Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Clueless! Infamous "Scumbag" NYT Crossword Puzzler Blows It Again, Bungling Quote From "Gone With The Wind."

The crossword puzzle on Monday provided an erroneous clue for 5-Across, seeking the answer “O’Hara.” Scarlett O’Hara’s final words in “Gone With the Wind” are “After all, tomorrow is another day” — not “I’ll never be hungry again.” (That is the last comment she makes before the film’s intermission.)

So reads the humiliating correction in today's NYT, revealing Monday puzzler Lynn Lempel as unfamiliar with the one of the most famous last lines in movie history.

But today's amusing fix leaves out a bit of historical context. Before today's mistake, Lempel was best remembered among crossword aficionados as the author of its greatest linguistic stretch -- on the dark April morning in 2006 when Lempel's clue for 43-Down called for a seven-letter word for "scoundrel."

The correct answer: "SCUMBAG."

That answer earned Lempel considerable notoriety, and the first clue to Lempel's lack of knowledge. "I was totally ignorant of its vulgar side," Lempel said at the time. A Slate article on the topic reminded readers that until recently, the word's primary usage was as a slang term for a used condom.

But Lempel didn't quite learn her lesson. On September 28, 2009, Lempel introduced the word "crap" into the NYT crossword puzzle -- okay, it was the answer to "losing roll in a casino," but still.

Yesterday's gaffe prompted some genteel criticism among NYT commenters. Wrote Carla S., of Providence:

If I were on Jeopardy and I had to come up with Scarlett's last words in GWTW, I would have been quite confident in saying "What is 'Tomorrow is another day'?" I don't know whether to doubt myself or our wonderful editor. She utters the never-be-hungry line as the first half of the film ends, but I really don't think she ends the movie with that line.

We understand how you feel. But frankly, Carla, Lynn Lempel doesn't give a damn.


the next Prescott Niles said...

I suppose it makes for a better post to act like the embarrassment here is or should be all Lempel's, but clearly 50 percent (and maybe more like 80) of the egg is on the face of Will Shortz, who didn't exactly have to take Lempel's word for it.

Also: Puzzler is basically never used (knowledgeably, at least) to mean "person who devises puzzles," as you have it here -- the term you want is constructor. (You could use "puzzle constructor" for the first reference, and maybe the more informal "puzzle maker" in the hed.) Puzzler sometimes = "puzzle solver," I guess, but that's a lot like using pooch as a second reference for dog.

lesdmd said...

Thank you nytpick. You have provided my full required daily dose of irony and sarcasm. It's good to be reminded that your eclectic coverage covers the gamut of emotions; and that a good laugh is a nice way to begin my day.

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Does the NYT make atomic typos, too? As you know, when TBD reporter Amanda Hess recently wrote an article on her TBD blog summarising a recent study that "one in three black men who have sex with me is HIV positive" -- read that quote again, O quickly-scanning Digital Reader! -- she quickly realised the atomic typo immediately after writing the story after a kind person tweeted the typo at her, and in internet time, she fixed it and wrote a prominent correction.

Even though the atomic typo was caught immediately and fixed immediately, the TBD correction caught the eyes and ears of the blogosphere, and the correction notice was tweeted, Facebooked and Romesko'd from sea to shining sea.

Hess' original typo was more than the common run-of-the-mill everyday typo. It is a good example of what in 2002 former newspaper editor C.B. Hanif called an "atomic typo" -- apparently because the typing mistake is so small and minute that it's almost like an atomic particle.