The Stickler Weekly Insights 204 – Letters of Intent

It’s relatively easy to offend people these days, or should I say, it’s easy for people to take offence (probably already offended some saying that!). Cryptic crosswords have many ways to upset people as each clue is a statement of sorts that may or may not have any relation to a touchy subject, have a wordplay that requires a risque connection, or an answer that people find distasteful. As a setter, some of these things materialise innocently and may not be instantly recognisable as a problem, while others are fostered to cause a reaction. Being made-up statements there should be a fair amount of latitude regarding intent, especially when the resultant answer bears no resemblance to anything eluded to in the clue. But it’s not just the clues that can cause problems, since there are answers written in and the grid that can also harbour unintentional timebombs. A couple of answers that can be linked to a controversial subject, and an inference can be drawn that the setter is making a statement. An answer that can be related to a recent news event may fall into the “too soon?” basket, even though the setter proabably wrote the clue, and the crossword was scheduled for production, long before the event happened. Solvers are always looking for hidden messages and themes and it’s certainly possible for a word to be spelt out somewhere in the grid accidentally, making it seem like the setter had something to convey.
In the 1990s, a pattern the shape of a swastika appeared in the middle of a state-based Australian paper. It’s simple to do from a design perspective and, as it’s the words and clues that are the focus of a crossword editor, easy to miss in the checking phase. And that’s what happened, both the cryptic and quick crosswords had a much-maligned symbol on show on the puzzle page. Some complaints were received and the publisher reacted strongly by issuing warnings to all setters that such things wouldn’t be tolerated, even if there was no intent. Even the solutions the next day appeared as text to avoid a miniature version being published. Later I heard that there were only a couple of complaints and those people weren’t Jewish, which makes sense when it was revealed the “swastika” was actually rotating the wrong way, making it a different symbol altogether. A similiar incident occurred recently in AZED CROSSWORD 2369, printed in The Observer, where a series of swastikas appear (being a barred grid I found it really hard to separate them out from the bars around them). There was a “politely worded” complaint from just one person, and the write-up about the crossword asked for comments about possible restrictions to grid layouts to prevent such incidents from recurring.
As a direct result, a thread appeared on Derek Harrison’s Crossword Centre.
There is quite a lot of discussion which is great with varying views. What do you think?

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3 Responses to The Stickler Weekly Insights 204 – Letters of Intent

  1. Richard Sternes says:

    All so true David & was also laughing before the Third line.
    Sure it’s not also Politically Incorrect?
    Another illuminating Insight. …..Often people just need to take a step back.

  2. Greg Mansell says:

    If you publish anything with the aim of causing zero offence, then it won’t be worth publishing.
    The swastika has a millennia-long history as a positive symbol. Perhaps it’s time to reclaim it.

  3. Arthur Maynard says:

    The last part of the first sentence says it all. People seem to react to triggers without taking time for reflection and considering whether the umbrage is real. I followed your links, and could not readily identify the swastika. The thread in derek Harrison’s centre was illuminating.
    The bottom line is that there was no intent to cause offence, and the complainant went out of his way to find the issue. Enough said.