Thursday, September 25, 2008

Crossword Puzzles Are Political, Too?

David Levinson Wilk thinks so.

According to the puzzle database maintained by, ever since that game-changing day in 2005, OBAMA has appeared regularly as an answer in New York Times crossword puzzles. With its wonderfully convenient alternating series of commonly used vowels and consonants, OBAMA has been the answer to the clues “Senator who wrote ‘Dreams From My Father,’” “Future senator who delivered the 2004 Democratic convention keynote address” and “Presidential candidate born in Hawaii.”

But what about MCCAIN? Shockingly, not once has MCCAIN been an answer in a crossword in the New York Times, The Washington Post or the Los Angeles Times. No MCCAIN, no JOHNMCCAIN, no SENATORMCCAIN, not even his most recent sobriquet, the presidential-sounding JOHNSMCCAINIII.

And the reason?

Simple. Letters and vowels and consonants:

...Diane McNulty, a New York Times spokeswoman, said, “The answer is obvious for anyone who does crosswords. It is because ‘Obama’ is a five-letter name that alternates vowels and consonants. It’s got three vowels out of five letters, starting and ending in vowels. So it is much more crossword-friendly than ‘McCain,’ which is a harder word to put in a crossword. If McCain’s name was Obama, then his name would have been used many more times in crosswords.”

I like that: If McCain’s name was Obama, then his name would have been used many more times in crosswords. And if my grandmother had wheels, would she be a bus?

Is there a solution to this puzzling situation??

Is there any indication that crosswords can “right” themselves in the generations ahead? I’m not so sure. In perhaps the shrewdest political move of his career, the Democratic presidential nominee and his wife gave their oldest child another crossword-friendly five-letter name containing commonly used vowels and consonants: Malia.


Anonymous said...

I don't really buy this. Its not all that difficult to use McCain's name and there are even computer programs that will create or help to create crossword puzzles. Were there's a will there's way and where there's no will there's an excuse. It does say something about biases perhaps even unconscious biases.

YMedad said...

I guess you could always use "John"