Monday, August 20, 2018
Human Interest

Searching for the crossword inventor: a Clearwater connection

Next month marks the 100th anniversary of the crossword puzzle. To a person like me who makes crosswords for a living, it is, in 14 letters (four words): A Really Big Deal.

Despite its cerebral trappings, the crossword puzzle has a surprisingly dramatic flesh-and-blood history, but for more than half a century there has been a big hole in the story — a real-life puzzle that I've been trying to figure out for 15 years.

The crossword was invented by Arthur Wynne and first appeared in the New York World newspaper on Dec. 21, 1913. (The first word across was "fun".) Wynne had based the puzzle on the small word squares he had solved as a boy in Liverpool, England. His new "word-cross" puzzle was an immediate hit. For the next eight years he either made the puzzles himself or published ones sent in by readers.

But after Wynne handed the crossword baton to a young staffer named Margaret Petherbridge in 1921, he was barely mentioned. Where had he gone?

I knew only that he had died in 1945. In the late 1990s I found an old newspaper obit online. I had always assumed, since Wynne was born in Liverpool but lived most of his adult life around New York, that he was buried in one of those two places. Nope. As is so often true, there was a Florida connection. The inventor of the crossword died in Clearwater.

My head, as soon as it stopped spinning, immediately flashed with questions. Where did he live? Where is he buried? Are there any relatives?

My wife, Marie Haley, eventually found the next clue: the obit of Wynne's oldest daughter, Janet. She died in 2007, but among the long list of relatives was a sister, Kay W. Cutler, of Clearwater. Within five minutes, Marie had her on the phone.

As far as I know, no one in the puzzle world was aware that Arthur Wynne had married again to a much younger woman and that he had become a father at 62. The child's name was Catherine — Kay — and she was 12 years old when her father died.

Kay was now 80 and still living in Clearwater. We met over breakfast. She was funny, sharp, self-effacing. She said she'd always wanted to set the record straight about her dad.

Here are a few fascinating things she told us:

• Seeing how popular the crossword had become, Wynne urged his bosses to copyright or trademark the puzzle. They declined, calling it a passing trifle.

• Wynne was a regular at New York's Palm restaurant and was one of the first caricatures on the wall.

• Wynne moved to Indian Rocks Beach for health reasons in 1941. He died at Morton Plant Hospital and was cremated (the reason we could find no mention of a grave site). His bungalow has been remodeled since 1945, but it's still on Gulf Boulevard.

So, thank you, Arthur Wynne, for creating this odd interlocking thing that gave me a career, and thank you, Kay, for solving the biggest "crossword puzzle" of all — whatever happened to the inventor.

Comments
Early Christmas decorators are happier while reliving their childhood, experts say

Early Christmas decorators are happier while reliving their childhood, experts say

Itís nearly a yearly guarantee.Even before pumpkins are replaced by turkeys, thereís one neighborhood house somewhere that will be ready for Christmas the day after Halloween, evoking groans from those who wait until the day after Thanksgiving to bre...
Published: 08/13/18
Ludacris is probably in your Whole Foods right now

Ludacris is probably in your Whole Foods right now

Last week, a woman named Therra Gwyn Jaramillo described, over the course of more than 1,200 words on Facebook, how a man named Chris had bought her groceries at Whole Foods ó $375 worth ó in a moment of grave need. (She was strapped, and a friend ha...
Published: 08/09/18
Still in the hunt: Largo paleontologist's old passion turns to new journeys

Still in the hunt: Largo paleontologist's old passion turns to new journeys

Twenty-something years ago, James Pendergraft took a reporter to a fossil site in Polk County. On that day, he was dazzling, spotting and identifying the ribs and teeth of extinct dugongs and sharks and mammoths. Now, in 2018, he walked Indian Rocks...
Published: 08/12/18
How to get Janelle Monae or Lady Gaga to notice you: Make them some art

How to get Janelle Monae or Lady Gaga to notice you: Make them some art

Cam Parker unrolls the painting against the wall, just enough to see a bright red pair of lips coaxed into the subtlest of smiles. Above them is the face of singer Janelle Monae, who happens to be standing just around the corner. Parker spent 3 1/2 ...
Updated one month ago
Tampa pet cemetery has odd Elvis connection, thank ya very much

Tampa pet cemetery has odd Elvis connection, thank ya very much

TAMPA ó Tucked into a back corner of the sprawling campus of the Humane Society of Tampa Bay on Armenia Avenue is a scattered collection of stones and statues with an odd connection to Elvis Presley.Itís a pet cemetery. And itís about to get dug up.W...
Updated one month ago