If, like NPR blogger Marc Silver, you were doing The New York Times Sunday Crossword July 6, you might have strayed across an unsavory clue over your cornflakes: 102 down, “menace named after an African river.”
The answer? Ebola, a hemorrhagic fever currently ravaging West Africa. Enjoy the rest of your weekend!
After solving the clue, Silver became curious about how often clues pointing to disease appear in The Times’ crossword puzzle. So he reached out to professional puzzler Will Shortz, The New York Times crossword editor.
In fact, Shortz told Silver, crosswords generally try to avoid unsavory topics like illness, but “occasionally the names do slip in unavoidably.”
Readers have demonstrated sensitivity to controversial answers within the the grid of newspaper crossword puzzles in the past. The New York Times received dozens of complaints from readers in 2006 after the paper included the answer “scumbag” for the clue “scoundrel.” None of the editors realized that the word, which originally meant “condom,” might be offensive to readers, Slate reported.
Last month, nine students were arrested on suspicion of using unflattering language to describe Indian government officials in a college magazine, The Times of India reported.
Despite this sensitivity, the Times has referred to illnesses many times during the puzzle’s run. Shortz also provided Silver with a list of diseases that have appeared in the New York Times Crossword, along with their associated clues. Among them: polio, malaria and SARS. Ebola has been a clue 32 times, more than any other ailment on that list, according to Silver’s post.
You can read the full list of clues at Silver’s post, here: