From the pages of The Atlantic, a new torment for woke sophisticates:
That sound you hear is barrel-bottom-scraping.
The popular puzzles are largely written and edited by older white men, who dictate what makes it into the grid—and what is kept out.
The world of woke crossword-puzzlers - because that’s a thing that exists - is one in which enthusiasts, via social media, grumble about white men, bemoan the insufficient prominence of “queer or POC colloquialisms,” share “off-colour jokes about hypothetical titles for a Melania Trump memoir,” and fret about the exact ratio of male and female names used as clues. Because a lack of “gender parity” in crossword puzzle clues constitutes one of “the systemic forces that threaten women.”
Crossword puzzles can do that, apparently.
The list of possible crossword-puzzle wrongdoings is, of course, extensive, ever-growing and not entirely straightforward.
Transgressions include clues for ILLEGAL (“One caught by border patrol”); MEN (“Exasperated comment from a feminist”); and HOOD (“Place with homies”).
I’ll give you a moment to steady yourselves, to recover from all that gasping.
A New York Times puzzle triggered agitation with the clue “Pitch to the head, informally,” the solution to which was “beaner.” Given sufficient effort, said word could also, it seems, be construed as a mild and antiquated racial slur, albeit one that had escaped me and which I had to look up. Inevitably, apologies and public prostration ensued, despite both the puzzler-writer and editor confessing their own ignorance and intending no harm. Needless to say, the apology immediately resulted in further hissing and rending of garments by people whose Twitter bios include preferred pronouns and the words liberal and feminist.
Faced with the chest-pounding horrors mentioned above, woke puzzle enthusiasts denounced the “unnecessary pain” of unintended and unobvious racial connotations, while others aired their umbrage at the suggestion that feminists would ever employ exasperation as a kind of in-group currency. Several implausibly indignant Twitter users insisted that crossword puzzles should not include any word that could conceivably be misconstrued or taken wildly out of context by people determined to do so for the purpose of recreational outrage. Which is to say, by people such as themselves. Obvious, benign and “legitimate” definitions – the latter deployed in scare quotes – are, we were told, no excuse.
One empowered feminist puzzle-writer, Rebecca Falcon, wrote, “I can’t feel good about putting my work into an outlet that I feel has very different values than my own.” The New York Times being insufficiently progressive, you see, insufficiently pure. And so, a practised and competitive hypersensitivity is framed as exclusion, an external injustice; rather than, say, a pretentious opting-out. This, then, is the “bigotry” that threatens women, and which crushes the very breath out of brown-skinned puzzle-doers.
The author of the Atlantic piece, Natan Last, is a “fitful poet,” a Brooklynite, and a graduate of Columbia. His idea of a “diverse” and “inclusive” crossword puzzle, one free of “bias,” can be found here.
Note the interviewer’s use of the term “keywords of millennial socialism.”
[ Expanded via the comments. ]