For weeks I’ve been defending The New York Times from attacks from various quarters, alleging this mistake or that, of fact or interpretation.
Now I’ve found one. And though it’s admittedly in the Times crossword puzzle I still can’t let it pass.
On Saturday December 7th, the clue for 16 across was “Traitorous leader of occupied France in W.W.II.” Now from the length of the word and the others around it, it was pretty clear the answer was ‘Petain,’ as in Marshal Henri Philippe PÃ©tain. (I waited till today for confirmation. And ‘Petain’ it was.)
The only problem is that the clue doesn’t match the answer because Petain wasn’t the leader of occupied France. After France’s defeat, the country was divided in two. There was the occupied zone in the North run by Germany. Then there was the collaborationist Vichy government in the South, which sued for peace and allied itself with the Nazis.
Petain was the head of state in Vichy, not ‘occupied France.’
Now perhaps this is a point of detail (though to people at the time — and since — it was a very important point of detail). But regardless of that, points of detail are the lifeblood of crosswords, no? I could just imagine thousands of non-historical-illiterates searching for what the answer could be on Saturday since they knew it couldn’t be Petain, and now having their confidence in the Times‘ crossword shattered, perhaps never to be recovered.
Maybe the Times really is suffering from some deep internal rot. Could Raines be responsible for this too? Is it some insidious pro-frog bias?