Several in our family tackle the same newspaper’s crossword puzzle every day. We’ve been having a bit of a debate. Is it, or is it not, cheating to look up an answer to a clue? No one is completing the puzzle for a prize, no one signs an honor code before being allowed to fill in any answers and most frequently, each day’s puzzle is long-forgotten before the next day’s newspaper arrives. The puzzle provides a few minutes of intellectual stimulation every morning, not a competitive step towards career advancement.
Each day’s puzzle gets progressively harder as the week moves on. Each household that subscribes to the same newspaper has one member who enjoys the puzzle. After all, it is often much more relaxing than the news! Mondays and Tuesdays are relatively easy. Wednesday, most of us can manage. On Thursday, we occasionally work jointly. Friday, no one has time for a puzzle —Shabbat is coming! Various family members have different areas of specialty: sports, science, history, current pop-culture, pop-culture pre-1980, etc. Together, we do rather well. Sometimes, though we are all stumped, but we know that the answer is easily accessible via technology.
That is when our naysayers chime in. While no one objects to our pooling resources (let’s hear it for family togetherness!), one or two of the non-puzzle fans have snidely suggested that looking up an answer is cheating.
Our most recent discussion on this topic took place as a cheating scandal at West Point came to light. With tests being administered online, dozens of cadets have been cited for cheating on a calculus exam administered this past spring. Their actions are in direct contradiction to the West Point honor code, ”A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.”
The good news, if I can term it that, is that there have been other cheating scandals. There is no need to cry “the sky is falling” while seeing this as unprecedented misconduct. There is even a silver lining. Overwhelmingly, those who cheated were first-year students, a sharp contrast to the last large incident in 1976 that involved upperclassmen. One might hope that the occurrence points to a problem in instilling values, especially in light of the difficulties posed by COVID, that needs to be solved rather than being an example of complete and irrevocable failure.
Nonetheless, I’m wondering if honesty is less valued today than it used to be. West Point’s honor code even sounds somewhat archaic. Ironically, this is partially due to an increase in transparency. In the glamorous Hollywood of the 1950s, studios falsely presented stars as romantically involved, knowing that they would lose audience if the truth of those stars’ private lives was known. Years ago, ubiquitous social media wasn’t present as it is today to instantly reveal the hypocrisy and mendacity of dishonest politicians. Was Bill Clinton’s disreputable behavior worse than John F. Kennedy’s or for that matter, Warren Gamaliel Harding? Or do we just know more about it?
I am not downplaying the need for honesty or the negative ramifications when a populace does not believe (often with good reason) those in public office, the media, scientists and others who used to be seen as trustworthy. I’m just trying to figure out what would have happened if my grandfather, who used to fill in the New York Times crossword puzzle in pen, would have had access to Google. Would he have used it? Would you?
No cheating. Just daily clues into yourself.
Stride into the year with
Chart Your Course: 52 Weekly Journaling Challenges
with Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin