Thursday, October 14, 2010

23 Across?

Yes, I'm back with another in a series of complaints about odd political choices by the Sunday New York Times Crossword Puzzle.  Previous items here and here

This one...I don't know; you tell me: is this conservative bias, or am I just cranky?  But first, careful. Serious spoilers ahead.  Although it is Thursday afternoon, so I think it should be relatively safe...

OK.  This one is going to require a bit of an explanation.  The title of this puzzle is "Drivers' Translations."  I'll give you the full set, clue first, answer in quotes.

Speed limit 65 MPH?  "Keep it under eighty"
No stopping or standing? "Leave if you see a cop"
No thru traffic?  "Good shortcut"
Stay in lane?  "Ignore this sign"
Congestion next 10 miles? "Road rage zone"
Stop?  "Cost on through"
Merging traffic?  "Prepare to be cut off"

I think you see the pattern.  Which gets to 23 Across, "Your tax dollars at work."  Now, it could just be me, but I can picture maybe two normal responses to that sort of thing.  It's possible that people would have a positive response to a road project that needs to be done.  But in keeping with the cynical theme of the other items, I'd expect the answer to emphasize the hassles of road construction.  Something like "severe tire damage" or "expect long delays" or "expected completion date 2110."  But no!  The correct answer is: "pork barrel project."  As I always say in these items...really?  Is that really the reaction of normal people -- "Damn politicians wasting money by resurfacing my street, widening my bridge, filling the potholes that I'm always hitting!" 

Again, I totally buy the idea that people see road construction and get annoyed by it, and take personally the hassles that, upon reflection, they might realize are worth it over the long run.  But calling a project in one's own home town "pork barrel" seems off to me, more of an ideological reaction to a hypothetical scenario than like an actual driver's reaction to a real-life situation.

But as I said, perhaps I'm just being cranky.  What do you think?

(And yes, if I come across any instance of liberal bias, I'll run an item on that, too.  These are fun to write!  Also...yeah, it's a little late in the week for it.  I've thought about doing a regular tweet every week when I finally finish the Sunday NYT, just as an incentive to get me to do it quicker.  I'm halfway through the Arts & Leisure section just now, which is the last thing I get to.  Not counting the Book Review, which I'm usually weeks behind on).


  1. Unless 'pork barrel projects' carries a positive connotation that I'm unaware of I'd have agree.

  2. Teaparty mentality now even pervades the NYT X-word. It looks like conservative bias, and stupidly done, at that - but might just be flippant ignorance. NYT puzzles are usually extremely clever, but also contain lots of dross.

    I greatly prefer the LA Times puzzles, edited by Rich Norris. Available for download at Requires Across Light which you can get at the NY Times site.


  3. I'm with you on this one. While road construction can be impossibly irritating when it interferes with my getting where I need to be, at no point do I consider it "pork."

    But then again, all the bridges I drive over go somewhere.

  4. I'm sorta thinking "just being cranky" for this one. I haven't seen the puzzle, but from the examples it sounds like the author was being too clever by half. If nothing else, its hard to reconcile the attempted whimsy of the other examples with the ruthless seriousness of the modern hyperpartisan right.

    In fact, much more so than the other seven listed examples, the "Your Tax Dollars at Work/Pork Barrel Projects" seems an example of straight-up irony. I have no way to independently verify this, but from what I understand Rush Limbaugh's radio show has indulged in irony exactly zero times over the past 20 years.

    (Aside from the "meta" irony of the entire show, of course).

  5. As both political scientist and crossword constructor, I wanted to let folks know that once again bias is in the eyes of the beholder.

    Politico ran a story two years ago ( that noted that liberal bias dominated the NYT and other puzzles.

    FWIW, I've reviewed the Cruciverb database to update Wilk's numbers. OBAMA has been used 68 times since 2005; MCCAIN only twice (both in 2009); and PALIN 32 times since 1998 (all but 6 of those were references to Michael of Monty Python fame).


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