The Surprisingly mutilated Culture Wars In the New York Times Crossword Puzzle - Game News 24 (2023)

In the 1970s Will Shortz submitted an old crossword to the New York Times with a word so scandalous that the editor rejected it. That word is “cutterbutton” Shortz himself is the Times crossword editor who is now the gatekeeper, in addition to the nearly 200 submissions that he receives once a week. (Bellybutton appeared once during his tenure. Clue: boro.)

I wouldn’t be able to publish porno-free words but it depends on that term, said Shortz. Sex toy has been a double answer. I don’t have any problems with that. But certainly [the same editor] Margaret Farrar and Will Wang wouldn’t have done it.


Sex is restricted in the puzzle. The author of The Curious History of the Crossword describes the earliest case where reference to pegging never appears in The Times. Although the actual newspaper article on pegging may run, Taussig said in the crossword, things are kept more PG. The AV Club crossword has been published, though.

Sex is just one of the many controversial questions about crossword puzzles. In a time when languages debate an open discourse and incorrect pronouns ignite vicious attacks, the fact that culture wars are being played out in crossword puzzles makes sense.

When the pandemic spread, the crossword community used the same sort of reckoning as that that we had in the rest of the United States where we looked at representation and saw inclusion, said Rebecca Neipris, co-host of the Crossnerds podcast. Hundreds of thousands of people do this every day and pay for it. You also have that responsibility to at least know what the hell it is that you are feeding those people.

The puzzle is an issue of larger cultural conflicts like race, class and gender. Questions arise: Should dictators appear in crosswords? Who are the serial killers? What’s your news for Donald Trump? Or Hitler? Are terms like hag all the same?

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There’s a substantial shift in the form of clues and answers in crosswords. The crossword clue for New York Times on March 21, 1943 was the author of a bestseller. The answer: Five letters long, HITLER. Hitler has a face in the Times, but his last name has not yet been changed since 1984 (he remained unnamed on the horizon of history.

Whether you want it or not, there’s an inherent problem, says Michael Sharp, a SUNY-Binghamton English scholar who wrote a blog, critiquing the Times crossword and has built puzzles for them. Besides that you are making an assertion about what counts as common knowledge.

During the decades to come, the person who would decide what to do in a puzzle was straight white men according to Taussig, who said crosswords were a very elite, hyper educated, white, and New York City, where if you didn’t know chess and your classics, you would be screwed.

When Shortz became the editor of the Times in 1993, things began to change. Shortz entered crosswords, Taussig said. Yet Shortz does not always get it right. Shortz included the word beaner in a puzzle few years ago. It is a football legend for a ball that hits the batter’s head. For hispanics, there’s a term also, as I did not know, an insulting term, he said. There was huge anger over that.


Even Sharp, one of Shortz’s biggest critics, said that Shortz changed the New York Times for a whole lot of fun. He moved away from being a test about arcane knowledge, instead of throwing away a jolly-oriented puzzle.

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Although crossword constructors and solvers are overwhelmingly left-wingShortz surveyed attendees of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in March 2017 and found that approximately 90 percent voted for Clinton. there’s no consensus between editors, podcasters and solvers on what should be included in a puzzle.

How do constructors decide what is inside and what happens? Those who construct his puzzles were published in The New York Times and The New Yorker, but don’t even know the truth. It becomes a whole list of judgment calls. Is that slang term offensive? Is that world leader simple, or so toxic that you wouldn’t even mention? Berry said.

Although there are some solutions that the constructors and solvers all agreed were objectionable, such as racial slurs, the community is divided on other types of clues. Berry thinks that mainstream crosswords shouldn’t have Curse words, certain bodily functions-notorious figures like Harvey Weinstein are intended to be entertaining, and that stuff generally isn’t. However, not accepting these terms is also a political option. Some people think curse words and physical functions are a lot of fun. That’s why people debate for the best. While Berry won’t place no traces of nazis in his puzzles, not everybody feels that way.


If it is not offensive, shortz will include Nazi. Some times I saw Nazis in the puzzle. But generally I guessed that he was Afraid to the Lost Ark villain The sexy man told me. In spite of a reference to the notorious Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, he declined a puzzle. He found that, just like me, that I never wants that in the New York Times crossword, Shortz said.

