Climate-conscious crossword aficionados everywhere threw down their pencils and took to Twitter recently, aghast that the answer to a New York Times crossword puzzle clue “greener energy source” could possibly be “clean coal.”
Amongst the cross worders was U.S. Rep. Sean Casten (D-IL), who made his name as a cleantech executive before running for office. Striking out “CLEAN COAL” on the crossword with a handy virtual red pen, he replaced the phrase with “FAIRYTALE,” reports Canary Media.
It turned out the puzzle’s author, Lynn Lempel, had her doubts about the answer, and even the clue, for 47 Across. In a regular column that entertains crossworders by highlighting particularly “tricky” clues, Lempel noted that the phrase “clean coal” gave her “slight pause because it’s debatable whether there really is such a thing.” Worse, she noted that her original clue “included something of a hedge.” She originally framed it as ‘Dubious term for a greener energy source’, but the editing team didn’t think that was needed, she wrote.
“Perhaps due in part to the noise on Twitter,” writes Canary Media, the Times issued a correction. “The clue for 47 Across in the Monday crossword puzzle implied incorrectly that coal is a viable source of clean energy,” the paper wrote. “While it is possible to capture and sequester some of the greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants from coal-fired power plants, the technology has never been used on a large scale because of its high cost.”
Environmental journalist and climate accountability podcaster Amy Westervelt came right back with her own correction to the Times’ correction:
“‘Clean coal’ is a marketing term made up by the industry to burnish its image,” she wrote. “It is now and always has been hogwash. ‘It’s just too expensive’ ignores the fact that it was a deliberately misleading term from jump.”