Puzzle Plagiarism: One Year Later

This weekend marked the one-year anniversary of one of the biggest stories in puzzles: the USA Today/Universal Uclick crossword plagiarism scandal, aka #gridgate.

If you’re unfamiliar with the story, you can click here for more detail, but here’s a quick rundown of what happened. Programmer Saul Pwanson and constructor Ben Tausig uncovered a pattern of unlikely repeated entries in the USA Today and Universal crosswords, both of which are edited by Timothy Parker.

Eventually, more than 65 puzzles were determined to feature “suspicious instances of repetition” with previously published puzzles in the New York Times and other outlets, with hundreds more showing some level of repetition.

The story originally broke on data analysis website FiveThirtyEight.com thanks to Oliver Roeder, but the real credit belongs to Tausig and Pwanson. The article sparked an investigation, and a day after the story first broke, Universal Uclick (which owns both the USA Today crossword and the Universal syndicated crossword) stated that Parker had agreed to temporarily step back from any editorial role for both USA Today and Universal Crosswords.

We were among the first to report that constructor Fred Piscop would serve as editor in the interim, but after that, the story went quiet for two months.

Then, in early May, Roeder reported that Universal Uclick had completed its investigation, and despite the fact that they’d confirmed some of the allegations of puzzle repetition, they were only giving Parker a three-month leave of absence.

The puzzle community was unhappy with the reaction, and USA Today and Universal Uclick soon felt the pressure from constructors and content creators alike.

Among the most vocal was Mike Selinker, puzzle constructor and president of Lone Shark Games, who stated that he and his team would boycott both USA Today and Universal Uclick until appropriate action was taken:

Up until now, we liked USA Today. We thought that a newspaper of its size would be violently opposed to plagiarism. But they do not appear to be. It’s way past time for USA Today and Universal Uclick to take a stand against plagiarism and for creators’ rights, and maybe it takes some creators to stand up for those. So we’re doing it.

Many other game companies and constructors joined in the boycott, and less than a week later, Gannett (who publishes USA Today) declared that “No puzzles that appear in Gannett/USA TODAY NETWORK publications are being edited by Timothy Parker nor will they be edited by Timothy Parker in the future.”

We’d never seen anything like this. Not only did it galvanize the puzzle community like nothing before, but it raised the very important issue of creator’s rights when it comes to puzzles. After all, plagiarism isn’t tolerated in publishing or college term papers, so why should the efforts of crossword constructors be considered any less sacrosanct?

And except for the occasional joke on Twitter (or scathingly clever puzzle) referencing the story, that was it. As far as anyone knew, Parker was still employed by Uclick, and they wouldn’t confirm or deny his involvement in any non-USA Today and Gannett-published puzzles in the future.

So naturally, as the one-year anniversary of the story loomed in the distance, I got curious. What had become of Parker? Was he still involved with Universal Uclick?

Sadly, I have no new answers for you. I reached out to Universal Uclick for comment, and they declined to reply. Parker was similarly difficult to reach.

But even without new threads to follow, this is an important story to revisit. It represents the solidarity, pride, and support of the puzzle community. It represents the rights of creators to be respected and to have their hard work respected. It represents the power of concerned citizens speaking up.

It reminded people that crosswords represent much more than a way to pass an idle Sunday morning.


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75 Years of New York Times Crosswords!

Yesterday marked the 75th anniversary of The New York Times publishing its first crossword, and I thought I’d delve into NYT crossword history a bit to commemorate this event!

On February 15, 1942, The New York Times ran its first Sunday edition crossword. (The daily feature as we know it wouldn’t come into effect until 1950.)

But, you might be thinking to yourself, Arthur Wynne’s “word-cross” first appeared in the New York World in 1913. Simon & Schuster published The Cross-Word Puzzle Book, edited by Margaret Farrar, in 1924. What took The New York Times so long to catch on?

Truth be told, they didn’t think much of crosswords back then.

“Scarcely recovered from the form of temporary madness that made so many people pay enormous prices for mahjongg sets, about the same persons now are committing the same sinful waste in the utterly futile finding of words the letters of which will fit into a prearranged pattern, more or less complex.”

