Black & White Forever: Why Do People Love Crosswords?

What do crosswords mean to you? To many, the daily word puzzles or weekend brain teasers sprawled out in nearly every newspaper are loved and praised. They bring entertainment, excitement, and an opportunity to take a break and get the mental cogs turning. In this article, we will look at exactly who and what a crossword player is. We'll discover why crosswords are adored and might benefit your health and finally answer one simple question; 'why do people love crossword puzzles!?

A Short History Of Crosswords 

So, what do you know about the popular puzzle that seems so familiar to us today? Crossword puzzles began in 1913 when a British-born inventor, Arthur Wynne, made the first one of its kind for a newspaper in New York. People liked it a lot, and soon, crosswords became a regular installment in many newspapers. Initially dubbed 'word-cross,' the puzzle's popularity prompted a name change, and the term was reversed to 'crossword.' By the 1920s, dedicated crossword sections emerged in many more publications across the world, cementing the puzzle's status as a cultural staple.

Infographic Short History

Popularity: What Are The Numbers?

In recent years, the popularity of crosswords has seen a significant rise mainly due to the ease and accessibility of online platforms and subscriptions. Having said that, only 1 in 4 Americans use an app or website to get their puzzle fix. 43% of people opt for a puzzle book, and 36% stick to the traditional method of filling out the ones in newspapers.

1 in 5 Americans partake in crossword puzzles every day, but of those doing it the old-fashioned way, 60% go with a pencil, while a confident 40% put their answers down in ink; risky stuff!

The New York Times, perhaps the most famous newspaper in the United States, hit the incredible milestone of over 500,000 subscriptions to their crossword in 2018. With an estimated 10 million people subscribed to their newspaper in 2023, that number is surely even more staggering today.

So, now we know how many people love crossword puzzles, let's look into who these people are and what groups they belong to.

Demographics: Who Plays Crosswords? 

While a true study of male-to-female player breakdown is hard to find, the statistics of crossword constructors are clear. According to the Guardian, only 19% of New York Times crosswords have been produced or constructed by women. This representation is something the publication has and is currently addressing.

While historically, the older generations have played and constructed crossword puzzles, a new, younger audience is starting to appear. Will Shortz, the longtime puzzle editor for the Times, has observed the trend, stating, "In the '90s, my sense was that the average age of constructors was in the early 50s. Now it's in the mid-30s."

Now for a few more statistics! Around 73% of people do a crossword on a Sunday, with most saying it's also the hardest (and most agree that Monday is usually the easiest). 71% of people prefer doing their daily crossword in the New York Times, with local papers following at 21% and the Washington Post coming third with 19%.

Crosswords Audience Infographic

Health: What Can A Crossword Do For You? 

People worldwide adore crosswords as a source of light relief and entertainment, but did you know that playing could improve your memory and contribute to better cognitive health?

A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that people with mild memory problems who did web-based crossword puzzles improved cognition. Subjects also experienced less brain atrophy (loss of neuron receptors).

Not only that, but the University of Exeter and King's College London in the United Kingdom researched more than 19,000 participants and found that those who played crosswords had sharper brains and performed tasks with better reasoning and memory ability.

Improvement: Why Is Everyone Playing Crosswords?

So what's the big deal, and why do nearly 70 million Americans partake in crossword puzzles? We've looked at the data, and we can learn that, unlike in the past, crossword players are of all ages and get their crosswords from many sources.

The reasons could be as simple as entertainment; crosswords can be a lot of fun, and more than ever, they target a wide, more inclusive audience. Playing crosswords can relieve stress, help people learn, and improve memory function and cognitive health. Perhaps the question isn't, "Why is everyone playing crosswords?" but, "Why isn't everyone playing crosswords?"

Why people play crosswords infographic

And Finally….

There we have it! We've ventured through the puzzling world of crossword statistics and discovered what makes the humble game of black and white squares so popular. They're not just games; they bring us joy and nostalgia and exercise our minds. Whether you're a problem pro or trying them out for the first time, crossword puzzles are simple to understand but take a lifetime to master, bringing unparalleled fun along the way. Long live the crossword!

About the Author

Sarah Perowne

Sarah Perowne is a language and education specialist with over 10 years of experience in teaching and content creation. She has worked with students of all ages in various teaching methods, including those with disabilities and ASD. She sports an acute knowledge and skillset in teaching English as a second/foreign language (ESL) English Language Arts and creating content for online teaching resources, articles, and podcasts.

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