The Mid-Century Puzzle Craze at SPL

Reference Desk at the Somerville Public Library, early 20th century

Would you believe that word-puzzle contests were so popular in the mid-20th century that many libraries had to put their dictionaries under lock and key? Puzzle-solvers devoured dictionaries, encyclopedias, and other reference works in pursuit of cash prizes, and deluged library staff with requests for answers to puzzle questions. They ripped pages from dictionaries and hid reference books to thwart other contestants’ chances.

In a recent browse of our local history room, we discovered that Somerville was no exception to this nation-wide craze. The library was so overrun with puzzle related questions that head librarian John D. Kelley (1937-1970) was forced to take action.

“TO CONTEST WORKERS,” began a new policy notice from Kelley. “In the interest of service to the community...the Somerville Public Library cannot undertake to answer contest questions or solve puzzles...Library staff will be glad to suggest possible sources of information to those who come in person to the library, but cannot supply the answers.”


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