The History of Word Games: Crosswords, Scrabble, and Word Searches 

The crossword puzzle is probably one of the most well-known word-games of our time. The New York Times’ Sunday Crossword is thought to be a tremendous test of one’s knowledge. With various apps available at our fingertips, hundreds of different word games- varying in complexity- are downloaded daily.  Surprisingly, crossword puzzles were only invented in 1913, according to author Ardienne Raphel of “
Thinking Inside the Box: Adventures with crosswords and the puzzling people who can’t live without them.”

 However, word games have existed for centuries in various forms. Prior to 1913, early versions of the crosswords included Word Squares, the first of which was a “Sator Square”. Word squares were popular among the Ancient Romans, often completed in Latin. Latin lent itself well to palindromes. The Ancient Romans believed that palindromes (words or phrases that are the same backwards and forwards: e.g. civic) confused the devil, making them a popular choice for carvings. The fascination with palindromes lent itself well to the invention of word games where different words can be spelled off of each other, such as crossword puzzles. 

Other popular word games include Scrabble, which was invented in 1931 by an Architect and originally named “Criss Cross.” The game was not marketed until 1948, when James Burnot redesigned it and named it “Scrabble”. The game was first sold in 1954 in Great Britain. Since it’s first sale, it gained popularity and was translated into numerous foreign languages, including Braille. Scrabble tournaments have been held in the United states since 1973. They draw competitive word-enthusiasts to show off their skills. Scrabble is perfect for a family game night, a friendly competition, or a competitive tournament between friends or an official tournament. 

Often found on children’s menus and scribbled in with crayon, word searches are a timeless classic. Not just for children, these puzzles can be challenging and engage visual-spatial scanning as well as one’s vocabulary knowledge and spelling skills. The game goes by many different names (such as word find, “Find-a-Words, Wonderwords, Word Finds, Word Seeks, Mystery Words, and Seek-a-Words”). They’re widely used as educational materials due to the vocabulary, spelling, and visual-spatial scanning they engage puzzle-solvers with. English word-searches were invented by Norman Gibat, although before him a man by the name of Pedro Ocón de Oro, a spanish puzzle-writer, invented a similar concept “Sopa de Letras” in Spanish. In the United States, Norman Gibat’s Word search quickly caught the attention of the public and teachers began using it in their classrooms as educational material

Word games have a rich history that varies with different languages, names for the games, and difficulty. All word games engage a puzzler’s vocabulary to find a word, solve a riddle, or both! If you’re a puzzle enthusiast or just want to try some word games, check out the library staff’s suggestions below:

Staff Puzzle Suggestions: 


Fifer Charlie Loftus
Riverfront Library