Grammatical diversity in the New York Times crossword

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Monday's New York Times crossword is the handiwork of Tom McCoy, an undergraduate member of the Yale Grammatical Diversity Project. I wouldn't've thought it possible, but he's managed to make a coherent theme out of a nonstandard grammatical variant in American English.

I won't spoil it for people who want to solve it — subscribers to the Times crossword can download it in Across Lite format or as a PDF. But if you don't mind the spoilers, you can read the constructor's notes on the Times's Wordplay blog (Tom gives a nice plug for the YGDP there). And you can see the clues and completed grid on XWord Info.

Bonus: One clue mentions Google Ngrams, surely a first for the Times.

Update: For more, see the Yale Linguistics Department's news page.


  1. AntC said,

    March 27, 2017 @ 3:52 am

    Cryptic crossowrds have always taken a liberal (somewhat jokey) approach to non-standard pronunciations and vernacular, and the spellings thereof. (Anything to get the clue to match the solution.)

    Dropped aitches occur particularly. Here's an example from my weekend paper's Cryptic: "Have no intake, the 'arvest being destroyed (6)".

    I believe Cryptics are not so common in the U.S.(?)

  2. MattF said,

    March 27, 2017 @ 4:46 am


    It's true that cryptic crosswords are less common in the U.S. But they do exist, (the Wall Street Journal puzzle site at
    is a good source for a variety of puzzle types) and are generally less jokey and more rule-bound than British cryptics.

  3. Coby Lubliner said,

    March 27, 2017 @ 8:37 am

    The Nation's crossword is very similar to the British ones, except that the spelling, default pronunciation (in "sounds like" clues) and references are American.

  4. Cervantes said,

    March 27, 2017 @ 9:26 am

    I'm a volunteer solver for the Nation crosswords — Kosman and Piccioto run them by us before publication to catch mistakes and get other input. I often disagree with their homophones — basically they assume that every unstressed vowel is a schwa, and otherwise accept sloppy pronunciation. They also rely a lot on stretched definitions, but that's part of the game — finding a meaning for a word that depends on context and isn't necessarily in the dictionary as such.

    Maltby's cryptics in Harper's are tougher. He always has a gimmick, often involving systematic alteration of answers. He uses a lot of obscure words and alternate spellings, as well.

  5. Cervantes said,

    March 27, 2017 @ 9:28 am

    BTW I just looked at the Times crossword in question. It isn't actually a cryptic, pretty much just straight-up definitions.

  6. Jim Horne said,

    March 27, 2017 @ 12:14 pm

    Yes, XWord Info also confirms that this is the first NGram reference in NYT puzzles. (I created the site so I know all its ins and outs. Thanks for the plug!) This is one of my favorite puzzles of the year so far, so perhaps I can qualify as a grammar geek too.

  7. Ernie in Berkeley said,

    March 27, 2017 @ 1:02 pm

    Yes, the Times Monday puzzle isn't a cryptic. They do publish a cryptic roughly every six weeks as a bonus puzzle, though. And the Nation puzzles are always a treat.

    For daily cryptics, I go to The Globe and Mail site. They're not as intricate as the Nation puzzles, and the cluing is sloppy sometimes, but good mental exercise*.

    *(of course, I could be using this time to catch up on current linguistic research, or reading grammars of little-known languages, but this is my life now, evenings with crosswords and a glass of wine)

  8. Mark S said,

    March 27, 2017 @ 8:53 pm

    American cryptics exist, but tend to follow rather stricter rules than the British variety. In particular, it's considered bad form for any part of the subsidiary to be cognate with the definition. For example, the common British cluing of cliches cued by their normal meaning as definition plus literal meaning as subsidiary, such as "Easy as a slice of dessert (5,2,4)" for "Piece of cake" would be deprecated. Also, the matching of part of speech is stricter: I don't think "… in England" could clue "London" in a quality U.S. cryptic.

  9. AntC said,

    March 27, 2017 @ 11:50 pm

    @Mark S (and others) American cryptics exist, but tend to follow rather stricter rules than the British variety. In particular, it's considered bad form for any part of the subsidiary to be cognate with the definition. … Also, the matching of part of speech is stricter: … in a quality U.S. cryptic.

    I'd make a sharp distinction between "quality British cryptic" — I think especially of Araucaria in the Grauniad — vs local/free rags, whose cluing is indeed sloppy, including @Cervantes' sloppy pronunciation for supposed sound-alikes. (I'm in New Zealand, so this is exacerbated by the setters' sound-alikes usually representing British RP, except when they represent some of the NZ merged vowels.)

    Araucaria is strict in just as many of the ways you describe. If a clue includes a word with apostrophe-as-missing-aitch, you know there's going to be a component of the solution with a missing aitch.

    And I love Araucaria's gimmicks: solutions all being characters in Shakespeare; the Christmas special where all solutions are lines/phrases from Carols; …. Sticky Pudding indeed!

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