Crosswords - second most widespread pastime in Czech Republic

As we reported last week, the largest European festival of chess and board games is currently underway in the town of Pardubice in East Bohemia. Czechs in general are known to be great puzzle enthusiasts and according to surveys crosswords are the second most common hobby in this country. And that may be why Czechs also do very well in international competitions.

Czechs are fascinated by all kinds of puzzles and brain teasers. Just look around you on Prague's public transport to see how many people you can spot clutching a magazine in one hand and a pen in the other, trying to solve a crossword puzzle or the latest fad, the numbers based sudoku. Vitezslav Koudelka is a professional crossword writer and publisher.

"The movement became more widespread after WWII but really the biggest boom came after 1968 when the Czech Crossword and Puzzle Union was founded and started assembling all knowledge there was about this topic. Local branches were founded around the country, and the movement which started some time at the beginning of the century became more organised."

In 1999, the Czech Republic was one of the founding members of the World Puzzle Federation of which Vitezslav Koudelka is now the chairman. The federation has 40 members and organises annual World Puzzle Championships. Czech teams and individuals have won five world champion titles, and the country can boast the first ever world champion in sudoku.

Vitezslav Koudelka says the achievements can be attributed to a strong grassroots movement.

"Two sociological studies have found out that since 1968, crossword puzzles have been the second most common pastime in the former Czechoslovakia after gardening. After 1968, people had little chance to pursue other hobbies, they couldn't travel abroad and there wasn't much to watch on television. In fact, our neighbouring countries: Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and also the former Yugoslavia, are traditional great powers when it comes to puzzle solving. The boom that occurred in the 1970s still persists to this day."

The Czech Crosswords and Puzzle Union has 40 local clubs around the country. It recognises around 50 types of crossword puzzles and over 100 types of logical puzzles for which it has set the rules.