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VI. Crossword Errors?

Here's a list of some errors and questionable answers I think I've caught in New York Times crosswords.  Many of them are trivial, and some are, I think, somewhat interesting.  If you believe Will Shortz, and you should, most of them aren't errors at all.

(Since I posted the crossword essay section of this Web site back in September of 1998 I've found myself corresponding with a few NYT crossword puzzle authors, so I'd just like to state right now that I list and discuss the purported errors below not for the purpose of denigrating anyone but rather for entertaining everyone.  I hearby promise that if I ever decide I myself am flawless, I'll immediately let you know right here in this space.)

NOTE: The dates for the next several purported errors below refer to the date the puzzle appeared in my newspaper, which dates are six weeks behind for the Monday through Saturday puzzles and one week behind for the Sunday puzzles. Thereafter they revert to chronological order.  Also, a few of these early ones are out of chronological order.

A. In the January 8, 1997, puzzle the clue for 47-Down is "2-D."  The answer is LINEAR.  No matter how I try to define the clue and the answer, I can't reconcile the apparent error.   I'm pretty sure "2-D" refers to "two-dimensional," and I'm pretty sure that which is linear is one-dimensional, or 1-D.  As I understand it, that is two-dimensional which has exactly two dimensions, e.g., a triangle or a quadrilateral or a circle.

1-D has only length, producing a measurement of linear distance. 2-D has only length and width, producing a measurement of area. (And 3-D has length, width and depth, producing a measurement of volume.)  I just don't understand how the answer LINEAR can be reconciled with the clue "2-D."

B. The answer to 13-Down in the October 16, 1991, puzzle is PRES, and the clue is "C.I.N.C."  I just plain don't get this relationship.  The closest I can come is that PRES is an abbreviation for "president," but what "C.I.N.C." means is beyond me.

Now, for your information, "CINC" does mean Commander in Chief, as in the military designation CINCPACFLT, pronounced "singk pack fleet," which refers to whoever happens to be the Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet of the U.S. Navy at the time.

But the clue is "C.I.N.C.," with the periods, so I don't see how that can mean Commander in Chief.  I mean, what does the "N" stand for?  Maybe this is like "You must show two forms of I.D. to buy cheap beer."  What does the "D" stand for?  Or how about T.V.?  On the other hand, how about HIV virus or ATM machine or PIN number or START talks?  Or SAT test?  Or a large bank around here, formally named United Missouri Bank, which is also formally UMB Bank?

C. The February 4, 1992, puzzle contains the answer NIKE to the clue "Winged goddess."  Now Nike was indeed a winged goddess, but the clue actually read, "Wiinged goddess."  (See, I told you some of these errors are trivial.)

But in that same puzzle appears the clue "U.N. member" for the answer USSR.  The problem, if it is one, is that the U.S.S.R. had ceased to exist the year before.

Top of Crossword Errors page

D. This is another one where I don't know whether it's an error or I'm just not getting it.  The clue in the May 31, 1994, puzzle is "Confirmation slaps," and the answer is ALAPAS.

E. In a 1990 puzzle the answer to the clue "Having a split personality" is given as SCHIZOID.  Now, I realize that the lay meaning of schizophrenia is that of a person with a split personality, but the psychiatric diagnosis of that term simply does not include, in any sense whatsoever, the idea of a split personality or multiple personalities.  I suspect the erroneous relationship arises from the term "schism," which does indeed imply a sort of split.

F. In the May 5, 1994, puzzle the clue for 55-Down is given as "Paleozic, e.g." (The answer is ERA.)  This is certainly a trivial error, but, as I say, there are so few of them that even this slight mispelling of "Paleozoic" is noteworthy.

G. A similar error occurred -- one in which a letter is dropped from the end of a word -- in the clue for 38-Down in the October 28, 1994, puzzle.  The clue is given as "Follows hostiley" instead of "Follows hostilely."  (The answer is DOGS.)

H. Only two days before, in the October 26, 1994, puzzle, the clue for 30-Across is given as "Repetitious," and the answer is TATA.  I can only only assume that the clue is missing a word or a phrase at the end.  Perhaps it was meant to read "Repetitious goodbye" or "Repetitious words of parting" or some such thing, but as it stands the relationship doesn't make sense to me, or, at best, it is way out of character for New York Times crossword puzzle clue-and-answer relationships.

I. A similar error occurs in the December 3, 1997, puzzle, in which the clue for the answer RUPP is given as "Winningest N.C.A.A. basketball."

Which reminds me: Occasionally a clue will start at the bottom of a column and finish at the top of the next.  If a clue isn't making sense and it's at the bottom of a column, take a look.

J. 53-Down's clue in the May 6, 1996, puzzle reads, "Amo, amas," with no dashes or anything else following.  The answer is AMAT, as it should be, but clearly the clue was rendered wrong.

K. The June 30, 1998, puzzle contains the clue "Poly- ___."  The answer is SCI, but I'm pretty sure the term political science is shortened to "poli-sci," not "poly-sci."

L. On March 18, 1998, the answer to the clue "Canadian ----" is GEESE, but, as any hunter knows, they're properly referred to as "Canada geese."  In fact, apparently it's somewhat of a sore point with them (the hunters, not the geese).

M. In that same puzzle the clue for the answer IMAGES is "They're sometimes spitting."  (The same error appears in the December 27, 1994, puzzle in a different form.)

Now, you're probably thinking, "So what?  It's a reference to the idiomatic phrase 'spitting images.'"  But in fact the phrase "spitting images" is itself wrong, or at best it's barely defensible.  The phrase does refer to two people who look like each other, but the original version refers to a "spit," which is a sort of ghost.  The original phrase is and still should be "spit and image," as in "She's the spit and image of her grandmother."  "Spitting image," if you think about it, just doesn't make sense.

You know what else doesn't make sense that we all just kind of accept without thinking about it?  The answer is Neil Armstrong's famous first words on the moon.

Here's what he said: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."  That sounds right, doesn't it?  I mean, that's how you remember it, and it makes sense to you, right?  Just like "spitting image" sounds right and makes sense?  (Just as the illiterate but familiar "I could care less" should, of course, be "I could not care less.")

Well, the fact is that on that day, July 20, 1969, when Neil Alden Armstrong stepped onto the moon and spoke, he screwed up.  He simply did not speak the words he intended to speak.

What he intended to say was, "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."

But if you've more or less grown up with the words he did say in your head, and if you've never questioned them, then you might have difficulty realizing why that crucial article "a" was necessary.  You see, without it the term "man" and the term "mankind" mean the same thing, which, at best, renders the sentence much less impressive.  It's as though he had said, "That's one small step for humanity, one giant leap for humanity."

In the first clause he meant to refer to himself, a single humble representative of all of mankind, but he just plumb-bang got it wrong by leaving out that "a."

(Over the years Armstrong has persistently avoided responding except noncommittally when asked about what he said.  You can listen to an eight-second, 91-kb wav file if you want to see for yourself, and you can read the Snopes discussion about it HERE.)

Top of Crossword Errors page

N. Here are several mistakes in short order. 

  • On the 26th jazz pianist Chick Corea's name was rendered in the clue as "chick."  I know he's one of those pathetically gullible Scientologists now; has he also gone e.e. cummings on us and no one told me?
  • On the 27th the clue for 55-Across was rendered as "amphitheater spot" (Answer: TOPROW).
  • Also on the 27th the clue for 32-Down was rendered as "shore dinneer" (Answeer: SCALLOPS).

That's three capitalization errors and one misspelling in two consecutive days -- not to mention the even more rare event of two errors in the same clue -- which make these two puzzles extraordinary.

O. In a January puzzle the 40-down clue reads "With-20 Across, an English novelist."  If you follow it through you realize it should have said, "26-Across," not 20-Across, unless you think there's a famous English novelist named Angus Meaning.  The real answer is Angus WILSON.

P. On January 26, 1998, the clue to 9-Down was the single word "Internet."  The answer was WEB.  If you're reading this document online from this Web site, you already understand why the author of this clue got it wrong.

I'm pretty sure this error arose from the author's ignorance of the Internet.  She assumed that the World Wide Web and the Internet are the same thing, whereas you and I know that the Internet includes e-mail and IRC and Telnet and FTP and Usenet newsgroups and Listserv and I can't even remember what else.

Q. The clue for 52-Across in the December 30, 1997, puzzle -- the answer to which is LINDA -- is "One of the."  (Maybe the clue was supposed to be "One of the true and loyal friends of Monica.")

R. The clue for 19-Down in the February 9, 1994, puzzle is "Shoots an average score," and the answer is PARS.   I happen to be an alleged golfer, and I can guarantee you that the stated par on a given hole (always 3, 4 or 5) or on a given course (almost always 70, 71 or 72) is not average.  Few non-professional golfers shoot anywhere near as good as par on average.   Indeed, par is defined as the number of strokes expected to be scored by an expert, which leaves out a good 99.44% of golfers.  Unless this clue and its answer refer to something other than golf, I think it's a questionable relationship.

I suspect the author and his editor are non-golfers, which might explain their ignorance.  I also suspect they got thrown off by the idiomatic phrase, "Par for the course," which does imply that which is average or, more accurately, that which is normal.

S. In the September 20, 1993, puzzle the answer to the clue "World's most populous city" is given as TOKYO.   According to the 1996 edition of Information Please Almanac, the population of Tokyo as of January 1993 was 8,112,000 and the population of Mexico City in 1989 was 19,479,000.