The Times created a diversity panel that reads every crossword to look for terms that could cause harm. The standard of nowis, used in context, is the answer, something that is likely to offend people, said Shortz.

Recently, the panel flagged pigs because their clue was prank. Among the people they objected to that because they suggested a fat shaming, according to their mind. And I went to dictionarygluttonous because there’s basically someone who overeats. He said it isn’t a matter of dexterity. That’s what he says. But he took out the word so as to avoid insulting readers.

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While Sharp believes Shortz and The Times haven’t gone far enough. Last year, he posted a link to an open letter to the now Times puzzle executive director asking that women and/or non-binary puzzle lovers comprise at least half of the Wills test solving team and all its editorial staff were more diversified. (Noting in the letter that the Times regularly had more than half of its creators not male, but wrote in her letter urging that there should be a formal policy).


The constructor is quite a men-only form, said Taussig. He’s sure half of the constructors he publishes are women or non-binary. More diversity means that the Puzzles are now focused on different material, he said. This includes fewer sexist terms as well as questions like that of director Ava Duvernay.

This year Taussig published a non-binary themed puzzle by a non-binary creator. He received an angry letter and lost some subscribers, but many people loved it. The Times recently pushed for more diversity. The paper announced a crossword constructor diversity fellowship on January 10, 2022, which will help constructors from underrepresented groups like men, men and women, and the L.G.B.T.Q. community. Shortz is one of the fellowship members.

Donald Trump is more contentious than non-binary creators or nazism, who is a verboten in a lot of crosswords and has only appeared twice on The Times (and once since he was elected president) since his 73 showings (to be fair Obama was twice a term president, but still). This isn’t like censorship, it’s about what is fun. I wonder whether or not there is any way to draw Donald Trump into a puzzle and turn it into fun, said Taussig, who shies away from taking any clues that would hurt the reader off of the game’s bubbles. Yet dictators like Mao and Idi Amin often appear across the crossword, without any outcry.

Why is it okay to have other dictators as well, as Hitler, who also murdered millions of people? How directly did you become involved in mass murders? asks Neipris.


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IDI has been an answer twice since Shortz began to fix the puzzle, most recently on July 5 of this year. The former Times editor said that he didn’t allow Idi Amin to be in a puzzle because he was a bad person, Shortz said. Everyone loves to watch Idi on a puzzle nowadays but sometimes he’s a fixer, so that it’s all right. Sharp notes that few words are three letters beginning and ending with I, but he thinks there’s another reason for Amin’s popularity. It’s European biasIts people who’ve got no experience of dictators in Africa. They could look at their names and think of them as words.

What it is like to think of Hitler is hard to make, even though, like Sharp said, as for six letters and ends in ER the word HITLER would have helped some constructor but nobody wants to think about Hitler when they’re doing their puzzle. Adolf recently appeared as an alternative to the popular baby name March 12, 2017.

Mao is used equally for constructors. 75% of the entries are five or fewer letters. Giving up MAO makes construction harder, while giving up DONALD TRUMP doesn’t take any of its effects, said Berry. Another reason is that Maos reign was reclaimed back in history, so there’s a layer of anarchists about Donald, which are still impatient and visceral.

It is not everyone’s concern with what the name of Trumps is in a puzzle. Hayley Gold whose book on crossword culture wars, Letters to Margaret will be published this year said. If someones a prominent figure in the world, I personally believe that fair game is a puzzle. And this doesn’t mean you support their views necessarily.


Can a puzzle truly be apolitical in such a politically charged country?

Berry thought that. Discretions should not be purely opinions. Most clues will have a neutral character, and I think it’s a good idea, he said. As much as he likes to be apolitical, his views go into play. A bland factual clue like the old four-star admire Rachel for LEVINE makes a quiet statement for inclusivity. Since I find it difficult to write a neutral clue for NRA or MAGA, instead I don’t run a habit of ignoring those entries.

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Most constructors don’t think NRA is a problem, which has been claimed to be 569 times in the Times, but not in reference to the gun group. The NRA was in brief for the most recent meeting on December 8, 2021. MAGA hasn’t yet appeared.

Gold warns that criticism of crosswords sometimes goes too far. In my experience, Will Shortz was the tallest guy in the world. I hate all the articles that tried to slander him and make it look like, Oh, that old white dude. And he tried keeping rid of evil and hatred. Change is slow.



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