A Dutch SuccessTuesday, May 7, 2002
Quick! In 15 letters, what's the word for a nearly century-old game that daily captivates countless millions all around the world?
Answer: Crossword Puzzle. Write it anyway you wish - across, down, or both - it is perhaps the world's most popular leisure-time activity, surpassing bongo, bridge, chess and checkers. And unlike most addictions, filling in the blank spaces of a crossword puzzle is legal, harmless to the health and non-fattening. No partner, dealer or bookie is needed. And when finished, the puzzler has won nothing except for a short, private bliss of time spent poring over and plodding through a world of arcane or alternate word meanings.
Puzzles seem to be as old as mankind itself. We know now that word puzzles were constructed and solved in the clamorous agoras of ancient Greece and along the shaded loggia of Imperial Rome. We have read that the Monks of the Middle Ages found solace in doing word puzzles, even leaving hand-written anagrams in the margins of illuminated vellum Gospels.
The poems of the Renaissance often contained puzzles. But it was not until 1913 that the first crossword puzzle was devised. Called "Word Cross," it appeared on the "Fun Page" of the December 21st issue of the New York World. Now nearly every newspaper and many magazines the world over are dedicated to keeping this past-time alive and well.
Precursor of a New Type of Puzzle World?
One publisher seems to have hit a new type of puzzler's nerve, both in print and via the Internet. It all started in 1998 when Holland-based VNU Tijdschriften (which last year became a division of the giant Finnish publishing company Sanoma) discovered a picture puzzle concept that had recently become popular in Japan and thought to try it out in Holland. The first step was to introduce such puzzles into some of the company's existing magazines throughout Benelux. And, were they ever popular! So much so that VNU started a new bi-monthly, 40-pager, called Japanse Puzzels and was soon selling 25,000 copies at Euro 2.70 each.
Then in mid-2000, the publisher tried out some extra large puzzles within its first puzzle magazine and they, too, proved immensely popular. So VNU quickly started a standalone title, Japanse Puzzels XXL, for those fans interested in oversized puzzles. And this newer title, also a bi-monthly and alternating with its smaller-formatted family member, already sells around 20,000 copies per issue at an enlarged price of Euro 3.61.
An Internet Success Too
VNU, has recently been successful in building an Internet site for its ever-growing legion of puzzle maniacs. Since January 2001, the publisher has been operating a popular site called ConceptisPuzzles/TheArtofLogic (www.Conceptistech.com/partners-sanoma.asp). As other titles, such as Japanse Puzzels in Kleur (in color) and Logimix (puzzles solved by logic), they have also been put on the Internet for an even broader audience to enjoy and solve by mouse.
About the author
Jay Melvin is the Director of International Affairs Magazine Publishers of America. As MPA's counselor for International affairs, Melvin serves as principal liaison with the association's International publishers and editors in 28 countries. He also writes the MPA's popular Newsletter of International Publishing (NIP).
Reprinted with permission
Originally published in World of Magazines, January 2001.