T. The clue for 42-Down in the December 26, 1997, puzzle is "Fly over the Equator," and the answer is TSETSE.  I cannot figure out why "Equator" is capitalized.

U. The clue for the answer REATA (a variant spelling of "riata," which means rope in Spanish) is given as "Rope used to hang banditos."  Although I admit I've checked in only five dictionaries, I cannot find the word "banditos" or "bandito" as a Spanish word or an English (or American) word, neither as a regular word nor even as a variant spelling.  The word is invariably spelled "bandido."

V. In that same puzzle (late January or early February, 1997) the clue for the answer IDOL is "What all the screaming's about?"  Now, I do understand and approve of the relationship as I've stated it, which is that the fans of an idol, such as a teen idol or a screen idol, are known to scream at his appearance.

The problem is that the clue doesn't actually read that way.   It reads "What's all the screaming about?"  In this rendering it is a simple interrogative phrased as such.  It is not one of those Cute Clues that ends in a question mark to alert you to the fact something fishy is afoot.  It is a straightforward question, and while the answer IDOL is appropriate, this form of stating a relationship is distinctly out of character for a New York Times crossword.  Indeed, I cannot remember ever seeing such a form before or since. 

Top of Crossword Errors page

W. In a puzzle whose date I don't know, the answer to the clue "First woman in space" was RIDE, who was indeed the first American female human in space.  Sally K. Ride, born May 26, 1951, lifted off aboard the space shuttle Challenger on June 18, 1983.

(It was this same orbiter vehicle that exploded 73 seconds after takeoff on January 28, 1986, killing the seven astronauts aboard.  It was the single most disastrous U.S. space flight to date, and nearly three years passed before the U.S. launched another manned space mission.  Then, on re-entry on February 1, 2003, carrying a crew of seven, the Columbia broke up at 12,500 miles per hour at 200,000 feet over Texas.)

In any case, the first Earthling woman in space was a cosmonaut, unless she's a cosmonette.  Valentina V. Tereshkova rode the Soviet Vostok 6 into an outer space orbital trip that lasted 70 hours and 50 minutes on June 16, 1963, so Val beat Sal by two days more than twenty years.

In case you're wondering whether anyone has joined the 225-Mile-High Club, I am too.  I can tell you that the first married couple to go into space together consisted of U.S.A.F. Lieutenant Colonel Mark C. Lee and Dr. N. Jan Davis.  They rode the 50th space shuttle mission, on the Endeavour*, which launched September 12, 1992.  According to an Associated Press report on a really long-distance phone conversation with President Bush The Admirabler, Dr. Davis said, "It's just the best up here.  We never want to come down."  I imagine Clinton, Bush's successor, would have found a double-entendre in there somewhere.

*In case you're wondering why an American vessel would use the British spelling, the space shuttle Endeavour is named after the first ship commanded by James Cook (1728-1779), a remarkable British explorer and astronomer who twice circumnavigated the globe.  Back then, under power of sail, if that meant a straight-line trip with no stops of trip of only one year, the math tells us he averaged about three miles an hour.

The space shuttles, under no power whatsoever except Newton's First Law, circle the Earth once every 90 minutes, or 16 times a day.  But since they're doing it from 225 miles up, they're covering 420,000 miles per day at 17,500 miles per hour.

Update of July 15, 2007: From The Kansas City Star.

X. For me the single most outlandish example of an undisputed error occurred in a Chicago Tribune puzzle.  I spent an inordinate amount of time just trying to get the first answer, and even longer getting a second one.  The clues seemed easy and many of the answers were short, but I just couldn't seem to make any progress.  After about half an hour I'd managed to wedge in no more than a half-dozen answers, none of which I was sure about, and by that time I had to get ready for work.  I was stunned, especially since the Trib's puzzles are notably easier than the Times's.

When I got home from work I thought, "OK, I must have been having a slow morning mentally, maybe from all that carousing at Rush-Division the night before.  I'm gonna' tackle this rascal again."  So I did, and after another five minutes I had added not one more letter.

The following morning I couldn't wait to see the answers, but what I found was an apology from a Trib editor saying they had somehow managed to rotate the entire answer grid a quarter-turn.

  

Will Shortz.  In November of 1998 the editor of the New York Times crossword puzzle stumbled onto this page about the purported errors above, just as you have, and he wrote me an e-mail about it, which you can read if you want to take a detour before coming back here.

Top of Crossword Errors page

  

New errors?

HEREHERE  From of San Antonio, on January 4, 1999:

I found an honest-to-God error in the NYT January 4 crossword as printed in the San Antonio Express-News.  The clue for 35-Down is "I agree" and the answer is HEREHERE.  A better clue would have been "Throw me the basketball!"

"Here here" is what a lot of people think is being said, when "Hear! Hear!" is what is meant.  In the early days of the British Parliament, members who agreed with the speaker would cry, "Hear him! Hear him!," rather like our current "Right on!" or "You said it!"  Over time, the cry was shortened to "Hear! Hear!"

Top of Crossword Errors page

LENYA  From , on August 4, 2000:

I know you won't see this one for a while because your puzzles are delayed six weeks, but the August 3, 2000, puzzle has a clue for 4-Down, "Austrian-born Tony winner, 1955," that is wrong.  The answer is LENYA but Lotte Lenya won her only Tony in 1956.

Top of Crossword Errors page

 

Now, here's my own new list of supposed errors.

Henceforth the dates shown are the correct ones, i.e., when the puzzle ran in The New York Times.

 

What newbies write on-line

FAQ

01/21/99
Top

For those of you who don't know, a newbie is a novice to computers in general or to a particular area of computer knowledge; for example, when you amble into Internet Relay Chat for the first time, you'll be a newbie there.  And the letters of the acronym "FAQ" (pronounced "fack") do form an abbreviation for the term "Frequently Asked Questions."

So, with that out of the way, my dispute is with who writes FAQs, or more directly, with what FAQs are.  I agree that newbies frequently ask questions, such as in a forum or a newsgroup, that the non-newbies have frequently been asked before.  That's only natural.  And what's also natural, after a certain number of repetitions of the same questions from newbies, is for some responsible member of that forum to decide to perform a public service by collecting those questions and their answers into a document that can be read online by the newbies.

It's that document, which often runs to several thousand words, that is a FAQ, so a FAQ is never "[w]hat newbies write on-line."

(Tip to newbies: If you're new to a chat channel or a forum or a newsgroup or a listserv, one of your first questions might be, "Is there a FAQ I should read?"  If there is, read it or risk riling the ruling regulars.)

The same situation arises in the puzzle of September 13, 1999, in which the answer FAQS is clued as "Queries on the Internet."  If the intended meaning of "FAQ" is as I described above, then this clue too is wrong; it should have been something like "Answers on the Internet."

 

Workshop machine

CIRCULAR SAW

06/08/99
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Although I do not claim that this is an outright error, I do think the answer should be clued differently if it is ever used again.

First, as to why it's not, strictly speaking, an error: One might find a circular saw (which we pretend carpenters call a "circ saw") in a workshop, and it is, of course, a machine.  (One might also find a pencil sharpener there, but never mind.)

I myself have a workshop in my basement, and I do not keep my Makita™-brand 7¼-inch circular saw there; I keep it in my garage or the trunk of my car.  I have used dozens of circular saws many hundreds of times to make cuts on perhaps three dozen job sites so far.  I've even taught a few dozen people how to use one safely and effectively.  (Here's why.)  In all the time I've owned a circular saw I have never once used it in my workshop.

I don't use my circular saw in my workshop because I have a table saw there.  A table saw was my first workshop machine purchase, as I imagine it is for many -- probably most -- workshop enthusiasts. 

The whole idea of a circular saw is that it is portable, that it easily can be carried to and from a job site (and from place to place on a job site) in one hand.  And while circular saws can, of course, be used in a workshop, I would guess that they are used in workshops about as often as are pencil sharpeners.  Indeed, I'm having a tough time right now thinking of a woodworking tool that's less likely to be used in a halfway-well-equipped workshop than a circular saw.

On September 21, 1999, Will Shortz responded as follows:

"Here's what the Encyclopedia Britannica says about circular saw: '...Sizes vary from portable hand-held electric-powered saws to bench saws to huge saws used to cut logs into lumber.   Although normally used to cut wood and wood products, circular saws can be designed to cut such other materials as plastics, ceramics, or metal.'

"So, yes, a circular saw can be a workshop machine."

So, now I learned something.  Well, actually, two things.   One is that there are circular saws other than the hand-held kind; the other is that I'm usually way too quick to jump to erroneous conclusions.

 

Middle figure

MEAN

09/02/99
Top

Unless I have misapprehended the relationship altogether, I think this is a questionable clue.  I assume that the term "mean" refers to the simple statistic whose longer expression is "mean average," and if that's the case then I question whether a mean is properly referred to as a middle figure.

In statistics there's a concept called measures of central tendency, which means (ha ha) a single number that represents a set of numbers.  There are three such simple statistics: mode, median, and mean.

The classic example for demonstrating these three common measures of central tendency is a set of students' test scores, so let's consider a really small classroom -- one with only five students -- where the scores, on a scale of 0 to 100, are as follows:

65, 95, 100, 65, and 75.

Mode.  The mode of a set of numbers is nothing more than the most common one.   In the set above, the most common test score is 65, because there are two of them and there aren't two or more of any other particular score.  (Here's a real example.)  Not all sets of numbers have a mode, and some have more than one.

