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How Will Shortz edits a "New York Times" crossword

Will Shortz, the editor of The New York Times crosswords since 1993, explains his thought process behind editing a crossword, using a submission by crossword veteran Elizabeth Gorski as an example. Aside from holding one of the most interesting jobs in the world, his background is unsurprisingly also super fascinating: he’s believed to be the world’s only known person to hold a degree in enigmatology, which he received from Indiana University. This piece is a real treat for all you fans of crosswords, especially of The New York Times editions.

Her clue for 1 Across was simply “Coach Ewbank”—perfectly fine—but I thought there would be some solvers who didn’t know who Ewbank is, so I added the words “who led the Jets to a Super Bowl III Championship.” That way, if you don’t know the name, you’ll learn something. Fourteen across was simply out of date: the PAC-10 is now the PAC-12. “Iroquoian language” I changed to “Iroquoian people”—I don’t really know it as a language. “Mexican hat” was too easy—of course that’s a sombrero—so I said, “A Mexican might sleep under it.” Thirty-four is a matter of style: “Middle East” is generally rendered as “Mideast.” I’m always working on brevity.

In my benchmark for people who I admire and revere based on intelligence alone, ranked number one would be the astrophysicists who appear in all those science and space related television shows I’m obsessed with, and in close second are people who can complete The New York Times Saturday edition crossword, which actor Paul Sorvino once called “the bitch mother of all crosswords” (the crosswords increase in difficulty from Monday through Saturday). I’m slightly more partial to The New York Magazine crosswords, not because they’re any better, but only because they don’t make me feel quite as dumb as the Times. Just sort of dumb. Often.

Relatedly, here’s Will Shortz explaining how to solve his crosswords.