Will Shortz has done terrific work as New York Times crossword puzzle editor. I do the Sunday puzzle nearly every week, and am able to finish it with some effort. It’s a great brain-teaser. I also enjoyed the movie Wordplay. But Will’s not infallible. A few weeks ago a solver pointed out that “illin” is not equivalent to “wack” in hiphop slang, as the puzzle clue had implied. While solving that one, I had had the same thought. I’m about as much of a hiphop guy as the Pope is, but it was clear to me that she was right. So Will responded by citing a couple dictionaries. Oh, Dude!
Having a baseline source is valuable for adjudicating arguments, and I assume it’s his default response to any issue like this. Will deserves credit for adding slang and pop culture to the puzzle, and accordingly bringing in new solvers. But by arguing that point about “illin”, he has shown that he’s out of his depth with hiphop slang. That he’s even further out-of-touch than I am is pretty funny. Hiphop slang may be the fastest changing slang on the entire planet. As such, any dictionary slang listing is almost inherently out-of-date. Therefore, a dictionary is a weaker support for assertions about slang than almost any other kind of language. In fact, any dictionary listing is only as good as the one person writing it, and an editor. If anyone is aware of that, Will certainly is. So maybe he just has trouble admitting when he’s wrong.
Are We Throwing Down, or Throwing Up?
I wonder if he’s losing his edge. I have some small beefs with the puzzles. Some clues are so deliberately obscure (or overly cute and tricky) that even though I can finally figure them out, they make me cringe. Since Will is the editor rather than the puzzle composer, it’s hard to say whether these cutesy ones are his own doing or not. There’s also a problem of having certain words over and over again in the puzzle. I can see that these chestnuts are popular because they use common letters, so they make good puzzle connective tissue. But it’s boring. I will concede that it may be impossible to avoid these given the constraints and tenets of the Times puzzle.
Will, you be trippin’. When you’re wrong, please just admit it, and make some better clues next time. Or maybe just stick to stuff that we white guys know.