[Image courtesy of TV Guide.]
For the last few weeks, we’ve all been awash in lists. Whether it’s covering the year or the decade, there are Best Of, Worst Of, Most Influential, Most Scandalous, Most Underrated, Most Overrated, and many many more.
Heck, we’ve had a bit of fun with year-end lists ourselves in the last week, though we tried not to overdo it.
Smithsonian Magazine even got in on the trend with a recent article. They summarized the 2010s through ten words that made their debut in The New York Times crossword this decade.
It’s an intriguing hook for a list, offering context and brief histories for words like MEME, SEXT, TWEET, BARISTA, and LGBT while discussing their greater social and cultural impact.
Sadly, there were a few times that I felt like the article came up short when representing both crosswords and the puzzle audience in general.
[Image courtesy of YouTube.]
I mean, come on. LOL? Yes, the entry appeared a staggering 48 times during the decade, but it’s been around since the ’90s! This was like IPOD finally making it into crossword grids just in time for iPods to not be a thing anymore. (Thankfully, IPADS salvaged some of those grids.)
They would have been better off including BAE, which is not only more modern (making the first of 10 NYT appearances in 2017), but feels significantly less eyeroll-worthy in this day and age.
I was also less-than-impressed by this statement, which accompanied the entry N.L. EAST:
“Jeopardy!” contestants are notorious for their aversion to sports, a weakness shared by many members of the cruciverbal clique. As it turns out, sports are a big part of American cultural life and have been for quite some while…
This is an embarrassing, reductive cliche that feels straight out of Revenge of the Nerds. There are plenty of sports-savvy constructors and solvers (which explains how N.L. EAST and A.L. EAST ended up in the Times crossword twenty times in total).
The idea that crosswords and sports are mutually exclusive domains isn’t just ridiculous, it’s insulting.
I don’t mean for this post to feel like a takedown of the Smithsonian Magazine piece, because for the most part, it was a breezy examination of the decade through the lens of crosswords.
I appreciated the spotlight put on clues for the entries LGBT/LGBTQ, though perhaps a more illuminating glimpse into growing representation of the LGBTQIA+ community would have been mentioning Ben Tausig’s quantum puzzle from September of 2016, which introduced the entry GENDERFLUID to the Times crossword.
Although the entry itself has only appeared twice in the Times thus far, its inclusion in Tausig’s puzzle was noteworthy because it not only introduced the word to new eyes, but deftly explained the idea itself through its theme.
The letter variability — allowing for M or F to appear in a grid square and still fit the definition, a la FIRE/MIRE — is a wonderful metaphor for the fluidity of gender, especially in the limiting, but generally accepted, binary concept of male or female.
To have a puzzle not only debut an important new word, but to provide such valuable context for it in a clever, kind, fun mechanic represents not just where crosswords as a whole are going, but how they can help push us in a better direction in a unique way.
That feels like a more worthwhile note to conclude the decade on than 48 LOLs.
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