The New York Times published a swastika, and no one there noticed
Modern crossword puzzles, especially the New York Times crossword puzzles, are always created so that the black squares and white spaces create pleasing visual patterns. On Sunday, the first night of Hanukkah, the New York Times crossword puzzle had a strikingly awful geometric pattern: a swastika. People noticed and were offended.
I'm not surprised. Jewish culture long ago left the New York Times building, taking with it a reflexive awareness of Jewish holidays and swastikas.
The Times crossword puzzle is a venerable institution that the paper began publishing weekly during WWII. By 1950, it was so popular that it began to run daily and has done so ever since. Beginning in 1993, Will Shortz became the crossword puzzle editor, leaving many to assume that he also creates the puzzles. In fact, they come from several freelance puzzle creators.
Yesterday, the first night of Hanukkah, something went terribly wrong at the Times crossword puzzle desk, for it published a puzzle that carries the unmistakable shape of a swastika:
A hidden Happy Chanukah message in today's @nytimes crossword? pic.twitter.com/iFVPQdTWSi— Kalman Yeger (@KalmanYeger) December 18, 2022
Here i filled in some of the negative space for you. See it now? pic.twitter.com/rwNlHg0mA5— Kathryn Larsen (@kathrynlarsen86) December 18, 2022
People were not happy:
Today’s New York Times crossword is um…making me nervous. pic.twitter.com/73CafLiy3Z— Blake Flayton (@blakeflayton) December 18, 2022
Designed by Ye— Guy Bliss (@BlissGuy) December 18, 2022
I do the puzzle daily. They don’t generally look like swastikas.— Rabbi Elisa Koppel loves Hanukkah! (@rabbiisa) December 18, 2022
One person tried to explain it away,
Coming from a #Jewish crossword constructor…Y’all need to understand something about crossword construction. Rotational symmetry, which is the majority of xwords, lends itself to ending up with this pattern often. It just so happens to be on a Sunday, so more people noticing.— Sam Buchbinder (@sambuchbinder) December 18, 2022
But others weren’t accepting that explanation:
Yikes! 😱 No coincidence. Everything in crossword puzzle creation is intentional.— Karen (@NikkitooPA) December 18, 2022
I fall in a middle ground. I believe the rotational symmetry statement about crossword puzzle creation. The crossword puzzle's freelance creator may or may not have intended the rotational symmetry to look like a swastika — we have no way of knowing. However, to the extent the Times went ahead and published the puzzle, I believe that happened because the Times has completely abandoned Jewish culture, leaving its employees unaware of Hanukkah and insensitive to the swastika (for all that leftists love to call everyone a Nazi).
In the 20th century, the Times was a very Jewish paper. Sure, it was leftist and anti-Israel, and it hid news about Nazi and Soviet efforts to slaughter Jews, but the staff were heavily Jewish, as were the readership. After WWII, the paper's employees didn't need to think about Hanukkah and the horror of swastikas. They knew and felt that information reflexively. A swastika-shaped crossword puzzle would have set off immediate alarms the moment it hit the desk in some Times back office. In 2022, though, at the New York Times, when it comes to Jewish things, the people there not only don't know these things; they don't feel them.
This post, incidentally, is not about whether it's a good thing or a bad that Jewish references and knowledge have vanished from popular culture. It merely acknowledges that reality.
Beginning in the 1920s, popular culture had a huge number of obviously Jewish comedians who loved America and were welcomed into American lives, first via movies, then via television. Nowadays, we have a handful of highly visible, self-loathing young comics — and Kanye West, whose popularity surged on Twitter when he praised Hitler.
Jewish awareness in popular culture is dead. That's why it's no surprise that, on the first day of Hanukkah, the New York Times, a paper that used to be a staple in every middle-class Jewish household in New York City, unwittingly (probably) published a big swastika.