COVID-19 and NYT Crosswords : Is there any impact ?

This study is the outcome of analyzing 589 NYT crosswords edited during Pandemics to see if there has been an impact. It covers the period between 03/22/2020 and 10/30/2021.

We learned some interesting information worth sharing with you.

How did we carry out the Study?

We listed all the clues, and the answers along with some additional information and compiled them into different tables to discover the most requested words, the most frequently used clues, and more than the rest of the clues.

Cherry On The Cake, we had some fun searching words and clues that arose during the pandemic…

We are not going to stimulate your curiosity more than that, here are our three points analyzed in this study :

What are the most used clues that appeared during the pandemic :

A crossword is based on a grid and some clues, we analyzed the list of the clues and tried to find out the most used ones and their connection with the pandemic
The result of the clue analysis shows that the appearance of most clues is ordinary, yet some clues are a little bit influenced by the pandemic.

Most used clues in NYT crosswords during pandemic

The graphic shows the clues which appeared more than 7 times in New York Times Crossword during the pandemic. At first glance, there is nothing special. But when we try to correlate these clues with the situation during the pandemic, we find a very solid bond!

  1. Zip: This word refers not only to some speed but also to the emptiness we had 7 out of 11 answers that refer to the void: Nada, Nil, and merriam webster
  2. Mauna_: This is the second most used clue in the crossword ( same as “regarding” ), it is somehow related to the context, which is “explosive” at the pandemic. The possible answers to this clue are “Loa” and “Kea”, which are volcanoes.
  3. Same Here: This clue comes in the fifth position and appeared during Lockdown days when everybody is at home.
  4. Wild guess: This is because no one is sure about the pandemic and “wild guess” is really what happened when talking about the pandemic. It is the same interpretation as the “Appear” which takes the 15th position in this top clue list.
  5. Put away: This is the activity that many people did to pass the time. It’s the seventh used clue by the constructors.
  6. No-goodnik, Give up and Fury: These are some “bad” thoughts that may arise during the lockdown.
  7. Fury: Unfortunately, these are extreme cases that can occur during COVID-19.

As you can see, these clues became used often during the pandemic. Some of their answers, explain the crossword constructor’s state of mind. For example, the clue “Zip ” has’ ‘None “,”” Nil, and “”Nada “ many times.

That’s why we tried to correlate clues with the answers to see the meaning of the clues that have one of two or more definitions.


Conclusion: The clue’s choice was influenced by the pandemic.

What Words were the most asked in NYT Crosswords during the COVID-19 pandemic :

Top 10 words requested on NYT Crosswords during pandemic

In addition to the conclusion, we found regarding the frequency of use of clues was generally affected by the pandemic. We found that the most requested words for NYT crosswords are also related to the situation during this period.

Not surprising because clues and answers are related. We already deduced that the pandemic influenced some clues.

However, the answers to some clues could vary depending on the choices of the constructor.

The searched word length may vary depending on the grid available tiles.

Let’s see what words were the most used in the pandemic :

    1. ERA: It appeared 42 times, but it had many definitions, among which 21 were defining a period: “Period in/of history”, “Period with start and end dates”, “Long Period”, “Notable Period” and “Defining period”. Those were the clues used 50% of the time to guess the word “ERA”. We believe that the length of the lockdown has influenced this choice.
    2. ETA: While it is a Greek letter, this word has many other meanings. All of them related to “time” and “places” and these two elements were so frequent during the lockdown.
    3. ALE: It ranks fourth, and drinking with friends, pubs were missing during the COVID-19 days…
    4. ATE: Interesting word crossed on the top of the searched word: it is related to food and strangely, we see some stress around this word. The clues confirm it: Gobbled UP, Gulped, Downed, Devoured …
    5. ERR: With too many electronic devices used, maybe we can see “error messages” appear more frequently.

We know that, for crossword construction purposes, 3 letters words are used frequently but is this the case?

Let’s come back to the figures below in the pictures where we mentioned the 11 most used words in NYT Crossword during the pandemic. We notice that all of them are 3-word letters, and this is common even on normal days.

We compared the average use of these words and found that they vary between 32 to 42. Then, we compared the other 3 letter words, this is too big. The other 3 letters words are used on average 5,5 times means -84% times less than the top list.


The words related to the pandemic “in an emotional way” tend to be in the puzzle 84% more than the other words. But what about the PANDEMIC words?

Is there any pandemic lexicon in these New York Times crosswords?

In this study, we wanted to see what “pandemic” words used during the COVID-19 pandemic were directly included in crosswords released during this period. Specifically: different terms of COVID-19, some vaccines, and symptoms.

Their use during this time is certainly related to the pandemic context.

The list is not huge, but it is interesting!

pandemic words in new york times crosswords

Unlike the other studies where we sorted the words in a certain classification, we manually searched a base of 33 words known to be in the pandemic lexicon: From prevention, symptoms, equipment, healing materials, and vaccines. So, in a dataset of more than 23 thousand words, the findings were really limited.


It is no surprise that Will Shortz‘s team avoids words that bring fears or bad memories for some. We usually solve our crosswords at breakfast. Probably this is not the right moment to come across those kinds of words. COVID 19 impacts incredibly our lives in many ways.

Final thoughts :

No matter how they tried to avoid certain words, The context influences constructors in the word choice of the crosswords. This is inevitable. few words arose from nowhere. A certain amount of words become more frequent in crosswords because of the pandemic.

Some new words in Covid-19 jargon are emerging cautiously.

We think that they will remain so for a long time.

That’s all! Please share your thought in the comment section on our study ” COVID-19 and NYT Crosswords”. Stay tuned for upcoming studies.


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