As a measure of central tendency the mode can be useful or not, depending on the application.  For example, the mode of the test-score set 1, 1, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100 is 1, but clearly there were two dunces in the class.  On the other hand, if the numbers have no innate order then the mode is what you want.  For example, if the possible set of numbers consists of ten randomly ordered selections of wine, numbered 1 through 25, then it makes a difference if the wine-tasters' choices are 1, 2, 2, 2, and 25, because clearly wine selection number 2 is the most popular, regardless of what the median or mean is.

Median.  If there is a measure of central tendency that is most nearly equivalent to the clue "Middle figure," it's the one called the median.  The median is defined as the middle number in a set of ordered numbers.

In the students' scores example above, the median is 75, because either way you order the numbers, thus,

65, 65, 75, 95, 100,

or thus,

100, 95, 75, 65, 65,

you see that the median is 75, i.e., there are as many scores under 75 as there are over 75.

(If you're interested, if the number of numbers is even rather than odd then the median is further defined as being the average of the two equally middle numbers.  This also can produce useless results, as in the case of test scores like this: 0, 0, 100, 100.  The median is 50, because that's the average of the second 0 plus the first 100, but all four scores are as far away from 50 as they can be.)

In any case, the "Middle figure" here -- the median of 75 -- is not equal in any sense I can think of to the MEAN.

Mean.  The mean is the simple statistic meant by people, including statisticians, when they refer to an average.  You add up the numbers and divide by how many numbers there are.

The sum of the five test scores is 400, and 400 divided by 5 scores yields an average, or mean, score of 80.

(Incidentally, even if, for some reason, you decide to split the difference between the highest and lowest numbers to try to strangle out some version of a "Middle figure," thus,

65   +   [ ( 100 - 65 )  / 2 ]

the result is 82.5, which is also not equal to the mean.)

In any case, the MEAN of 80 is not, in any sense I know of, a "Middle figure."

Indeed, it is dangerous to assign much usefulness to any mean average you hear or read about unless you know a lot about the details, including the all-important elements of randomness and degrees of reliability.

Mr. Shortz's response was as follows:

"I do know the difference between mean, median, and mode -- and either mean or median, I think, can be defined as a 'Middle figure.'  For the numbers 1, 2, 5, and 8, the MEAN would be 4 -- and this is indeed a middle figure."

I guess Mr. Shortz and I just disagree on this one.   Fortunately for all of us, he's the editor and not me.

Update of January 12, 2002: In today's puzzle the word MIDDLES appears as the answer to the clue "Means."

 

Judge in 1996 news

ITO

12/07/99
Top

The constructor of this puzzle confirmed for me that his intended answer referred -- no surprise -- to Judge Lance A. Ito of the O.J. Simpson trial.

Here's a brief timeline:

  • June 12, 1994
    Orenthal James Simpson stabs and slashes to death Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman.  This was proved to the jury not just beyond a reasonable doubt but beyond a shadow of a doubt.
  • June 20, 1994
    Simpson is initially arraigned in Municipal Court before Judge Patti Jo McKay.  Judge McKay was presented with enough evidence to allow the criminal case to proceed.
  • June 30, 1994
    Preliminary hearings begin in Municipal Court before Judge Kathleen Kennedy-Powell.  At such hearings the defense and the prosecutor dicker to see whether a plea bargain is achievable.  Various disputes are raised and some are resolved.
  • July 22, 1994
    Simpson is formally arraigned in Kennedy-Powell's court.  He pleads not guilty, but he was not under oath, so while that was a lie it was not perjury.
  • July 22, 1994
    Chief Judge Cecil Mills announces that Judge Lance Allan Ito will preside over Simpson's criminal trial in the Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles, case number BA097211.
  • January 24, 1995
    Following six months of heavily televised and otherwise much-reported-on preliminary hearings and jury selection presided over by Judge Ito, the trial begins before the jury.
  • July 6, 1995
    The prosecution rests its case in chief.
  • September 22, 1995
    The defense rests.
  • September 26, 1995
    The prosecution begins its final argument.
  • September 27, 1995
    The defense begins it final argument.
  • September 29, 1995
    Judge Ito charges the jury. 

    This is an aspect of trials, particularly complex or serious ones, that too few people appreciate or even know about if they, as I do, get most of their knowledge about trials from television and movies and books.  The judge's charge to the jury takes place just before the jury retires to deliberate to a verdict.  And it takes place at every jury trial, unlike what you might think from TV.

    It's vital to the verdict, sometimes more important than the evidence itself.  In his charge the judge gives instructions to the jurors on how they must vote.  Not just guidelines, mind you, but commands, orders.

    Most criminal defendants and most civil defendants in the U.S. have a right to a trial by a jury of their peers, and the two functions of that jury, after all the evidence is presented and the lawyers have had their final say, are (1) to determine the facts and (2) apply the law to those facts to arrive at a verdict.

    The judge will explain to the jury how best to decide the facts, but he himself is not permitted to make judgments whatsover regarding those facts, i.e., it is entirely up to the jury to decide what really happened.  But it is not expected that any juror is an expert on the law, so the judge explains what the applicable law is and how jurors must interpret it.
     
    Jurors are expected to follow all of those orders, although it is certain that in some cases they do not always do so, which, it is presumed, can result in an unfair verdict.  For example, if a judge instructs the jury to give no mind to the fact the defendant did not take the stand to deny the charge but a juror decides to ignore that rule, that unequivocal command, the defendant might suffer unjustly.  Indeed, if it can be proved that a juror did not obey the judge's charge, a defendant might have grounds to appeal his guilty verdict.

    In complex cases the judge's charge to the jury can take not just a minute or so as you see in movies but many hours.  In fact, in many such cases the judge will issue certain instructions on paper, in the form of very specific questions to be deliberated on and answered by the jury, essentially a series of mini-verdicts.  "Do you find that Assertion A is true?  If so, is Assertion B true?  If A is is not true, is Assertion C true?"  This can go on for many pages.  (Oddly, and sadly, sometimes juries give answers that make it perfectly clear they didn't understand or chose not to follow the judge's instructions.)

    If the importance of the judge's charge to the jury is often given short shrift in books and movies, an even more important element in the process is given no shrift whatsoever, and that's the negotiations that lead up to the wording of the judge's instructions.

    In routine cases the instructions to the jury are always delivered by the judge the same way, using the exact same words.  Those words have been tested by previous appeals and have been found to be unassailable, and both lawyers are expected to know what those words will be so they can craft their arguments appropriately.

    But in all the other cases the exact words the judge uses are settled on by negotiation between the lawyers and the judge.  These negotiations can go on for not just hours but days, and they are, as I said, potentially the single most important element of a trial, even though they are always conducted behind the closed doors of the judge's chambers.  In important cases the lawyers are all the time, as the trial is going on, trying to figure out how best to word their arguments to the judge about how the jury instructions should be worded.  And, of course, judges in these cases know this.

    In these negotiations each lawyer presents her side of how the instructions should read, and of course the opposing lawyer disagrees with that version.  "I eventually proved Witness A's testimony was immaterial and should not have been admitted, so the jury should be instructed to ignore it."  "No, Judge, it was material as to consciousness of guilt."  "OK, how about this?" says the judge, and he writes some words that he thinks will pass muster if the case is appealed because his words allegedly weren't right.  This is a common reason for appeals -- just not getting the words to the jury instructions right.

    The two lawyers haggle it out, each trying to get the wording as biased as possible in her client's favor, and as they're doing so the judge is trying to balance the arguments so he can write the words that are most likely to ensure a fair trial.  While the lawyers are pulling and tugging at each word -- Is it "may" or "might"?  Is it "alleged" or "purported" or "supposed"?  What is "forethought"?  What is "intent"?  What is "negligence"? -- the judge is trying to figure how best to avoid making an error in those words that will give rise to a successful appeal.

    The exact words can make a difference, but we never get to see Perry Mason or Matlock make his arguments to the judge as to what they should be, despite their crucial importance to the trial's outcome.  This is particularly true in the case of criminal trials in which the defendant is found not guilty, because the state (of California in the case of O.J. Simpson) cannot re-try the double-murderer, er, the accused.

     
  • October 2, 1995, 9:16 AM
    The jury retires.
  • October 2, 1995, 2:28 PM
    After less than four hours of deliberation the jury returns its incredible verdict.
  • October 3, 1995, at 10:00 AM
    The verdict is announced.

Although Judge Ito was in the news in 1996 to some extent because of the post-trial commentary on his performance, the case against O.J. Simpson was dismissed on October 3, 1995, at 10:00 AM, nearly three months before even the beginning of 1996.  As I see it, a more accurate clue for 62-Down would have been "Judge in 1994 news," and an even more accurate clue would have been "Judge in 1995 news."

I confess to having had a jones for the O.J. trial, and I still do.   The timeline I show above came from a book about the trial that I just finished reading, and over the last four years I've read perhaps six others.  And I plan to keep on till I've read them all.  I was so fascinated that early on, when it became clear the whole thing would be televised, I had the cable TV company come out and install a jack in my office at home so I could work and watch at the same time, and I pretty much didn't go to my real office thereafter except on days when court was not in session.  In the evenings I watched the talking heads dissect the day's events, and I even watched late-night reruns of the trial that I'd watched only that very day.  I like good trials, especially big trials.

