You already know that the use of the acrostic as wordplay has a long and storied history. The puzzle form of acrostics, however, is a comparatively new invention.
No one knows for sure exactly who had the idea of morphing acrostic poetry into puzzles, but the games did appear in printed form in the mid 19th-century. England's Queen Victoria was a known devotee of acrostics and composed her own puzzles, leading some historians to speculate that perhaps she sparked the acrostic puzzle phenomenon.
Modern acrostic puzzles are the brainchild of Elizabeth Kingsley, who first unveiled these games in the Saturday Review in March 1934. Those first puzzles were called Double Crostic. As with most acrostic puzzles, the completed grid unveiled a famous quotation. In addition, the first letter of the answers to clues revealed a title and author of a book, poem or other written work.
Kingsley's work proved to be so popular that The New York Times hired her to create acrostic puzzles, too. She composed the puzzles for the paper's readers from May 1943 to the end of 1952.
Since then, The New York Times has been known for its challenging acrostics, much as it is known for its synapse-shattering crossword puzzles. Masterful acrostic puzzle makers have called The Times home, and surprisingly, since Kingsley's reign ended, only four other people have authored them, including Doris Wortman, Thomas Middleton and most recently, Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon.
The puzzles garnered a rabid fan base and have generally appeared in The Times every two weeks for decades now. And when they don't, a lot of people get very upset, as evidenced by the number of comments and calls The Times receives when substitute puzzles appear in place of acrostics.
Like crossword puzzles, Sudoku and other brain games, acrostics have a devoted following of people who love to tweak their gray matter. These days, fans can find their favorite game in a variety of formats.
Publishers, like The New York Times, still print book-bound puzzles of all types, including acrostics collections. You'll find these at well-stocked book stores or through online book retailers. Books are great, but the fastest way to jump into acrostic puzzles is online. With a quick search you'll find numerous sites that let you play immediately, such as The New York Times' Web site. As of this writing, there weren't any apps for Android smartphones, but the Apple App store does allow you to download both a free and paid version of the Crostix app. There are also many sites that let you print puzzles with your home printer.
By now we've probably whetted your desire to try a few acrostic puzzles yourself. But be forewarned -- on the next page, you'll see why proper strategy is key to solving acrostics.