- Mar 2022
According to Alan Connor’s 2013 book Two Girls, One on Each Knee, it was Mathers who popularized themed crosswords, and he was one of the first crossword setters to structure his clues as gimmicks such as knock-knock jokes and rhyming couplets.
According to Roger Millington, author of Crossword Puzzles: Their History and Their Cult, Mathers first encountered crossword puzzles in 1924, but he quickly grew bored with the “dictionary clues,” or clues that consist of or contain a synonym of the answer, that were popular in American crosswords. Instead, he favored so-called “cryptic clues” that required solvers to think laterally and creatively. Mathers didn’t invent cryptic clues, but he’s considered the first crossword setter to use them exclusively, abandoning dictionary clues altogether.
Edward Powys Mathers (1892-1939) is considered to be the first crossword setter to abandon straightforward dictionary clues and exclusively use "cryptic clues" to make the puzzles harder and more interesting. He helped to popularize this form of crossword puzzle construction as the setter for The Observer, a British newspaper, between 1926 and his death in 1939.
Cross reference: Roger Millington, Crossword Puzzles: Their History and Cult