Crossword Puzzle Controversies: A History of the Most Contested Clues and Answers

Crossword puzzles have been a beloved pastime for over a century, but they haven’t always been without controversy. From disputed answers to questionable clues, crossword aficionados have found themselves embroiled in heated debates over the years. Here’s a look at some of the most notorious controversies in the history of crossword puzzles. 

The “Natick” Controversy 

In 2008, a clue in a New York Times crossword puzzle sparked outrage among solvers. The clue was “Town on the Massachusetts coast,” with five letters. The answer? Natick. But many solvers had never heard of this small town and felt that it was an unfair answer. This led to the coining of the term “Natick Principle,” which refers to any obscure answer that only locals would know. 

The “Eel” Controversy 

The Los Angeles Times crossword puzzle caused quite a stir in 1999 when it included the clue “Long fish.” The expected answer was eel, but many solvers argued that this was incorrect because eels are not actually fish – they’re classified as elongated fish-like creatures. In response to the controversy, the editor of the LA Times promised to be more careful with his clues in future puzzles. 

The “Esai Morales” Controversy 

New York Times puzzle included the clue “Actor Morales” in 1999. The expected answer was Esai Morales, but many solvers argued that this was unfair because there are several other actors with the last name Morales who could also fit into the puzzle. In response to these complaints, Will Shortz (the editor of the New York Times crossword) admitted that he had made a mistake and promised to be more careful in future puzzles. 

The “Pluto” Controversy 

In 2006, astronomers reclassified Pluto as a dwarf planet rather than a full-fledged planet. But many crossword puzzles still referred to Pluto as one of our solar system’s nine planets – including one New York Times puzzle from later that year. This led to widespread confusion among solvers and criticism from astronomy enthusiasts. 


While these controversies may seem minor in retrospect, they highlight just how passionate people can be about their favorite pastimes – even something as seemingly innocuous as solving crossword puzzles. As editors continue to push boundaries with their clues and answers, we can expect more controversies in the years ahead. But one thing is for sure: no matter how contentious things get, there will always be dedicated puzzlers ready to defend their solutions!

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