The article goes on to call crosswords “a primitive form of mental exercise” and compare their value to that of so-called brain teasers that should be solved by schoolchildren in 30 seconds or less. A pretty harsh assessment, overall.

So, what changed their minds regarding crosswords?

Well, World War II happened.

“I don’t think I have to sell you on the increased demand for this type of pastime in an increasingly worried world,” wrote Margaret Farrar, the first crossword editor of The Times, in a memo to Lester Markel, the Sunday editor, after the Pearl Harbor attack. “You can’t think of your troubles while solving a crossword.”

In a memo dated December 18, 1941, Markel conceded that the puzzle deserved space in the paper, considering what was happening elsewhere in the world, and that readers might need something to occupy themselves during blackouts.

The puzzle proved popular, and Arthur Hays Sulzberger — the publisher of the New York Times and a longtime crossword fan himself — would author a Times puzzle before the year was out.

And so now, only a few years after the crossword itself celebrated its centennial, the most famous crossword outlet in the world is celebrating three-quarters of a century, along with a wonderful legacy of innovation, wordplay, and creativity.

To mark the occasion, The Times is going all out. Not only did they publish a crossword on Tuesday by the youngest constructor in NYT history — 13-year-old Daniel Larsen — but over the course of the year, they’ll be publishing collaborations between top constructors and celebrity solvers!

The first, a feast of a collab between Patrick Blindauer and actor Jesse Eisenberg, was published yesterday.

So, we here at PuzzleNation tip our hat to not only the current crew at The New York Times crossword, but all of the editors, constructors, creators, and collaborators who have contributed to a true crossword institution. I, for one, can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

[For more on the 75th anniversary, please check out Deb Amlen’s wonderful piece here (from which I nabbed that Margaret Farrar quote).]


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Four Years of PuzzleNation Blog!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And in today’s post, we’re celebrating four years of PuzzleNation Blog!

This weekend marks the four-year anniversary of this humble little puzzle blog

I’ve been here since day one of the blog, and more than five hundred and seventy posts later, I still enjoy it. I greet every new post with the same excitement and drive to share the world of puzzles and games with our always-expanding readership.

It’s been an awesome gig. It has brought me opportunities to interview people I admire, spread the word about worthwhile causes and amazing Kickstarter campaigns, and experience huge events with other puzzlers and gamers.

We’ve seen puzzly proposals and mind-bending creations, grand mysteries solved and new ones revealed. We’ve seen the crossword turn 100, the slowest Rube Goldberg device, the fastest Rubik’s Cube solver, puzzle hunts that span continents, and moments where puzzles have made history.

I look forward to sharing so many more moments with you, my fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers.

And in honor of our four-year anniversary here on PuzzleNation Blog, we’re doing a giveaway! Just share this post on Facebook or on Twitter and you’ll be entered in a drawing to win either a free download of a Penny Dell Crosswords app puzzle set OR a copy of Scrimish donated by our friends at Nexci.

Thanks again for sharing this milestone with us. Here’s to many more to come!


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PuzzleNation Looks Back at 2015!

The year is quickly coming to a close, and as I look back on an eventful year in the world of puzzles and games, I’m immensely proud of the contributions both PuzzleNation Blog and PuzzleNation made to the puzzle community as a whole.

Over the last year, we explored dice games and tile games, apps and pen-and-paper puzzles. We met designers, constructors, and creative types of all kinds. We cracked brain teasers and tackled mind-bending riddles.

We explored the history of puzzles, broadened our understanding of how puzzles and games contribute to brain health, and celebrated the lives of puzzle greats Bernice Gordon, Henry Hook, Merl Reagle, and Leslie Billig, who were taken from us too soon.

We spread the word about numerous worthwhile Kickstarters and Indiegogo campaigns, watching with glee as a puzzle/game renaissance continued to amaze and surprise us with innovative new ways to play and puzzle.

