In this era of crossword puzzles, Words With Friends and The Times’s own Spelling Bee, it’s fascinating to look back at just how long the paper has been printing word games and literary quizzes. The very first ones did not appear in the Book Review but in The New York Times Sunday Magazine. One, from 1903, was called “Two Hundred Hidden Books” and took the form of two letters in which, yes, 200 book titles were concealed.
In 1945, in his tweedy column called “Speaking of Books,” the Book Review’s editor, J. Donald Adams, noted that his entire staff had just taken a difficult quiz in Harper’s magazine called “Books Without Authors” in which readers were meant to name the authors of 16 books — “Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates,” “The Swiss Family Robinson” and “Lorna Doone,” to name just three. No one at the Book Review got more than nine right. “It is worth noting,” Adams wrote, “that a fair proportion of the titles are those of children’s books!” In later years, the Book Review printed a number of quizzes by the critic and editor Anatole Broyard, who clearly delighted in literary trivia. Some were fiendishly difficult; others — like this one from 1989 — a bit easier.
And the answer key, of course: