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Ebola Invades 'The New York Times' Sunday Crossword

Cross-word Puzzle
Composite by Ryan Kellman NPR
Cross-word Puzzle

Last Sunday I literally was clueless about a New York Times crossword puzzle clue: "Menace named after an African river." The answer was five letters long. WHAT WERE THEY?!?!

I finally did figure out the answer from the crossing words: Ebola. And that's how I learned the origin of the name of this frightening virus, which is making headlines this year because of an outbreak in West Africa.

I was curious whether other infamous global health ailments have appeared in the Times crossword. So I asked puzzle editor (and NPR puzzle master) Will Shortz. "Crosswords tend to avoid unpleasant subjects like diseases — but occasionally the names do slip in unavoidably," he wrote in an email.

Shortz graciously provided a list of all the New York Times crossword clues he's published for Ebola and other diseases on a short list I sent.

Here they are, with the number of times they've appeared. They're kind of like a haiku of disease — and they definitely are enlightening. So that's what malaria means!


Vaccine target [2]

Sabin's study

Challenge for F.D.R.

F.D.R.'s affliction

Salk vaccine target

Bygone epidemic cause

Salk's conquest [3]

F.D.R. affliction

Old disease

Salk's target


Modern term for "Roman fever"

Fever cause

Tropical woe [2]

Sub-Saharan scourge

"Bad air," literally


This has never appeared in a New York Times crossword because answers must have at least three letters.


Also a no-go because MERS is plural French for "seas." So that's what the clue would be.


Outbreak of 2003

2003 disease scare

Headline-making illness of 2002-03

Modern epidemic


Menace named after an African river

African virus [5]

Virus that arose in the Congo

"The Hot Zone" virus [5]

Virus named for a river [3]

"The Hot Zone" topic [2]

Jungle menace

Deadly virus [5]

Fatal virus

Nasty virus

Virulent virus

Dangerous strain [2]

Dreaded virus

African scourge

African threat

Zaire menace

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