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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
To:  Me   

Hi there.

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.)

>>> Ditto.

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.
  • 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).

>>> Typos in syndication only, I think--correct in the Times.

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.

>>> I don't remember this.

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 the BarelyBad 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 Newsgroups and Listserv and I can't even remember what else.

>>> I thought they were the same. So now I learned something.

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.")

>>> No idea what the problem was here. I'm sure the clue was correct in the Times.

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 a professional, 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.  [Update of October 2003: Above where I used the phrase "professional golfer" I should have said "expert golfer."]

>>> Well, it's an average score if you're Tiger Woods! :-)

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.

>>> Before my time. I would not have allowed this clue to see print.

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.

>>> The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage. That's why.

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."

>>> See RHD, where "bandito" is the preferred spelling; "bandido" is listed as a variant.

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.

>>> Hey, I like to surprise you once in a while!

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 woman in space.   Sally K. Ride, born May 26, 1951, lifted off aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger on June 18, 1983.

In any case, the first Earthling woman in space was a cosmonaut.  Valentina V. Tereshkova rode the Soviet Vostok 6 into an orbital trip that lasted 70 hours and 50 minutes on June 16, 1963.

>>> The above clue wasn't from my tenure. I wouldn't have let it get through.

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.
>>> Wow! This makes any of my goofs look awfully tame by comparison!

--Will Shortz


The errors listed are only a few of the total.  The rest are here.


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