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Crossword Errors -- Will Shortz Responds
Shortly after I published the crossword section of this Web site I
received an unsolicited e-mail from Will Shortz, editor of the New York Times
crossword puzzle since 1993. It is rendered below uncut and verbatim. If you
haven't already, you should first read the list of purported
errors in New York Times crossword puzzles, because in some cases Mr. Shortz
does not quote me in full, which makes a difference.
Subj: NYT Xword mistakes
Date: November 4, 1998 @ 2:33:33 EST
From: Will Shortz
I've been enjoying your crossword website, which I discovered by accident this evening. Thought I'd take a few minutes and answer some of your questions about errors and disputed points in the New York Times puzzle.
By my count, about 20 slips do get through each year. Most of these are extremely tiny -- noticed by only one or two people -- but a mistake's a mistake, so I do keep track.
Now, from your list:
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.
>>> Yes, this was a goof. Linear is 1-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.
>>> This was before my time. (My editing began in November 1993.) However, I'm sure that the intended clue was "C. in C.", as in "Commander in Chief," which, of course, is a President.
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.
>>> Both before my time.
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.
>>> See Random House Unabridged, 2nd edition. ALAPAS isn't an entry I was proud of--but it's legit.
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.
>>> Informal usage. See RHD, for example, for authority.
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.
>>> This is just a typo, and the spelling might well have been correct in the Times itself. I don't remember.
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.
>>> You're right--the intended clue was "Repetitious goodbye."
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."
>>> This definitely was printed correctly in the Times. The clue was "Winningest N.C.A.A. basketball coach." Unfortunately, this clue was factually wrong. Coach Dean Smith of the University of North Carolina had passed Adolph Rupp's record the previous March, and my references weren't up-to-date enough to reflect this fact.
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.
>>> This never happens in the Times itself. Your local newspaper must be laying out the puzzle differently.
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.
>>> Evidently a typo in syndication. The clue was correct in the Times.
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."
>>> Either spelling is correct. See RHD, for example. (At Indiana University, where I went to school, "poly sci" was the preferred spelling.)
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).
>>> Again, either form is correct. "Canadian geese" is sanctioned by Random House, Webster's Third New International, and other dictionaries--if not by bird experts.
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.)
>>> You may not like the phrase, but it's in all modern dictionaries. A lot of common English expressions have come about by similar "mistakes." At some point, after they become common enough, you just have to accept them. At least I do. By my rules, anything sanctioned by any major American dictionary is permissible for the crossword.
N. Here are several mistakes in short order.
>>> Typos in syndication only, I think--correct in the Times.
The errors listed are only a few of the total. The rest are here.
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