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'Homonames' Repository


Crossword Puzzle That Will Not Die!


Tuesday August 07 03:37 AM EDT 

By Richard Johnson

THE folks at the New York Times fell all over themselves to assure readers the 
paper didn't "out" any homosexuals in its rather odd magazine crossword puzzle on 
Sunday. Under the title "Homonames," readers were asked to come up with phrases 
that sound like famous people's names. For example, the answer to "Ruins a good 
book?" was "WRECKS READ," a homonym for New York Observer movie critic Rex Reed. 
"Gomer Pyle" star Jim Nabors showed up as "GYM NEIGHBORS." Among other 
celebrities whose names popped up in the puzzle were those of Bette Midler, 
Carrie Fisher, Phil Spector, and Robin Leach. The Times ran an editor's note 
explaining that no "suggestions about anyone's sexual orientation" were intended. 
As far as the company he keeps, Leach tells PAGE SIX, "This will come as a great 
surprise to my ex-wife, three sons, ex-girlfriends and whomever the future 
ex-Mrs. Leach might be." He added: "References are happily furnished upon request." 



MSNBC's Spin

Puzzle palace

Gay games at the New York Times

Puzzle palace     
Gay games at the New York Times    

By Eric Alterman
August 7 —  It’s August. George W. is soaking in the 96-degree heat out in 
Crawford, and Chandra Levy is nowhere to be found. Let’s face it, there’s not 
much going on… unless you are gay and/or you happen to work at the New York 
Times Magazine. Adam Moss, the magazine’s editor, is both, which is what makes 
the story of this Sunday’s crossword puzzle all the more intriguing… if not 
exactly important. 

THIS PAST SUNDAY morning, Times readers woke up to one of the paper’s most 
extraordinary “Editor’s Notes” in the paper’s history. Here it is in full: 

“Readers who solve The Times’ Sunday puzzles may wish to skip this note until 
they have completed today’s crossword. That puzzle, on Page 64 of the magazine, 
is titled “Homonames.” Its principal answers are homonyms of well-known 
names — words pronounced like the names but spelled differently and unrelated in 
meaning. After advance copies of the magazine had been delivered, a few readers, 
perhaps prompted by the sound of the title, said they perceived allusions to gay 
life among the puzzle clues. Slurs involving sexual orientation would be a 
violation of The Times’s standards. The newspaper has requested and received 
assurances from the puzzle editor and the puzzle creator, a veteran Times 
contributor, that no such allusions — nor any suggestions about anyone’s sexual 
orientation — were intended. ”

When I read this wonderful note, I copied it and e-mailed it to a few friends 
with a playful headline. I do not do crossword puzzles and I figured that was 
all there was to it. 

Later in the day, however, I started getting e-mails back. At least twenty-two 
of the clues could be read to imply either gay sexual or cultural references. 
(“87 across: Add more lubricant”;” 65 down: scratched-up leather straps?”; “113 
across: people who live next to a Y” are some of those appropriate to repeat in 
a family Web site.) At first I thought these were made up, and I sent them to 
the same friends as part of the joke. It turned out they were real. Amazing. 
What’s more the answers started coming in. “Gym Neighbors.” “Wrecks Read.” 
“Robbin Leech.” “Bet Middler” These really were “homonames!” More politely, they 
were names of people who were either known to be gay, assumed to be gay, or play 
a role in gay culture. Somebody was screwing big-time with the Newspaper of 
Record . (To make the whole thing even crazier, the following day’s puzzles 
contained answers like “Excuse me please”, “I’m terribly sorry”, and “I beg your 
The position of the Times’ editors is that this is all some big coincidence. 
They have accepted the word puzzle-writer Peter Gordon and his editor Will 
Shortz that a puzzle called “homo-names” containing at least 22 clues that sound 
gay and a whole bunch of the names of people associated with gay life in America 
is the kind of thing that could happen to anyone. Sources inside the newspaper 
tell me that when the magazine was initially published in the middle of last 
week, and Times’ staffers saw it and noticed what was up, a vigorous debate 
ensued about what the Times’ position on it would be. Shortz is said to have 
vigorously defended his author, Gordon, who stuck to his “coincidence” story. 
The result was the weird editor’s note, which itself, was the subject of 
considerable back and forth negotiation between the Powers That Be. (To further 
complicate matters, the paper’s publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., executive 
editor, Joe Lelyveld, and executive editor to be, Howell Raines, were all in 
China this week.)

The person with whom to empathize with in this nutty story is the Magazine’s 
editor, Adam Moss. Editors do not routinely vet crossword puzzles for hidden 
political agendas. And while the Times, like much of the elite New York media, 
has a famously gay-friendly culture and many gay writers, it has no known openly 
gay top executives. (This is also true of much of the rest of the elite media.) 
Moss, who had already gone on vacation when I called him for a comment, is 
probably the most visible openly gay editor anywhere, though he does not make a 
big deal of it. For this he is to be saluted, at least in my opinion.

But the Magazine has been in hot water on this very issue once before. In 
December 1999, it published a column by its gay conservative writer, Andrew 
Sullivan, that slyly outed — or appeared to out by demanding that they out 
themselves — a number of well-known public figures. These including Gore campaign 
manager Donna Brazille, former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, talk show host Rosie 
O’Donnell, fitness guru, Richard Simmons, singer Ricky Martin, even Clinton 
cabinet members Donna Shalala and Janet Reno. It was an amazing column coming 
from a gay man —- who, after all, was in a position to know —insisting that 
public figures had no right to keep their sexuality ambiguous even if it had 
nothing whatsoever to do with their jobs.
Sullivan kept his job as a columnist at the magazine and went on to become a 
controversy in his own right when he published a personal advertisement for 
unprotected sex with other men who, like himself, are HIV positive. He declaimed 
the invasion of his privacy, which it surely was. But didn’t Sullivan carry out 
his own invasion of the very same right of privacy to those he named in his own 
column? Surely this is another argument that the personal lives of public 
figures are none of the media’s business, Andrew Sullivan included. 

Coincidentally perhaps, Sullivan appears presently to be the only person alive 
who admits to believing the Times’ coincidence story. (On his vanity Web site, 
he cutely suggests psychotherapy for the puzzle’s author.) But the fact is that 
the Times has a problem that won’t go away. However it happened, it allowed a 
crossword puzzle to out people — or to appear to out — a number of private 
people in the world’s most influential newspaper. (It also implicitly calls 
them “homos” something editors usually only do in private.)

On Monday, Robin Leach felt compelled to issue what is perhaps the first ever 
denial of a crossword puzzle clue, telling a New York Post gossip writer, “This 
will come as a great surprise to my ex-wife, three sons, ex-girlfriends and 
whomever the future ex-Mrs. Leach might be.” And don’t be surprised if you see 
photos of Rex Reed squiring Pamela Anderson to the next movie opening he attends.

Sure, it’s embarrassing, but the Times’ editors should simply face up to the 
fact of a massive screw-up, but one that could, at least theoretically, happen 
to any newspaper. Clearly, it occurred with an absence of malice, at least at 
the top. Hey, editors are human, and mistakes get made. It will be less painful 
if they apologize sooner rather than later.

Just ask Wen Ho Lee.

Eric Alterman is a columnist for The Nation and a regular contributor to MSNBC 

If still available, this piece was posted at Eric Alterman