I remember the moment of the verdict.  My dear cousin Janice and my aunt and I were in a micro-brewery tavern in Lawrence, Kansas, having lunch, and of course the television set was on and tuned to coverage of the announcement.  I got up from our table to go stand in front of the TV when the time came.  Although I don't remember it, my dear cousin later told me that my jaw literally dropped when the clerk, Dierdre Robertson, said the words "Not guilty."  I do remember that I was thinking I had literally heard wrong, and I do remember turning around to a crowd of strangers behind me and asking, "What did she say!?"

Update of August 8, 2001: The answer ITO is given in today's puzzle to the clue "Name in 1995 news."

 

It may precede a stroke

FORE

12/02/99
Top

If this clue-and-answer refers to golf, I think it's an error, or at best questionable.  As I said above, I am an alleged golfer, so let me tell you what I think.

First, in golf if you think a ball you've struck, or stroked, might hit someone in the ball's flight path, it is traditional to yell "Fore" as a warning.

Second, and this is the important part, in the hundreds of rounds of golf I've played at so many courses all over I have never heard the yelling of "Fore" precede a golf stroke.  Invariably you yell "Fore" only after you've mishit a ball.   If you were to yell it before you hit the stroke, that would mean you knew ahead of time that there are people in the way of where your ball is aimed.  But if you know people are in danger, then you wouldn't hit to begin with.

Even if you're aiming at a spot you can't see, such as the other side of a hill or over a copse of trees, you would never swing away unless you knew the area was clear, i.e., you wouldn't just yell "Fore" and take the chance of beaning someone.  Where did I go wrong here?

If I had to come up with another complaint about the clue "It may precede a stroke," it would be the word may, which I think should be might, about which more elsewhere.

Since I posted this purported error I've learned from Will Shortz that, according to a discussion on the NYT crossword forum, there are golfers who do yell "Fore" first and then just bash away.  Who knew?  And which exact courses do they play on?

 

Like contracts

INKED

01/21/00
Top

Now, I understand that some contracts are inked, or signed, but certainly not all contracts.  As I see it this clue-and-answer relationship would be like giving the answer REPOED to the clue "Like cars."  Not all cars are repossessed, and not all contracts are inked.

Not only are not all contracts inked, most are not.  I'd estimate very roughly that not one contract in a hundred is signed, maybe not even one in a thousand.  For example, on my way to work I walk into a bakery, pick up a bagel, and pay a couple quarters; then I walk a bit farther to the newsstand and toss some more quarters into a dish and pick up a newspaper; then I walk down to the subway station and feed more quarters into the turnstile.  Boom, that's three contracts.  Now multiply that by what I would conservatively estimate to be upwards of a hundred such similar transactions a day in the United States alone and you have a lot of un-inked contracts.

And what about stock trades?  Except in extraordinary circumstances, every such sale or purchase of a security is an un-inked contract, and I'll bet there's an average of over a thousand of those a day too, at least if you count the whole world.  My point is that very few of these types of transaction are inked.

Offer and acceptance.  And all those transactions are indeed contracts.  A contract -- whether written or oral or neither -- is created whenever the principal elements of a contract are present.  All but two are unimportant here, and those two are called offer and acceptance.

If you say to me, "I'll sell you my giraffe for a hundred dollars," that's an offer.  If I say, "OK, I'll take her," then that's an acceptance of your offer, and thus a contract is born.

And, for that matter, it's no less enforceable than a written contract.  In any case, it's not a written contract that is or needs to be inked.

It's a car that hasn't been repossessed.

As a more common example, if you open the doors to your store for business wherein you display merchandise for sale, that's an offer.  You don't have to post a signed sign on the front door that says, "I'll sell you the stuff inside here for the marked price," and you don't have to say to the next customer at your register, "I hereby offer to sell you that giraffe chow for $35."

If I plop that tube of giraffe chow down on your counter and hold out some currency, that's my acceptance of your offer.  That's a contract in every sense of the word recognized by the Uniform Commercial Code.  It's a non-verbal, non-oral, and non-written contract

Written, oral, verbal contracts.   Incidentally, if there is a missing word in the clue as it appeared in my newspaper, and if that word is "verbal" -- as in "Like verbal contracts" -- then I would object to that too.  Verbal contracts are merely those that are in words, so both written and oral contracts are verbal.

Since I posted this purported error I have been informed by Mr. Shortz that "Not all contracts are inked -- but most of them are, at least figuratively."  This is why he is the editor and not me.

Update of May 15, 2003: The same sort of relationship occurs in today's puzzle.  The answer SIG (signature) is given to the clue "Contract necessity: Abbr."
  

Applied to Sigma Chi, say

RUSHED

01/25/00
Top

I think the relationship is a bit reversed.

I am a proud member of a fraternity (Hi! Hi! Hi! Phi Kappa Psi), and for a dollar I'll reveal how to perform our secret handshake.  For another moment of your time I'll reveal why I think this clue-and-answer relationship is backwards.

For those of you who don't know, social fraternities and sororities at colleges and universities engage in a process whose purpose is to recruit desirable candidates, almost always incoming freshpersons, for membership.  The candidates meet with the members, usually at a party hosted by the frat club.

That process is called rushing, and it is the act of courting candidates for membership.  It is not the process of applying for membership.   Indeed, the candidates are invariably referred to as rushees, implying that the "rushers" are doing the rushing.

Mr. Shortz informs me that at his fraternity, Pi Kappa Alpha, where he was a three-term rush chairman, the verb "rush" does indeed mean the act of the candidate in applying for membership, i.e., the candidates rush the frat club, which makes the frat club the rushee.  This surprised me, so please , in an informal survey I'm now taking, whether you have heard "rush" used only my way, only Will's way, or both.   No matter what the results, though, I was wrong to think this is an error.

  

Hail ___

A CAB

04/06/97
Top

Hail ___ (get transportation)

A CAB

04/06/97
Top

Smalltown, U.S.A., family, in the comics

KENTS

04/06/97
Top

One of the errors in this puzzle is a violation of a rule all NYT constructors follow, even if that rule is unwritten.  The other is an oops in fact.

  • The clue for 83-Across is  "Hail ___," and the answer is ACAB.  The clue for 9-Down is "Hail ___ (get transportation)," and the answer is the identical ACAB.
      
  • KENTS refers to the family that raised Superman as a boy.  Superboy was raised in Smallville.
     
    I suppose an argument could be made that the Kents lived in "Smalltown USA," meaning any typical small town in the U.S., but if that's it then I think the clue might have used the opportunity to educate us players by using the more specific geographical term.   After all, who knows when someone might run up to you all out of breath and say, "I'll give you a dollar if you can name Superboy's home town in two seconds"?

  

Hole goal?

PAR

03/23/00
12/08/02
Top

Here again, if this refers to golf then I question the relationship.  Lemme 'splain more.  A lot more, and for the last time.

Par, as I said above, is the score on any given hole expected to be scored by expert golfers, according to the rules and guidelines set forth by the United States Golf Association.  Before a new golf course opens the state or regional association of the USGA sends one or more experts there to rate each hole, to determine whether it should be a par 3, a par 4, or a par 5.  Generally, if a hole is longer than 250 yards it is a par 4 unless it's over 470 yards, in which case it's a par 5.  The exceptions arise when the hole has many, large bunkers or trickily placed water hazards or mandatory doglegs or extreme hills and the like.  If a material change is later made to a particular hole, it has to get re-rated.  The stated par on any given golf hole in the world is taken quite seriously by serious golfers, as it should be.

In any case, par is certainly not the goal.  Every golfer's goal is to go from tee to hole in the fewest possible strokes, and that is never par.   Par is defined as the number of strokes an expert golfer is expected to need to reach from the tee to the green plus two.

Expert golfers are expected to be able to land on the green of a hole less than 250 yards in one stroke, and then they're allowed two putts to get down.  On a par 4 experts are expected to reach the green in two strokes (a drive and an approach shot), plus two for putts.  On a par 5 experts are expected to reach the green in three, plus two for putts.

But not only do expert, professional golfers score under par on holes all the time, they really can't expect to win a big tournament or most small ones if they don't.  Even amateurs expect to score under par every so often, even hacks like me.

If you score one under par on a hole that's called a birdie.

If you score two under par, which is rare even among professionals, you've scored an eagle.

An eagle on a par 5 hole would be a 3, which means that you reached the green in two and sank your putt or that you sank your third shot from off the green (this is how I myself got my one eagle).

An eagle on a par 4 would be a 2, which means you reached the green in 1 and sank your putt or that you sank your second shot from off the green.

An eagle (two under par, remember?) on a par 3 means a hole in one, of course.

What about scoring 3 under par?  It's possible, you know.   It's not possible on a par 3 hole, obviously, but it is possible on a par 4: It means you hit the ball from the tee into the hole in one stroke!

Update of January 25, 2001: Andrew Magee, at the Phoenix Open, scored the first hole-in-one on a par 4 in PGA tournament history.  On the 17th tee Magee struck his shot while Tom Byrum was lining up his putt 333 yards away on the 17th green.  Magee's ball bounced twice and rolled onto the green, then bounced off the head of the putter Byrum was holding in his hands and went into the hole.

Albatri and condors.  Three under par is also possible on a par 5, but that is such an extraordinary event that it's like an unassisted triple play in baseball.  It means your second shot went in the hole from off the green or, even more unlikelily, that you reached the green in one and sank your putt.  Scoring three under par -- officially a double eagle -- is unofficially called an albatross.