We celebrated International TableTop Day, the debut of The Indie 500 crossword tournament, a new Star Wars movie, the 80th anniversary of Monopoly, new world records set by Rubik’s Cube solvers, and a puzzly wedding proposal, and we were happy to share so many remarkable puzzly landmark moments with you. Heck, we even solved the mystery of The Dress!

It’s been both a pleasure and a privilege to explore the world of puzzles and games with you, my fellow puzzle lovers and PuzzleNationers. I recently posted my 450th blog post, and I’m even more excited to write for you now than I was when I started.

And that’s just the blog. PuzzleNation’s good fortune and accomplishments in 2015 went well beyond that.

In January, we launched the Penny Dell Bible Word Search for iPad, and in March we started our monthly hashtag games. In May, we added Penny Dell Jumbo Crosswords 2 for iOS devices, and July saw the debut of our Crossword Clue Challenge every weekday on Twitter and Facebook.

But the standout showpiece of our puzzle app library has been the Penny Dell Crossword App. With our Dell Collection puzzle sets, our monthly Deluxe puzzle sets, and the 2015 Deluxe Combo (not to mention our various value packs and supreme bundles), we maintained a steady stream of quality puzzle content for solvers and PuzzleNationers.

We added a free daily puzzle feature for all users, and just before Christmas, we launched the Penny Dell Crossword App for Android devices, ensuring that more puzzle lovers than ever have access to the best mobile crossword app on the market today.

[Fred, our Director of Digital Games, shows off the Penny Dell Crossword App
at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in March.]

And your response has been terrific! We amassed over 1500 followers for the blog and we’re closing in on 1700 followers of the PuzzleNation Facebook page, numbers that are both humbling and very encouraging.

2015 was our most productive, most exciting, and most creatively fulfilling year to date, and 2016 promises to be even brighter.

Thank you for your enthusiasm, your support, and your feedback, PuzzleNationers. Have a fantastic New Year. We’ll see you in 2016!


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It’s Follow-Up Friday: For the Wynne edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, I’d like to return to the subject of Arthur Wynne.

[Image courtesy of express.co.uk.]

In 1913, Arthur Wynne created the first modern crossword puzzle — which he called a Word-Cross puzzle — and over a hundred years later, we are still enjoying the ever-increasing variety of puzzles and clues spawned by that “fun”-filled grid. (Click here for more details on that groundbreaking puzzle.)

Wynne was born on June 22, 1871 in Liverpool, England, but moved to the states in the early 1890s, spending time in Pittsburgh and New York City before creating his Word-Cross puzzle for the New York World. (We can also credit Wynne with the use of symmetrical black squares in crossword grids.)

So, in honor of Mr. Wynne’s 144th birthday, I’ve got a little word creation puzzle for you! How many words of four or more letters can you make from the letters in ARTHUR WYNNE’s name?

I came up with 110! Can you match or top my wordcount? Let me know!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

It’s Follow-Up Friday: Monopoly’s Birthday edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, I’d like to revisit the subject of Monopoly.

I recently posted about the 80th anniversary of the game and their real-money promotion in France.

And whether you’re a fan of the game or not, you can’t deny its staggering success or the genuine historical impact it has made.

Yesterday was the official 80th anniversary of the game. March 19, 1935 was the day Parker Brothers acquired the rights from the game from Charles Darrow, who claimed to have invented Monopoly, although the game was actually invented by a woman named Elizabeth J. Magie. (Parker Brothers now owns the rights from both parties.)

And over the course of 80 years, a lot of trivia has accumulated regarding the game. Here are a few of my favorite little nuggets:

  • The character locked behind the bars is called Jake the Jailbird. Officer Edgar Mallory sent him to jail.
  • Escape maps, compasses, and documents were inserted into Monopoly game boards smuggled into POW camps inside Germany during World War II. Real money for escapees was slipped into the packs of Monopoly money.
  • Tokens from the United States Monopoly: Here & Now Edition were flown into space aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis in 2007.

You can check out Hasbro’s full listing of Monopoly history and trivia here!

And now, a few questions: when you play Monopoly, what token do you use? And what’s your favorite variation of the game? Let me know! I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!