva Fenyes noted that she solved his puzzle on April 12, 1925.
Fenyes continued to buy crossword puzzle books throughout her remaining years in Pasadena. A Vroman’s Book Store receipt records her purchase of The Cross Word Puzzle Book, Fourteenth Series on January 14, 1930, just a few weeks before her death on February 4th.
Eva Fenyes’ extant crossword puzzle books are now on display at Pasadena Museum of History, Research Library & Archives where the Reading Room is open every Thursday through Sunday, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Julie Stires, Project Archivist
Pasadena Museum of History
Current Exhibits at Pasadena Museum of History:
Kites, Wings, & Other Flying Things – through April 19th (read HP article on exhibit here)
The Colorado Street Bridge Centennial Exhibition – through April 19th
Also, take a tour of Fenyes Mansion, stroll the gardens, and visit the Finnish Folk Art Museum.
Pasadena Museum of History
Hours: Wednesdays-Sundays, noon-5 p.m.
Cost: $7, general; $6, seniors and students; free for members and children under 12
470 W. Walnut St., Pasadena 91103
For more info, visit PasadenaHistory.org