If you know me, you know that pretty much the only thing in this world that I’ve loved longer than feminism is the New York Times crossword puzzle (which, from here on in, will be referred to as simply “the puzzle”).
My dad started teaching me how to do the puzzle at a young age, and it’s something we can always talk about. It’s always been a factor in my dating life – some people wait until the third date to have sex – I wait until then to find out if my date does the puzzle, and if not, I immediately start to try to convince him that he should. When I moved to England, I was thrilled to find that my friends here all do crosswords – some do the straightforward quick crosswords, some the incredibly difficult cryptics. I’ve since converted most of them to the NYT puzzle.
Now, I know that the NYT puzzle isn’t exactly what one would call progressive. Its intended audience is, well, my dad – white dudes of a certain age and a certain class. I mean, you’re more likely to see clues about male athletes who haven’t been relevant since before I was born or TV shows that peaked when I was in diapers than you are about Instagram, #blacklivesmatter, or even Taylor Swift. But I do it because I love it, and I usually just roll my eyes at its occasional tone-deafness, casual classism, and even its blatant gender problem.
But this week a clue got under my skin just a little more than normal. It was pretty much the first clue I read, as my eye will immediately be drawn to the word “feminist” on any page. The clue itself was “Exasperated comment from a feminist”. In the few seconds it took me to look from the clue to its corresponding square, my brain raced. Could it be, “ugh, patriarchy”? “grr, casual misogyny”? “Trans women ARE women”?
But no. The answer to clue 71 across was only three letters long, and a quick cross-check confirmed that the answer was, as I suspected, “men”.
“”MEN!” is not something an exasperated feminist says. “MEN!” is something someone who believes in the essential *in*equality of the sexes says, someone who believes all that Mars/Venus crap, and is just mad that her husband bought her the wrong kind of birthday gift or got soup on his tie or won’t stop watching football and clean out the gutters. Not. Feminist. Not not not.”
In a response to queries about this choice of clue, NYT crossword editor Will Shortz said:
“I knew the clue sounded off, but I couldn’t think of a better way to phrase the idea.”
And while I am absolutely a Will Shortz fan, I was disappointed in this answer. Disappointed enough, in fact, to come up with some suggestions for other clues he could have given for this particular answer. Here’s what I came up with off the top of my head.
1. The straightforward film title clue:
71. A Few Good ___
71. 12 Angry ___
71. 3 ___ and a Baby
and, of course, its sequel 71. 3 ___ and a Little Lady
71. ___ in Black
2. The music clue (some of these might be a bit modern for the puzzle, but it’s worth a shot!):
71. One hit-wonders ___ Without Hats
71. ___ at Work
71. Baha ___ of “Who Let the Dogs Out” fame
3. Given that puzzle-doers do expect a certain level of highbrowness in their puzzle, we could go with the Shakespeare clue:
71. All the world ‘s a stage, and all the ___ and women merely players
71. ___ at some time are masters of their fates
71. He thinks too much: such ___ are dangerous
71. Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more, ___ were deceivers ever;
71. The evil that ___ do lives after them / The good is oft interred with their bones.
4. The literary clue:
71. All the King’s ___
71. Of Mice and ___
71. Hemingway’s ___ Without Women
71. Little ___ (Alcott sequel)
5. The history clue:
71. “All ___ are created equal”
71. Theatre company Lord Chamberlain’s ___
71. Robin Hood and his Merry ___
– and finally –
6. The clue that actually does have something to do with feminism:
71. Black ___ (most likely Americans to be killed by gun violence)
71. 80% of US Senators
71. 96% of S&P 500 CEOs
71. 100% of US presidents
What kind of clue would you have liked to see instead of the existing one?