A Brief History of New York Times Crossword Puzzle Swastikas

On December 19 2022, an Imgur account shared a screenshot of a tweet claiming that the December 18 2022 New York Times crossword puzzle was in the shape of a swastika:

Another popular tweet from December 18 2022 posed a similar question. Both accounts observed that the New York Times crossword in question happened to appear on the first night of Hanukkah in 2022:

Fact Check

Claim: The New York Times‘s December 18 2022 crossword formed the shape of a swastika.

Description: Several Twitter and Imgur users claimed that the December 18, 2022 crossword puzzle in the New York Times formed the shape of a swastika.


Rating Explanation: The claim was reviewed and found to be true. It was noted that the recognition of the shape was dependent on the readers’ perception and the paper asserted that common crossword design rules around rotational symmetry and black squares can lead to a similar spiral pattern.

On Twitter, the hashtag #NYTcrossword included primarily tweets about the December 18 2022 crossword puzzle’s resemblance to a swastika — but that also quickly led to a tweet from the verified New York Times Games account (@NYTGames) acknowledging complaints about a swastika-shaped puzzle — in October 2017.

On October 28 2017, the account expressed incredulity that readers were objecting to a swastika shape evident in the puzzle:

Images of solved versions of the October 28 2017 New York Times crossword were available on crossword-related blogs; it looked like this:

A New York Times crossword column (“Wordplay”) published on December 17 2022 (for the following day’s puzzle) provided background about the crossword of the day. It began:

SUNDAY PUZZLE — Ryan McCarty of Washington, D.C., is a principal consulting manager at a company specializing in data analytics for clients in the federal government. He is also a baritone in several vocal ensembles. Weekend solvers will be very familiar with his name, even though this puzzle is Ryan’s Sunday debut. This is his 23rd Times puzzle, and nearly every one has been a Saturday themeless construction.

He started this grid in the middle and worked his way out, stirring in a heap of fresh, lively vocabulary, including 20 debut entries.

Tricky Clues
I love the geometry in this puzzle — so many stair steps! — and feel that it contributes to a certain evenness in the solve. Most of the entries that first caught my eye were of medium length — five or six letters long, bulky enough to give me lots of letters to use in chipping away at each corner — and the whole grid came together all at once.

19A. This is probably my favorite deadpan joke in the grid today. “One might crawl out of the woodwork” refers to a [XXXXXXXXX XXX].

Many of the comments under “Reader Picks” objected to the shape of the puzzle:

“Count me in as one of the many commenters who immediately saw the swastika. It would be good if the puzzle editors addressed this and someone takes responsibility. Who cares if it was “unintentional”? Isn’t that what editors are for?”

“Um, hi, this puzzle… appears to be a swastika?”

“Real classy to have a puzzle that evokes swastika vibes on the first day of Hanukkah, NYT. Do better.”

A December 19 2022 article about the controversy included a statement provided by the New York Times to another outlet:

“This is a common crossword design: Many open grids in crosswords have a similar spiral pattern because of the rules around rotational symmetry and black squares.”

In the course of our research, we found references to a third controversy involving crossword swastikas, this one a mini-puzzle from December 1 2014:

Given the context of a puzzle arguably shaped like a swastika and the answer “JEW” in a prime spot… my blood started to curdle. So I wrote to the editor via the in-app feedback link.


The following day I received an email response that, while probably accurate, was less than sympathetic.

Thank you for writing to The New York Times.

I can assure you that Mr. Fagliano meant no harm in the pattern of squares for today’s Mini. As I’m sure you probably know, there are only so many possible arrangements for squares in a 5×5 puzzle. I had to look really hard at it in order to see what you refer to as a swastika, and personally, I mainly see a lot of white space.

Also, the entry JEW had no connection to the pattern of squares in the puzzle. The clue itself is a line from Adam Sandler’s “The Chanukkah Song.”

The NY Times response basically accused me of dreaming up the swastika shape. To prove that it wasn’t just me, I presented the puzzle to a bunch of other individuals. Each answered within seconds and provided only two distinct answers: “swastika” and “Nazi symbol”. No one mentioned “pinwheel” and no one even said, “I don’t know.”

I suppose I fault the NY Times Crossword editorial staff for not catching this. And even once it got out, there has been no acknowledgement that the puzzle could have been interpreted as insensitive.

We contacted the New York Times to ask about the crossword swastikas. We will update if we receive a comment.