These Are Tricky Times to Be a Puzzle Maker

Kotaku digs into the 'surprisingly messy culture wars' in the world of crosswords
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 5, 2022 7:45 AM CST
It's a 2-Word Conundrum for Puzzle Makers
   (Getty/cagkansayin)

(Newser) – In today's polarized world, it can be hard enough to host a civil dinner with extended family. Now try creating a crossword puzzle for the masses. Kotaku digs into what it calls the "surprisingly messy culture wars" within the puzzle community. A big focus is on the New York Times puzzle and its editor, Will Shortz. Since assuming that position in 1993, Shortz is credited with shifting the puzzle from its stuffy, elitist—and white—roots into more mainstream territory with the addition of pop culture. But he also takes his lumps from critics who say he hasn't done enough. Shortz himself acknowledges a gaffe from a few years ago when he included the word "beaner" in a puzzle as a baseball term, unaware it was a derogatory term for Hispanics. Politics as a whole can get even messier.

Consider that Donald Trump has been turned up in the Times puzzle only twice, compared to 73 entries for Barack Obama. "This isn’t about like censorship, it’s about what’s fun," says Benjamin Taussig, editor of the American Values Club crossword. "I don't know if there’s any way to make to put Trump in a puzzle and have it be fun." Sex is a whole other frontier. Shortz, for example, has allowed "sex toy" as an answer, something his predecessors would never do, but he won't use anything he deems "pornographic." But what's too offensive or too political? The story interviews various puzzle creators on threading these lines, and it's a tricky business. "Some people (me) find curse words and bodily functions very entertaining, and who counts as a notorious figure is up for debate," writes Hallie Lieberman. (Read the full story.)

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