If you see where I'm going here with this whole "Hole goal?" clue, you're wondering about the possibility of scoring a hole-in-one on a par 5.  Is it possible?  The answer is yes, and if you do it you've scored a triple eagle -- what's even more unofficially called a condor.

It is arguably the rarest event in the history of sport.

Pretty much the only way to do it (remember, you've got to drive the ball from the tee box at least 470 yards into the hole, whereas even the longest-driving tour players rarely reach 350 yards in one stroke) is under extraordinary conditions.  One example is a fairway covered with ice, as sometimes happens.  If you get lucky enough, you could smack a ball just right (I'm just making this up, you understand) so that it bounces and skids along the ice-covered fairway and travels far enough to go straight into the hole.  If you do do this, please send me the videotape, because otherwise I won't believe it.  If you didn't take any video of it just do it again with a film crew next time, and thanks.

In any case, PAR is never the "Hole goal" of golfers.   We all always want to sink our tee shots on par 3s (which is always possible), and we all always want to birdie or better on the par 4s and 5s.

If you stand back and regard the whole round, your goal is 18, i.e., 18 consecutive holes-in-one, which is the lowest score permitted within the Rules of Golf.

Is this absurd?  Yes it is, but the point is that your goal isn't ever par or any other specific number such as 72 or 4; your goal is the lowest score on any given hole at any given point.

Whether you're on the tee waggling confidently at your drive or you're already three over par and deep in the woods -- or anywhere in between -- your "Hole goal" is not par.  You might as well say that your "Hole goal" is a condor or an albatross or an eagle, or 54 under.

Looked at from the standpoint of your very next shot, you pretty much always want to sink it, regardless of what par is for that hole.  And even if you don't, such as when you're in a grove of trees and you realize you have to hit backwards to get out, your goal still is not par, it's still the lowest possible score, regardless of what that happens to be and regardless of what par happens to be.  PAR simply is not any more a "Hole goal" than any other number.

In golf, par is not a goal, it is a benchmark.  A benchmark is nothing more than an agreed-upon basis for other measurements to take place from, regardless of how far off that benchmark is from the average or the possible.  It is never a goal per se, even with a question mark.

In bowling the goal is 300, in baseball the goal is a no-hitter, but in golf there is no hole goal except, as I say, the lowest possible score, because par is merely a benchmark. 

If the clue must be "Hole goal?" then I think the answer should be either ONE or, arguably, EIGHTEEN.  Yipes.

Now, to be fair, it must be said that PAR is a useful answer to constructors, being short and consisting of commonly used letters.  So, the problem is to invent new clues for that same answer, and it's all too easy to turn to the realm of golf in that search.  But if PAR is to be the answer, I think "Hole goal?" can be improved upon.

 

District in the Philippines

ILOILO

06/06/00
Top

The country of The Republic of the Philippines (Republica ng Pilipinas) contains over 70 million people speaking 70 dialects.  There are 7,000 islands of various sizes, of which about 70% are uninhabited.

Back in 1978 when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer I lived or landed on 7 of the inhabited ones, one of which was Panay.  Panay is a major island, not a mere ait in the sea, and it is inhabited by four million people.
  
The Philippines consists of some 70 provinces.  A province in the Philippines is exactly the same as a state in the United States.  There are 50 states in the U.S. and there happen to be 70 provinces in the Philippines.  The borders of each province are well-defined, just as they are in the U.S.

The island of Panay is divided into four of those 70 provinces, and one of those provinces, or states, is named Iloilo.  The capital of that province happens to be officially named Iloilo City, often just called Iloilo.  ("Iloilo, Iloilo," then, is the same as "New York, New York," meaning the city within the state.)

Whether this clue refers to the province or the city, it is not true that Iloilo is the name of any sort of "district in the Philippines" any more than the city of New York or the state of New York is a district in the U.S.

I've spent time in Iloilo (and I will have some stories about it for you later), and I lived within seeing distance across the Guimaras Strait of the South China Sea from it for several months in Bacolod City, when the air was very clear, and I'm pretty sure I know whereof I speak.

I understand the constructor's need for a good clue, but "District in the Philippines" for ILOILO simply is not right, at least not the way I understand "district."

 

Part of the Dept. of Transportation

FHA

08/15/95
Top

I have tried several times to figure this one out, and I can't.

Maybe the answer FHA doesn't refer to the Federal Housing Administration, which since 1965 has been part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Or maybe the part of the clue that says "Dept. of Transportation" doesn't refer to the U.S. Cabinet-level department of that name (the DOT for short).

I do note that there is a federal agency under the U.S. "Dept. of Transportation" called the Federal Highway Administration, but they invariably refer to their agency using the initials FHWA (probably so as not to confuse themselves with the FHA).  Also, I applaud their resisting the temptation to spell it Federal HighWay  Administration.  I mean, who in his right mind would think ChickenNuggets are better than chicken nuggets, whatever they are?

Update of August 13, 2001: The answer to today's clue "Agcy. with loans for homeowners" is given as FHA.

 

Top of Crossword Errors page

Update of January 2004: This page lay fallow from the end of 1999 till now.  I was collecting errors all along, but only now have I finally brought them more or less up to date, considering that my weekday puzzles are delayed six weeks.

As you can imagine, I've received dozens of e-mails over the years about NYT crossword errors, and one in particular I recently received got me to thinking harder.

The correspondent, an expert in mineralogy, complained rather vociferously about a fine distinction between one form of mineral and another, and it re-dawned on me that if you try hard enough and if you are knowledgeable enough, you can find a lot more errors than if you don't and aren't.  This raises the question what standards a particular crossword franchise seeks to meet.  The range is from a pretty much "I don't care" attitude all the way up to perfection.  It's uninteresting to find or complain about errors in crosswords whose constructors and editors and fact-checkers don't care to begin with.

But The New York Times is widely regarded as the outlet where the editor and the test-players are the most critical, where crossword constructors care the most about getting it right to begin with.  And getting it right is expensive.  If you are willing to pay only a small amount for each puzzle you publish, you will not attract the most punctilious constructors.  And if you don't want to pay much for the staff time necessary to check the puzzles, you will of course let more errors slip through.

The NYT crosswords are, as any experienced aficionado knows, highly crafted compared to most, where the goal is perfection, where perfection is almost always achieved.

But it is not always achieved, which is why this list exists.

Games magazine.  Let me give you an example of how not to present puzzles on paper to paying subscribers.  I have subscribed to Games magazine off and on since before Will Shortz edited it, and in every single edition there's a page of letters from solvers complaining about errors in the previous edition.

And the editors seem altogether pleased to report these errors.  Indeed, they make a big deal of offering T-shirts to people who find them.  The editors of Games seem positively gleeful about all the errors that appear in their games, perhaps because they believe that page of letters generates additional sales.  And maybe it does.

But what does that say about what Games thinks of us, the playing, paying customers?

Less satisfying.  Instead, I think the editors of Games magazine should be ashamed that so many errors crop up.  My reason is not just a general disdain for sloppiness but because errors in puzzles make them less satisfying to play.  If you know ahead of time there's a significant likelihood an error exists, you start the puzzle with less enthusiasm, because you know that no matter how hard you try, no matter how much time you spend, no matter how much you know or how smart you are or how imaginative you are, you still might not be able to finish it.

When a month after it's published the editors admit they made a mistake in a many-month math puzzle contest, you feel less eager to take on another math puzzle contest lest after all your work you discover that it too contains an error.  The more likely there is to be an error, the less likely you are to believe you're in the hands of an expert who won't lead you wrong, who won't waste your time.  Games magazine, in my opinion, should spend more time eradicating errors and fewer column inches celebrating them.

Update of December 15, 2007: I got bored and bought another Games magazine yesterday, the February 2008 edition.  Today I turn to page 25 and find a puzzle titled "The Octopus" by D. J. DeChristopher.  Let me render the instructions for this puzzle verbatim.

At the center of this octopus grid is a W that begins each of the eight Tentacles answers, which extend from the center in eight different directions.  Each Tentacle is six letters long and should be entered in a straight line in the direction of the arrowsæeither up, down, sideways, or diagonally.  The Tentacles clues are in random order, as are the Across and Down clues, which have been grouped by answer length.  In addition to the W, three other letters have been placed in the grid to start you off.

Now, it seems like maybe some editor somewhere could have realized that the word "different" in the phrase "eight different directions" is unnecessary, but never mind that.  And it seems like some editor somewhere really should have caught the "arrowsæeither" congloperation, but never mind that too.

Here are three facts from the instructions that are quite plain:

1.  There's a W in the center of the grid.
2.  All eight Tentacle answers begin with that letter W.
3.  Three other letters are filled in, for a total of four. 

Here's the grid exactly as it appears.
 

When you see in a Games puzzle that the creator of Superman is said to be Stan Lee, you wonder what other errors you'll have to contend with.  Will some other puzzle contend that Lee won the Civil War?

Playing The New York Times crossword puzzles is so satisfying in part because you know you'll have to try so hard and know so much to find an undisputed error.

Update of November 2005: In case it needs saying again, the high-quality crosswords such as the NYT's that you should be playing are indisputably quite reliable as to sheer factual content.  If such a crossword says a certain person did a certain thing or a certain thing occurred at a certain time or that any other testable assertion is true, you may be nearly 100% sure it's accurate.  For example, if a NYT crossword says the period in Earth's history starting on January 1, 144 million B.C., was the Cretaceous as opposed to the Triassic, you may believe it.  If Goerge W. Bush is said to be a member of the same political party as Abraham Lincoln, you may believe it.  Let me give you an example of how hard the high-quality crossword constructors try to get it right.

