The New York Times crossword puzzle is a hallowed institution of yesteryear, one that is useful in distinguishing normal people from people good at one very specific, generally useless skill. Apparently, its worldview (or its editor Will Shortz’s worldview) has not been updated for the modern puzzle aficionado.
Wednesday’s edition constructed by Zachary Spitz featured a clue that has set the crossword puzzle community off on a bit of an outrage tornado. The clue for 71 across read, “Exasperated comment from a feminist.” The three-letter answer? “Men!”
Shortz and Spitzer, do you think that all feminists are Cathy of the cartoon “Cathy?”
“You are confusing feminists with decidedly NOT-feminist sitcom ladies who grouse about their shlubby husbands,” crossword puzzle blogger Michael Sharp wrote on his blog Rex Parker Does the NY Times Crossword Puzzle. “This is another (another!) tin-eared clumsy clue that highlights how puzzle makers are a monoculture of (mostly) white (mostly) men.”
(Sharp also called out the October 31 puzzle for a racially-insensitive clue and answer referring to “gangsta rap characters” as “thugs.”)
So, Times public editor Margaret Sullivan, what do you have to say for your white, male crossword puzzle society?
The New York Times Crossword Puzzle had not responded to request for comment by the time of publication.
Update: Late Wednesday evening, Shortz emailed Jezebel the following thoughtful response:
“What I originally wanted the clue to be was something like “Exasperated comment from a woman,” which I think is idiomatic and uncontroversial—and different from the 85 other clues I’ve ever run for this answer. But I couldn’t, because ‘woman’ (in the clue) and MEN (the answer) are obviously related. So I substituted ‘feminist’ instead.
I knew the clue sounded off, but I couldn’t think of a better way to phrase the idea.
In retrospect, I should have just ditched the entire thing and kept thinking.
Anyway, there you have it. I’d definitely change the clue if I had it to do over again.”
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