At a time when heroin and cocaine were legal tender, activists, journalists, and lawmakers decided that the really worrying, what was really destroying western civilization it was the crosswords. Yes, as it sounds: crosswords.
Thanks to Jose César Perales, one of the greatest experts in addiction neuroscience in the country, I arrived at what is possibly going to become my favorite case of “moral panic”: movements against newspaper hobbies.
“My son doesn’t leave home, he just wants to solve crosswords”
Although I would have to search the monumental “Verbalia” by Màrius Serra to confirm it, popular wisdom tells us that the evolution of the magic square that we know today as The crossword puzzle was invented in 1913 by the English-born journalist, Arthur Wynne, while working in the supplement ‘Fun’ of the newspaper ‘New York World’.
The success of the hobby was spectacular and throughout the decade newspapers from all over the world were incorporating it into their pages. In 1922, comic strips about people doing crossword puzzles were circulating and in 1924, the New York Library claimed that “the latest fad that has hit libraries is the crossword” complaining bitterly that “puzzle fanatics” monopolized “dictionaries. and encyclopedias driving away readers and students who need these books in their daily work. “
That librarian report was not something isolated. In fact, during 1924, voices of alarm against the threat posed by crossword puzzles became increasingly popular. That year, as the Harrisburg Telegraph claimed, “University of Michigan professors had banned crossword puzzles in their classes.”
Worried about crossword fever, the Kingsport Times-News, a Tennessee newspaper, reported that “if legislators have gotten into the habit, as they presumably have, it is hard to see how they will find time to legislate” and lamented that “The opposition to crossword addiction had not yet been organized”, although they were convinced that it would soon do so. After all, until now he had only “interfered with relatively unimportant matters”, but as the addiction grew the problems would increase.
I have no doubt, as Perales himself pointed out, that opposition to crossword puzzles was nothing more than a “hobby” in those wonderful 1920s that exploded after the crash of 29. That is, to the chagrin of the Kingsport writer Times-News, that anti-puzzle movement was never organized (or turned into lobby). However, it is a paradigmatic example of what moral panic is; namely, “a reaction of a group of people based on the false or exaggerated perception of some cultural behavior“.
It is something that we have seen repeatedly with video games and that has become an urban myth. But it is when we see it in things like crossword puzzles (or in the dozens of examples that this “file of technophobia” that is ‘Pessimists Archive’ has) when wee makes especially evident. It is good to remember from time to time.
Picture | Bannon morrissy