For a few days this month on the premier mailing list used by crossword constructors, a dispute arose whether to spell a certain obscure nickname with one N or two.  Even if you've never seen or even heard of the TV show "Hawaii Five-O," you might well have heard the phrase "Book 'em, Dano."  But is his nickname Danno?  You can get the answer if you want to take a detour here.  (Also, that show spawned another well-known phrase: "Five-O" is sometimes used by criminals to refer to the police anywhere.)

 
So, as you saw from that page, a number of hours of a number of constructors' time went into thinking about and researching and debating a question whose answer is about as unimportant as one can imagine.

So imagine if that much effort went into getting Danno right how much more goes into getting more important facts right.  As you have seen and will continue to, this list of errors rarely alleges an outright and indisputable misstatement of verifiable fact, such as that Springfield is the most common U.S. city name or that Fairview isn't.

 

White's opposite

YOLK

03/25/01
Top

I'm not sure the yolk of an egg is the opposite of the white.  "White's other half" makes sense.  "White's moiety" works.

But to be opposite is to be in some sense directly contrary.  If there is no quality of being contrary, then no opposite can exist.  There's no opposite of giraffe or Abraham Lincoln or corn cob.

Darkness, on the other hand, has an opposite.  The essence of darkness -- indeed, the only quality we know it has -- is the absence of light.  The idea of darkness is directly contrary to the idea of light.

North has an opposite.  The idea of north is directly contrary to its opposite, the idea of south.  Not 175 degrees, not 182 degrees, but precisely 180 degrees away.  The very idea of northness -- the only thing we know about it -- is its oppositeness to the idea of south.

There's nothing obviously contrary about an egg white relative to its yolk.  They are simply two parts of a two-part object.  Would you say the wood in a golf pencil is the opposite of the lead?  Would you say the syrup in a snow cone is the opposite of the ice?  Would you say the opposite of an island is the water?

I know this is silly, but you'd be surprised how many people of different ages and education levels fall for it:

How do you spell joke?
J-O-K-E
How do you spell poke?
P-O-K-E
How do you spell the white of an egg?

 

Magazines have them

ARMS

04/29/01
Top

Unless I'm completely misunderstanding this clue-and-answer relationship, I think magazines do not have arms so much as they have food for arms.  Arms such as rifles and flare guns are stored in an armory.  A magazine is where the bullets and flares -- the ammo for the arms -- are stored.

 

Unhealthy part of cigarettes

TAR

04/30/01
Top

As I explain here, the word should be unhealthful.

  

Part of a prof
essional's
home/office

PRIVATE ENTRANCE

05/05/01
Top

Author/poet ___ Bates

ARLO

05/05/01
Top

Forget about the doubly-bad hyphenation as it appears in my paper.

My complaint in both clues is with the slash.  

Why in the world was the slash used?  That ever-confusing slash, so often used and so rarely useful, need not and should not be there at all.  It should instead be replaced by the word it represents.

In the first example, the clue might refer to part of a professional's home office, i.e., an office at the professional's home.  Or the clue might refer to part of a professional's home or his office, implying there are two private entrances.  Which meaning is intended is unclear, which is exactly the point.

As to the slash between "Author" and "poet," it too is unnecessary and pointlessly confusing.  Would the clue have been any less clear if it had read, "Author and poet ___ Bates"?  Would anyone even remotely familiar with English think it meant "Author Bates and some other person who's a poet named Bates"?

I also think it's a nice break, despite the fact I've never heard of author and poet Arlo Bates, to see ARLO clued in some way other than in reference to Arlo Guthrie.  Appropriately, this obscure relationship appeared in a Saturday puzzle.

 

Play dirty against an N.H.L. newcomer

CHECK THE
KINGS' ROOKIE

06/03/01
Top

This one requires a bit of explanation to get to the nub of the error.  The theme of this Sunday crossword, titled "That Is Extra" (i.e., get it?), is that to each normal-seeming theme answer is added the two-letter pair "ie."  Book of the month becomes bookie of the month, hot pink becomes hot pinkie, and so on.  You also need to know there's an NHL team called the Kings, which I didn't know myself till I checked.

So, the upshot of the relationship is that checking a hockey player is playing dirty, which I think is not true.

 

Forthright

OPENLY

06/12/01
Top

Forthright is an adjective, openly is an adverb.

  

Louisville landmark

RUPP ARENA

07/15/01
Top

It turns out Rupp Arena is in Lexington, KY, well over 50 miles away and not even close to being a far-flung suburb.  Also, I find it mildly interesting that two of the relatively few substantive errors in NYT crosswords since late 1997 have involved Adolph Rupp, a name I have not otherwise heard or read, as far as I know, even once in my whole life.

 

Shakespearean setting

GLOBE THEATER

09/09/01
Top

I believe it should be theatre.

 

Track event

JAVELIN

09/15/01
Top

If the reference is to track and field, I believe javelin is a field event.

I've flang a real javelin a few times, and it's remarkable how far you can fly it once you figure out the basic technique.  I've also flang a real discus a few times, and that technique is a lot tougher, so it's quite satisfying when you can get all of your weight and your fingers precisely behind it at just the right moment in the momentum.  I've also pole vaulted a little a few times, and that's tougher still to master, believe me.

 

Editor's "let it be"

STET

09/26/01
Top

"Let it be" is a complete sentence, so I think the first word should be capitalized.

But I'm not sure, so I'll . . .

  

Get one's bearings

ORIENTATE

10/05/01
Top

The clue refers to getting oriented, as you would expect.  My only objection is that the word orientate also has a different meaning that the verb orient doesn't.  One meaning of orientate is to face to the east.  As I try to explain more than once on a non-crossword part of this site, we should not voluntarily give up a special meaning if we don't have to.  Having said that, I cannot think of a time in my life when I would need to use the special meaning of orientate, but I'll be on the lookout from now on.

 

Preplastic toy material

TINPLATE

10/06/01
Top

I don't think preplastic is a word.  With a hyphen maybe; without, no.

  

"Cómo __ usted?"

ESTÁ

10/09/01
Top

H-dos-O?

AGUA

07/31/03
Top

With one exception, this is pure, straightforward Spanish, both the answers and the clues.  The exception is that questions in Spanish not only end with a question mark, they also begin with a question mark, an upside-down one, like this

"¿Cómo __ usted?"

and this

¿H-dos-O?

Also, if you think about it, Spanish is much smarter than English in this respect.  In English you often have to wait till you get to the end of the sentence to see whether it's a question.  Spanish also uses an upside-down exclamation point, which English should also.

 

Frequent recipe words

ADD A

10/11/01
Top

While I agree the answer is correct for the clue -- "Add a stere of saffron," for example -- I object, at least a little, to such an extraordinarily ordinary pair of words.  There's nothing special about "Add a" in this context that I can think of.

If ADD A for this clue is an unobjectionable answer, why not any other two-word phrase?  RUN A, TIE THE, THE AX, AN AX, TO THE, IF A, A LOT, AN OCEAN, A SCAD -- the list goes on almost forever.

I also understand that if the constructor and the editor agree it's worth it, it's OK to use such an answer when the resulting puzzle would otherwise be significantly less satisfying overall or rejected outright.

 

Crescendos

PEAKS

10/26/01
Top

Strictly speaking, in music a crescendo is a passage in which the volume of sound starts quiet and slowly grows to loud, so peaks are merely the ends of crescendi.

 

Sound of a dud

PHFFFT

11/17/01
Top

The relationship is obvious, of course, but I do question whether PHFFFT has appeared anywhere in print except in this puzzle.

I will also note that this puzzle yielded not one but two Cute Clues, so maybe the occasional contrived spelling is OK.

And for a somewhat less contrived spelling of the sound, see here.

Update of November 28, 2005: I just discovered by accident that there's a movie titled "PHFFFT."  So please hit your brain's pause button, then rewind and erase this putative error, then fast-forward to the next one.

 

Lower

SCOWL

11/24/01
Top

If the clue were "Lower the brow" or some such thing I'd get it, but as it is I don't.

Update of April 26, 2005: Thanks to a reader more knowledgeable than I am, I learned that this clue is correct as it stands.  To lower is to, among other things, frown or scowl.  I had heard of a lowering sky, which I assumed meant a sky that darkened, just as a countenance can.  But I also never knew that a sky that lowers rhymes with powers.

 

Poli follower

SCI

12/06/01
Top

First, earlier on this list I mentioned the answer POLYSCI, with a Y instead of an I.

Second, you'll note that in that clue there was a hyphen, i.e., the clue there reads exactly as follows.

Poly- ___

If it's poly-sci then shouldn't it be poli-sci, not polisci?

 

Adds and/or subtracts

EDITS

01/26/02
Top

I wish again to complain about the unnecessary use of the slash.  Not just here in NYT crosswords but everywhere.

The use of a slash between "and" and "or" is not as objectionable as it is in so many other uses, which I've disparaged elsewhere on this site, but it is still unnecessary in the context of this clue.

The answer EDITS would have been no less correct if the clue had read, "Adds and subtracts."

And the answer EDITS would have been no less correct if the clue had read, "Adds or subtracts."

The use of the slash in the clue is not only unnecessary it is, worse, confusing.  I believe some/most people who use slashes shouldn't, and this certainly/maybe includes the constructor and/or editor of crossword puzzles.

