Bowery Boys Bookshelf Podcasts Writers and Artists

The World Before Wordle: A Puzzling Conversation with A.J. Jacobs

Crosswords, jigsaws, mazes, rebuses, Rubik’s cubes, Myst, Words With Friends — and now Wordle? Not only have people loved puzzles for centuries, they’ve actually gone wild for them. Every few years, a new puzzle comes along to captivate the nation.

But each of these little games has an extraordinary history and for this special show, we have the “the puzzler” himself to help us unravel these unique mysteries.

Joining the show today is A.J. Jacobs, author of The Puzzler: One Man’s Quest to Solve the Most Baffling Puzzles Ever, from Crosswords to Jigsaws to the Meaning of Life, who leads Greg and Tom down a maze of fascinating origins of the world’s most popular puzzles — many with a connection to New York City.


Sam Loyd, the ultimate puzzle huckster
— The utterly madcap Rebus Craze of 1937
The Secret and the possible treasure buried underneath New York’s very streets
Stephen Sondheim‘s glorious contributions to the puzzling world

PLUS: A special New York City-themed anagram game!


Would you like to solve the Puzzler‘s secret puzzles? Find them here.

Music for this show:

More information on The Secret and the possible whereabouts of a treasure buried somewhere in New York City.

Bain News Service, Publisher. Sam Loyd. [No Date Recorded on Caption Card] Photograph. Courtesy Library of Congress
Trademark listing for a Nellie Bly puzzle game, 1890
Harris & Ewing, photographer. Old age versus the cross word puzzle. They don’t come too hard for Ambrose Hines… D.C., who just celebrated his one hundredth … “Bring on the hard ones,” says Mr. Hines. “I’ve … dictionaries, time and pencils necessary.” And he … too. [January or February] Photograph. Courtesy the Library of Congress.
Kid cut ups puzzle, How did Noah get the animals into the ark? , 1909. Pittsburgh, Retrieved from the Library of Congress

The first crossword (or word-cross) puzzle, 1913, from the New York World.


The Straw Hat Riots of 1922

Nellie Bly: Undercover in the Madhouse

Pulitzer vs Hearst: The Rise of Yellow Journalism

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