Date: September 25, 2008
Byline: David Levinson Wilk
Times puzzle is clueless about McCain
I am partly to blame.
On Jan. 8, 2005, I purposefully and unapologetically became the first person to ever construct a crossword puzzle for The New York Times that featured this five-letter answer:
Earlier this week, Steve Schmidt, John McCain's senior campaign adviser, lambasted the Times for being "totally, 150 percent in the tank for the Democratic candidate." The GOP, it seems, is finally catching on to a once-hidden truth:
Crossword puzzles heavily favor Democrats.
According to the puzzle database maintained by Cruciverb.com, 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.
Contacted by Politico, 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."
Things fare no better for the Republicans when we compare the candidates for vice president. BIDEN is the clear favorite, appearing as the answer to the Washington Post clue "Delaware senator" and as the solution to the New York Times clue "1987-95 Senate Judiciary Committee head." Even conservative crossword enthusiasts who solve the weekly puzzles in The Wall Street Journal have been forced to write in BIDEN when given the Journal's clue "Head of the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee."
That leaves us, of course, wondering about Gov. Sarah PALIN.
Like a cruel joke, PALIN has appeared dozens of times as an answer in the crossword grids of the nation's most esteemed news publications — but always with clues such as "Monty Python member" or "Cohort of Cleese and Idle." It's pretty obvious: The left-wing media elite is mocking her. For shame!
So, it's proven. Crossword puzzles favor OBAMA over MCCAIN and BIDEN over PALIN. 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.
David Levinson Wilk writes for "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" and constructs crossword puzzles for Politico.