A classic Italian pastime

I lean back in my lounge chair on the beach, feel the warm summer sun on my skin  and point my toes out to twinkling blue sea.  For the next few weeks, school and work are over and all I have to do is enjoy myself.  I reach into my beach bag and pull out a book, then put it back.  I want something a little bit more fun, since I might fall asleep.  I pull out a fashion magazine, then put it back.  I want something with a little bit more substance. Finally, I pull out a small newsprint magazine. The Settimana enigmistica (The Weekly Puzzler) crossword puzzles, rebus, connect the dots, spot the difference and comic strips.  Perfect!


Feature crossword from the first issue of the Settimana enigmistica in 1932


While I have just described my recent vacation, a very similar scene has been repeated on Italian beaches for 80 years.  Although Italy has undergone a dramatic transformation, little about the Settimana enigmistica has changed since it first appeared in 1932 under the direction of a noble Sardinian, Count Giorgio Sisini di Sorso. Over its history, it has remained one of Italy’s most reliable periodicals.  Aside from 2 months during WWII, it has appeared on magazine stands in every Italian city on Saturday, as the cover so proudly boasts.


A comic strip from the 1932 Settimana Enigmistica


While most magazines survive by constantly offering readers something new, including updated covers with glossy photos of the latest stars and large  titles in bright colors, the Settimana enigmistica’s success is built on a formula familiar to anyone who has ever been addicted to its games: a title that alternates between blue, red and green and a cover page that features a large crossword with the black and white photo portrait of a celebrity in its center (even numbers of the magazine feature a man and odd numbers feature a woman).


La Settimana Enigmistica | 1943


When I’m not on vacation, the settimana is a place I escape to.  It’s a place outside of traffic and deadlines and stress, that offers a break, but doesn’t numb my brain like a reality television show.  Perhaps that’s why I’m so protective of the copies I have started working on.  Sometimes I leave one lying around and come back to find that a blank clue has been filled in with a different colored pen. No one is ever willing to admit to being the culprit who couldn’t resist the challenge of a puzzle.


A rebus from a 1979 Settimana Enigmistica


There have been many other flashier, better designed and more attractive compendiums of word games and crosswords, but the magazine that can “boast innumerable attempts at imitation (vanta innumerevoli tentativi d’imitazione)” has always remained at the top.   For years now the Settimana enigmistica has essentially remained an enigma to me, but in a good way.  The comic strips have jokes that sometimes make me groan, the grainy celebrity photographs aren’t particularly attractive, and yet I find myself picking up a pen or a pencil again and again because everything that makes the Settimana enigmistica traditional and old is also what makes it so very fun.