In the world of crossword enthusiasts, a new puzzle presents a fresh challenge each day. But what if the puzzle was plagiarized from one that appeared years ago?
A database created by a software engineer has raised questions over whether old New York Times crossword puzzles were copied in other publications.
The puzzles in question appeared in USA Today as well as Universal Crossword, a Kansas City-based syndicated service, according to the website FiveThirtyEight, which said it conducted an investigation using the database.
Saul Pwanson, the engineer from Seattle who created the database, described himself as an amateur crossword puzzle maker who collected the data to learn more about the construction of the word games.
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The USA Today and Universal Crossword puzzles are both edited by Timothy Parker, according to Parker’s biography for Universal Uclick.
More than 60 crossword puzzles edited by Parker copied elements from New York Times puzzles, FiveThirtyEight reported. Other similarities were found between puzzles from USA Today or Universal Crossword, and puzzles published in the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune.
“The puzzles in question repeated themes, answers, grids and clues from Times puzzles published years earlier,” FiveThirtyEight reported.
The site also suggested that Parker had helped repurpose material he had already edited: “Hundreds more of the puzzles edited by Parker are nearly verbatim copies of previous puzzles that Parker also edited. Most of those have been republished under fake author names.”
Of particular focus was the repurposing of crossword themes, the central phrases that form the heart of many puzzles. Sixty-five puzzles edited by Parker contained the same themes as New York Times puzzles, according to FiveThirtyEight.
Will Shortz, who has been The New York Times’ crossword puzzle editor since 1993, says that crossword ideas and elements are occasionally repeated by accident. But the similarities highlighted by FiveThirtyEight made it “clear it’s plagiarism,” he said.
“When the same theme answers appear in the same order from one publication to the next, that makes you look closer. When they appear with the same clues, that looks suspicious. And when it happens repeatedly, then you know it’s plagiarism,” he said.
Universal Uclick did not respond to a request for comment from Parker. A representative from USA Today did not return an emailed request for comment.
But in an interview with FiveThirtyEight, Parker dismissed the concerns, pointing to the number of crossword puzzles he had worked on over the years.
“Out of 15,000, I’m not surprised at all,” he told FiveThirtyEight. “I would expect it to be a couple of hundred.”