As a writer, using a slash where you can't immediately figure out the difference between "and" and "or" is choosing ease and speed over trying a little harder, and I think we all owe our readers better.  As a speaker, using "slash" this way is right up there with making finger-quotes in the air. 

I think the best advice is this: "Clarifies and/or" = EDITS.

Update of November 3, 2002: In today's puzzle the clue for NANCI is "Folk/country singer Griffith."  What benefit of using a slash is worth confusing the editor/solver for even the fleetingest of moments?

Now, take note: In the above paragraph the slash meant "and" in the first instance and "or" in the second.

Update of November 10, 2002: In this puzzle the clue for FORE AND DAFT is "What a nutty golfer calls/is called?"  Here again, the slash is pointless and confusing.  It's a quick and easy way of avoiding having to think through and then accurately express what is really meant.  I don't know whether the constructor meant for the slash to stand for and or or, but that, dear reader, is exactly the point.

 

Chemical-free

NATURAL

02/04/02
Top

I have long objected to the use of the term chemical as though it implied something unhealthful or in some other vague way something bad.

Here's a test.  Point at something.

Whatever you pointed at is made of chemicals.

Try again, this time trying harder to point at something that isn't made of chemicals.  Take your time.

Whatever you pointed at this time is still made of chemicals.

Try again.  Yep, chemicals.

Every object or substance in the universe is the result of chemical processes, including Red Dye no. 2, mother's milk and tofu.

Including disulfates, monosodium glutamate and organic vegetables.  Including spent nuclear fuel rods, virgin forests and B-vitamins.  Including the air you live in, Mars, and a Mars bar.  Including nitrites and nitrates and Evian water.

Every single thing you can possibly point to, whether it's large or small, near or far, is made of chemicals, and the term "Chemical-free" should not mean "natural" as this answer implies.

I realize it does often mean that, I'm just saying it shouldn't.

Now, point at something you regard as "natural."  Or, if you can't actually point at any such thing right now, just imagine it.  Whatever it is, it's made of chemicals.  Not only is organic produce made entirely of chemicals, so is everything other object or substance in the universe, so what differentiates that which is natural from that which is not?

 

Date with a dr.

APPT

02/06/02
Top

APPT means, of course, appointment, but the abbreviation for doctor should be capitalized.

 

Voters' problem

APATHY

02/07/02
Top

If my second take on this relationship is correct then I suppose it's not an error.  If by "problem" is meant that those who do bother to vote are apathetic about studying the candidates and pondering on the issues, then this is OK if not exactly obvious.

But if my first take on the meaning of the relationship is correct, then the clue contradicts itself.  If by "apathy" is meant an unwillingness to stir oneself to get to the polling booth and punch some chad, then I would point out that it's the non-voters whose apathy is a problem.

 

Brawny fellers

APEMEN

04/05/02
Top

If the clue had been "Brawny fellows" then this relationship would make immediate sense and wouldn't have caught my eye at all.

There must be some reason the term fellers was used and not fellows.

Perhaps fellers was used as a folksy way of saying fellows.  "Yep, Pa, it was them three fellers over there by the schoolmarm's desk what stole my lunch pail."  If this is the case then the answer makes sense, but one still wonders why the folksy version, fellers, was used at all.  I mean, it's not like apemen spoke English.

What I really suspect is that "fellers" refers to those who fell trees, for which the answer APEMEN makes no sense.

But the answer AXEMEN does.  Indeed, it not only makes perfect sense, it does not require any strained explanation of why the exact word fellers was chosen.

I can't quite figure out how this could have happened, because if the answer to "Brawny fellers" really is AXEMEN, then the answer to the clue "Encounters trouble" is as follows:

GETS INTO A XICKLE

 

Nonprofit's U.R.L. ending

ORG

05/14/02
Top

This isn't really an error, it's more a question of style.  I think pretty soon the abbreviation for Uniform Resource Locator will become universally dotless.  Indeed, I think it pretty much has.  Plain old URL is much easier to type.

  

Muddleheaded-ness

DAZE

06/10/02
Top

The relationship is fine, but the clue is rendered with a hyphen where there shouldn't be one.

Also, I note with apathy that PAR in this puzzle ("Scores to shoot for") has again been used, in my narrow-minded opinion, incorrectly.

 

It's just north of the equator

SÃO TOMÉ

07/27/02
Top

This relationship is fine too, but equator in the clue is rendered wrong.

Why?  Because equator should be capitalized, that's why.

 

Burgles

ROBS

08/28/02
Top

Assuming burgles means the same as burglarizes, burglary and robbery are not the same.  In both cases a criminal steals something, but the distinction can mean the difference between a year in jail and ten years in prison.  Burglary is stealing from premises that are unoccupied.  Robbery is stealing that puts humans at risk.

 

Goalpost parts

CROSSBARS

09/05/02
Top

The crossbar of a goalpost is the piece that runs horizontally, and there is, in my experience, always exactly one.  The clue should have been "Goalposts' parts."

Also, the answer isn't really CROSSBARS.  It is exactly as follows.

+BARS

This is one of those rebus puzzles I discuss here.

 

Flintstones pet

DINO

09/18/02
Top

There is no person or character named Flintstones.

Either the word Flintstones should be rendered in italics or in double quotes -- to signify it refers to the television show and not the characters -- or it should use a possessive apostrophe, either "Flintstone's pet" or "Flintstones' pet."

I'm not sure, but this might be similar to the sort of error you see so often on people's houses and inside them, where they refer, on a plaque or something, to their name.

  • This is the house of the Dunn's
  • Welcome to the Rose's

 

Suffix with Rock-

ETTES

10/12/02
Top

According to my parsing, the full answer to this would be exactly as follows.

ROCK-ETTES

But the world-famous female kick-dancers who perform at Radio City Music Hall in New York are invariably referred to as the Rockettes, with no hyphen.

 

Lean on me

CANE

11/01/02
Top

A few clues of this nature, very few, have appeared in NYT crosswords over the years, so I'm not picking on this one in particular.  Other examples I'm just now making up would be "Rub it" = BOTTLE, "Eat me" = PEACH, and "Lay on it" = BED.

If the clue were, "You can lean on it," then it would be of the more normal construction.  It would be similar to "They may run on gas" = OVENS and "It may have an E.I.K." = APT.

But the clue as written is expressed in the form of a command, a spoken sentence.  It's what grammarians call an imperative sentence.  The command to lean on something, whatever it might be, is not equivalent in any way to a cane.

Update of May 21, 2003: Two nearly identical examples appear in today's puzzle.  51-Across is "Sit on it" = RUMP, and 52-Across is "Sit on it" = PERCH.

However, note that the perch answer might be less wrong than the rump answer.  The reason is that perch can also be a verb, which means the clue may indeed be regarded as the imperative it really is -- a command to someone to be seated.  And one could issue that command by saying, "Perch," butt not, of course, by saying "Rump."

The only problem with this excuse is that the clue should be rendered inside double quotes, to signify it is speech, so it would still be a little wrong.

And now that I think about it, bed can also be a verb.

If you have an explanation why clues of this form should not be regarded as erroneous, or if you agree with me that they are jarring and confusing and unnecessary and wildly out of character and will likely open the floodgates to more such odd relationships and should be used even more sparingly, please before , because I'm not sure.

 

Awacs tool

RADAR

11/08/02
Top

I think it should be AWACS.  I have never seen the acronym for Airborne Warning And Control System rendered any way except in all caps.  If it's Awacs, then isn't it also Usa or Un?

 

One who's always buzzing off

BEE

11/13/02
Top

This one might not be wrong, but I think it is.

If the clue refers to Andy Griffith's Aunt Bee (or some other human named Bee) then the term "who's" is acceptable.  But if that's the case then I don't get the clue.  I don't recall that Aunt Bee had a penchant for buzzing off, and I can't think of anyone else named Bee.

However, it seems more likely the answer refers to the apian insect, in which case I think the clue should have read "One that's always buzzing off"

If it's OK to use who instead of that in reference to some random insect then why not these?

  • That tree is the one who is always dropping coconuts on people's heads.
  • That chair is the one who's always breaking when Aunt Bee sits on it.
  • That sock puppet is the one who's always getting lost under the sofa.

Update of July 15, 2003: Today's puzzle contains the clue "Whom a coach coaches," and the answer is TEAM.  Although the team is surely made up of a number of persons, the team is not a person, so the clue should read, "What a coach coaches."

 

Result of Sammy Sosa wearing a tight shoe?

CORN ON THE CUB

11/17/02
Top

This is rather a fine point of English usage, but since this type of construction has always been rendered correctly before, I thought it worth a mention.  Strictly speaking, it should be Sosa's.

Wearing here is a gerund, which acts as a noun.  That noun -- the wearing of a tight shoe -- is possessed by Sosa, so he needs an apostrophe.

  

Hit man of the Year?

BEST OFFER

11/24/02
Top

Man should be capitalized, but either way it's a Cute Clue.

 

Restaurant listings

MENU

12/09/02
Top

I think the clue should be "Restaurant listing," singular.  A menu is a single thing.  Even if a particular menu has several lists on it -- such as salads, sandwiches and desserts -- the term menu is still singular.

 

Emergency situation

CODE RED

12/23/02
Top

As I see it, the clue should be simply "Emergency."  I cannot imagine the circumstances under which the word situation adds any information to the term emergency situation.  Similar examples are the weatherman's "rain activity" instead of just rain and "thunderstorm event" instead of just plain thunderstorm.  

