A tiny section is reserved in every newspaper for prior errors, typos, misunderstandings and other bloopers to be publicly set right. These errors are often mildly embarrassing for the editor so, in the eyes of the reader, a printed admission of guilt is punishment enough and makes everyone feel better. The erratum published in yesterday’s Financial Times might be a little more difficult to digest for some readers though. It also provides an interesting demonstration of how cognitive dissonance is reduced and induced. Due to a production error, it seems the clues and the grid for a crossword puzzle published some days earlier did not match. The puzzle was literally insolvable.
For the countless readers who attempted the puzzle and threw their arms up in despair after having been unable to complete a single word on the grid, the admission has probably helped to redeem their self-esteem; even though they might be angered at having their time wasted in this way, at least they now know they are not complete dolts. The gap between their self-perception of cleverness and their stunning lack of progress on the crossword has now been closed. But what about those who thought they had managed to successfully complete some of the boxes – perhaps even managing to intersect a few horizontal words with a vertical? Not only was their time wasted, but the FT’s erratum has opened up a gaping chasm of dissonance.
The paper is very sorry, of course, and “apologises to everybody who attempted the puzzle.”