Flag on the play


What do crosswords and football have in common? Not a whole lot, but I’m going to play football referee today and assess penalties for three crossword-writing infractions, which I’ll illustrate with recent examples. And let me first state that I myself have committed each of these infractions multiple times, so absolutely no picking on anyone intended!

Now, let’s throw some flags onto the grid(iron):

1) Clue contains part of the answer in it.

At 33-down in today’s New York Times, the answer IT’S ON ME is clued as [“Got it covered!”]. That’s a crossword no-no, since IT appears in both the answer and the clue.

These crop up in almost everyone’s puzzles from time to time, since it’s easy to let a little repeated word slip by. This is especially true when it’s concealed in a multiword answer like here (and in a slightly different form, too, with IT’S in the answer but “it” in the clue).

Hey, “it” happens. Just a small ding. Penalty: ENCROACHMENT, 5 yards.

2) Scrabble-f@#$ing.

This is an indelicate term for when a constructor goes too far out of their way to squeeze one of the high-value letters (X, Q, Z or J) into their grid. This often happens in closed-off little corners where the constructor wants to create a little magic. Check out the northeast corner of Monday’s Los Angeles Times puzzle:


The constructor had the right idea, fitting both a J and Z into this 3×4 space. But while JEDI, JAR, RITZ and HEINZ are all excellent entries, the price to pay is too high: prefix EPI, partial A PIN and the obscure DIT.

As a fellow constructor pointed out to me, JEDI/OVEN/BENZ going down would’ve kept the two expensive letters while also cleaning up the fill.


Heart was in the right place, but the execution was off. Penalty: ILLEGAL USE OF HANDS, 10 yards.

3) Missing a one-letter fix.

Constructors (and editors) strive for a clean grid, uncluttered by OLLA and UNAU and ESNE and all that other crosswordese no one will miss when it’s gone. But take a look at this one-letter miss from Monday’s New York Times, where an icky entry was easy to replace:


Can you find the one-letter fix? Just change that T to a W, getting rid of the subpar ETES (the plural of the French word for “summer”).

Sloppy and avoidable, but again, it can happen to anyone. Penalty: INTENTIONAL FACEMASK, 15 yards.

Who knew crosswords and football had so much in common?

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