Redundancy bad, non-redundancy good.

 

1960s doo-wop group that was a one-hit wonder, with "the"

EDSELS

01/25/03
Top

The expanded version of the answer would turn out to be exactly as follows.

the Edsels

I think it should be exactly as follows.

The Edsels

What I'm saying is that the clue should have ended with "with 'The.'"  The name of the group is "The Edsels," not just "Edsels."

Here's another one one week later.

BEE GEES -- February 1, 2003

The clue is exactly as follows.

"Tragedy" pop group, with "the"

Same complaint: The band is The Bee Gees.  You wouldn't say, "Tomorrow I'm going to see a concert by Bee Gees."

Incidentally, I did see one Bee Gee once, not in concert but in court.  Someone sued the band for stealing a tune, and it so happened the lawyer representing them owed me a favor, so he saved me a seat in the courtroom.  I can't remember which Gibb testified, but this was back in 1983.  I do remember Bee Gees won.

  

Naturally-lit room

SUN PORCH

02/23/03
Top

The hyphen in naturally-lit simply shouldn't be there.  For my sources on this, see here.

Update of March 30, 2003: In this puzzle appears the same sort of error.  The clue for RAMIE is "Easily-wrinkled fabric."

 

'20s locale

ATMS

03/01/03
Top

Assuming that 20s refers to twenty-dollar bills and ATM refers to Automated Teller Machine, I don't understand why there's an apostrophe in the clue.

 

Center of the eye

IRIS

03/10/03
Top

Looked at from the front, the anterior aspect, the center of the eye simply is not the iris.  It's the pupil, the dark circle in the very center, the part that is encircled by the iris.  No matter how much light you shine into a person's eye, the pupil will never shrink to a diameter of zero, so the iris can never be the center.

The iris is the colored part that's typically brown or blue or green.  To say that the iris is the center of the eye is to say that the center of a pencil is not the lead but rather the wood around it, that the center of a dartboard is not the bull's eye but rather some annulus outside it, that the center of an ear of corn is not the cob but the niblets.

If we consider the eye as a globe, the center from any vantage is a relatively vast ocean of goo called the vitreous humour, and that substance is certainly not the iris either.

 

Wedding count

RSVPS

03/22/03
Top

I think the clue should be "Wedding counts," plural.  "R.S.V.P." is the abbreviation for the French phrase "Répondez s'il vous plaît," which translates to "Reply, if you please."

The point, as not enough people I know know, is that according to the rules of etiquette R.S.V.P. means you should reply even if you will not attend the party or the christening or whatever it is.  Therefore, unless it so happens everyone who was invited to a wedding is planning to attend, the wedding count would consist of only those R.S.V.P.s that answered in the positive.

Also, please know that if your invitation says "R.S.V.P., please," what you're saying is "Reply please, please."

 

Lose keys, as a piano

GET HARD TO PLAY

04/20/03
Top

The only complaint is that, unlike the other six theme clues, this one does not end in a question mark as it should.  Among all the brands of crossword puzzle on the market today, the NYT's is regarded as a paragon of consistency and error-freeness.

In case it needs to be re-clarified, this is not a list of only the most boneheaded and egegriously wrong errors in NYT crosswords, it's a list of almost all of them I think I've found.

For there to be so few, and for so many of those few to be as insignificant as this, and for me to be wrong about so many to begin with are a testament to the care the constructors and the editor and the test players take to ensure the satisfaction of us players.

 

The "shrew" in "The Taming of the Shrew"

KATE

05/05/03
Top

For mostly different reasons I illustrate at some length here, there is no need to use double quotes around the word shrew.  Just because the Shakespearean character named Kate is not the sort of shrew that is a member of the family Soricidae and that eats insects and has a long, pointed snout and small eyes and ears doesn't mean she isn't a shrew.  The third edition of the American Heritage dictionary gives as its second definition the following: "A woman with a violent, scolding, or nagging temperament; a scold."

If shrew should be in quotes in the clue above, then should we not also write the following?

  • He was as ornery as a "mule."
  • She ate like a "horse."
  • The law is a "ass," a idiot.

 

Result of a bad shot, maybe

DIVOT

05/14/03
Top

Assuming this refers to golf then whether this is an error depends on what is meant by "bad shot."  For those of you who don't know, a divot is a strip of grass and some of the dirt it's clinging to that is sliced off the ground as the result of swinging a golf club.  Also, it's the patch of bare dirt left over after a divot is made.  So, when you take a divot you're supposed to replace your divot in your divot.

Also, the little vertical divot between your nose and your upper lip is your philtrum.  And the little tab of cartilage above and in front of your earlobe that looks like it's guarding your outer ear canal is your tragus.  If you're like me you'll discover it's difficult to work these terms into most conversations except by brute force.

Oops, I got a little lost there.  I'm back now.  Anyway, the only point I'm trying to make is that many golf swings taken with an iron must be considered bad shots if a divot is not taken.  If you're in the middle of the fairway and you bash away with your five-iron and you don't take a divot, you've screwed up, i.e., you've made a bad shot.  It's called hitting "thin," meaning the face of the club was too high at impact.  If you hit thin enough you get what's called a "bladed" shot.  (And if you hit really thin, above the equator of the ball, you've "skulled" it.)  On the other hand, if you take too deep a divot, or if the divot starts more than a couple millimeters behind the ball, that's hitting "fat."  Neither fat shots nor thin ones are, by definition, good shots.

Now, to be fair to the clue's constructor, it's certainly true that if you plow up a big old beaver pelt with, say, your putter, you've hit a bad shot.

Warning!  Bad word ahead.

Speaking of which, kind of, unless you play golf a lot, and unless you're not a non-female, you might not have heard of what's called The Dick-Out Rule.  As I'm sure pretty much everyone knows, men tee off from the men's tees and women tee off from the women's tees, which are typically anywhere from 25 to 75 yards or so closer to the hole.  If, as a non-female, you tee off and your ball does not even reach the women's tee, then anyone in your group may make the sign and invoke The Dick-Out Rule.  The sign, at least among the many people I've played with, is to point at the offending player with one hand and hold your other hand on your head and simply say, "Dick-out rule."  The poor sap whose ball has been so femininely struck is then obliged to prove his manhood by playing the rest of the hole with his . . . well, you get the idea.

Update of May 12, 2004: This golfer silhouette appears in an ad in today's Kansas City Star for a public golf course.  At first glance it doesn't seem all that odd (especially if you ignore that at least one of his feet is in an impossible position relative to the other).

No, what's really wrong is the oval describing the path of the club he's just finished swinging.  Needless to say, you have to hit the ball at or extremely near the bottom of your swing, so it appears this golfer has lined up with the ball not just an inch or two too far back in his stance but rather a few feet.

If he actually managed to hit the ball, it would be the fattest shot and the longest divot in history.

 

Connived

SCHEMED

08/13/03
Top

Although this is not an outright error, I do object to the use of this clue-and-answer relationship for the same reason I objected above to ORIENTATE for "Get one's bearings."  Connive has a special meaning for which there are no synonyms I know of.

 

Air force heroes

ACES

08/19/03
Top

Although I suppose a strained argument can be made that the clue does not contain an error, I'm pretty sure it should have been "Air Force heroes," with a capital F.

 

It's strengthened by 56-Across [weightlifting]

BICEP

08/19/03
Top

Plural or singular, the technically correct term is biceps.  "Feel my biceps, baby," said the one-armed man.

If it seems like I'm picking on this puzzle, it also produced a Cute Clue, so that's something.

 

39, perpetually, Jack Benny

AGE

11/05/03
Top

It's true that Jack Benny, the famous stand-up comedian and radio and TV star, always insisted he was 39 even into his dotage, but the clue still seems wrong somehow.

Speaking of famous comedians, Bob Hope died recently, and it's said that shortly before, when his wife asked him what kind of funeral he'd like, he said, "Surprise me."

 

Suppressing opposition brutally

GESTAPO

11/08/03
Top

While everyone agrees Hitler's Gestapo suppressed opposition brutally, there seems to be a mismatch between the part of speech of the clue, which I think must be a sort of verb, and the part of speech of the answer, which I think cannot be any sort of verb.  As with any of these other alleged errors, if you can make this make sense, please .

 

Future of the present

PAST

11/19/03
Top

This is one of those relationships where I suspect I'm just being stupid.  Still, I don't get it.  If you do, , so I can delete this putative error altogether.

Never mind.  I get it now.

  

x, for one

AXIS

12/25/03
Top

Except in the rarest of cases, NYT crossword clues begin with a capital letter.  I can think of no reason this was an exception, unless it was just to entertain us players, in which case it should be a Cute Clue.

 

Miss, south of the border

SRTA

01/03/04
Top

It is out of character for the NYT puzzle not to indicate in some way that this particular answer for señorita is abbreviated.

This remarkable puzzle is also referred to on the Themes page and the 2004 Cute Clues page.  Eight turns, three hits, and one error!

 

Update of December 2005: I haven't stopped collecting putative errors, I just haven't updated this page for a while, but I will soon.  Really.

 

Hardest Puzzle (and Most Baffling Clue)

If you're used to seeing the link to the Hardest Puzzle (and the most baffling clue) here, it has moved to the main crossword page, at X.  It generated so much interest I gave it its own Roman numeral.  It thanked me.

 

 

Original errors A -- X

Will Shortz's response to original A - X

New errors

 

 

 

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