Margaret Farrar

Margaret Petherbridge Farrar
Born (1897-03-23)March 23, 1897
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
Died June 11, 1984(1984-06-11) (aged 87)
Manhattan, New York, U.S.
Citizenship United States
Alma mater Smith College 1919
Genre Journalist, crossword puzzle editor
Notable works The New York Times crossword puzzle
Spouse John C. Farrar

Margaret Petherbridge Farrar (March 23, 1897 – June 11, 1984) was an American journalist and the first crossword puzzle editor for The New York Times (1942–1968). Creator of many of the rules of modern crossword design, she wrote a long-running series of crossword puzzle books including the first-ever book of any kind published by Simon & Schuster.


Margaret Petherbridge was born March 23, 1897, in Brooklyn, New York, to Margaret (Furey) and Henry Petherbridge, who owned a licorice factory.[1] A lifelong resident of New York City, she attended Berkeley Institute in Brooklyn and graduated from Smith College in 1919.[2]

Her career in crossword puzzles began at the New York World in 1920. Although she had been hired as the publisher's secretary, she was told to assist crossword inventor Arthur Wynne in proofreading puzzles prior to publication. Her puzzles soon became more popular than Wynne's.[3]

In January 1924 Petherbridge was given an advance of $25 and asked to compile a book of crossword puzzles by Richard L. Simon and Lincoln Schuster, who were launching a book publishing company but did not yet have any manuscripts. The Cross Word Puzzle Book launched Simon & Schuster as a major publisher and was the first of four bestselling compilations published that year. Simon & Schuster's crossword books became the longest continuously published book series.[4]:8–9

In 1926 Petherbridge married John C. Farrar, one of the co-founders of Farrar & Rinehart and Farrar, Straus and Giroux.[3] She left the World to raise a family, and returned to journalism in 1942 as founding puzzle editor of The New York Times. She remained with the newspaper until 1969. She also edited novels for Farrar, Straus and Giroux (1950–1960), and upon her husband's death in 1974 she succeeded him as a member of the company's board of directors.[5]

Farrar died June 11, 1984, at her home in Manhattan. Up to her death, she compiled two crossword puzzle books a year for Simon & Schuster (she was working on the 134th volume), and was editing puzzles for the Los Angeles Times syndicate.[2]


Puzzle creator, editor and publisher Stanley Newman has referred to Farrar as a "crossword genius", and credits her with the creation of "many, if not most" of the rules that guide modern crossword design.[3]

"Perhaps Margaret Farrar's greatest legacy is the large number of expert puzzlemakers she discovered and/or nurtured over the years — Will Weng, Eugene T. Maleska, Frances Hansen, Anne Fox, A.J. Santora, Diana R. Sessions, Jules Arensberg, Herbert Ettenson, Harold T. Bers, Mel Taub … the list goes on," wrote Will Shortz. "Other editors have left their mark on the world of crosswords … but it was Margaret Farrar, more than anyone else, who established the American crossword rules and format, and whose smooth, sensible, timeless style of editing I still try to emulate today."[6]

As editor of the Simon & Schuster crossword series for 60 years, a feat unparalleled in publishing history, and as puzzle editor for The New York Times for 27 years, Margaret Farrar was lovingly referred to as the “belle dame” of crosswords. Although she always referred to her life’s work as a “completely accidental career,” her standards of excellence, easy rapport with constructors, methodical editing, and absolute fairness molded the crossword into the complex brainteaser it is today.

Helene Hovanec, author of "Creative Cruciverbalists"


  1. "Margaret Petherbridge Farrar". Taub, Mel, American National Biography (WorldCat). Retrieved 2014-07-26.
  2. 1 2 "Margaret Farrar, 87, Editor of Crossword Puzzles". Mitgang, Herbert, The New York Times, June 12, 1984. Retrieved 2014-07-21.
  3. 1 2 3 Newman, Stanley. Cruciverbalism: A Crossword Fanatic's Guide to Life in the Grid. New York: Collins, 2006. ISBN 9780060890605
  4. Connor, Alan. The Crossword Century: 100 Years of Witty Wordplay, Ingenious Puzzles, and Linguistic Mischief. New York: Gotham Books, 2014. ISBN 9781592408580
  5. "Margaret Petherbridge Farrar". Contemporary Authors, Gale, 2002.
  6. Farrar, Margaret (ed.). Introduction by Will Shortz. The New York Times Groovy Crossword Puzzles from the '60s: Original Puzzles to Take You Back. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2006. ISBN 0312361033
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