Puzzle Plagiarism?

[Image courtesy of PlagiarismToday.com.]

Today’s post isn’t the usual Follow-Up Friday fare. Instead of returning to a previous subject, I’d like to discuss a topic that I expect I’ll be returning to in Follow-Up Friday form in the near future.

There is a certain pride and sense of accomplishment you experience as a puzzler when you come up with an exciting, innovative, unexpected theme idea for a puzzle, or when you pen a terrific clue for a word. Whether the wordplay is spot on or you’ve simply found a way to reinvigorate a tired bit of crosswordese, you feel like you’re adding something to the ever-expanding crossword lexicon, leaving a mark on the world of puzzles.

Unfortunately, there’s also the flip side of that coin, and those who would pilfer the hard work of others for their own gain. And in a story broken by the team at FiveThirtyEight, there may be something equally unsavory going on behind the scenes of the USA Today crossword and the Universal syndicated crossword.

You can check out the full story, but in short, an enterprising programmer named Saul Pwanson created a searchable database of crossword puzzles that identified similarities in published crosswords, and it uncovered an irregularly high number of repeated entries, grids, and clues in the USA Today and Universal crosswords, both of which are edited by Timothy Parker.

More than 60 puzzles feature suspicious instances of repetition — the word “plagiarism” comes to mind, certainly — and it has sparked an investigation. In fact, only a day after the story first broke, Universal Uclick (which owns both the USA Today crossword and the Universal syndicated crossword) stated that the subject of the investigation, Parker himself, “has agreed to temporarily step back from any editorial role for both USA Today and Universal Crosswords.”

I’ve heard that oversight of the USA Today crossword has already passed to another editor of note in the crossword world, constructor Fred Piscop (author of last Wednesday’s New York Times crossword), but I wonder if more examples of crossword duplication are lurking out there.

With resources like XWord Info and the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project out there, the history of crosswords is becoming more and more accessible and searchable. I can’t help but wonder if more scandals are lurking down the pike.


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Playing with your words!

One of the unexpected perks of writing this blog is being contacted by fellow puzzlers. Some send me links and “Have you seen this?” messages, while others ask questions about puzzles and games that make for terrific blog post ideas.

In the last year or so, there has been an increase in actual puzzles. Whether a puzzle goes viral and gets shared around Facebook or they encounter it somewhere and ask for help solving it, it’s fun and a little humbling to represent the puzzle community as a (fairly minor) authority on puzzles.

Of course, I suspect some of those people are trying to stump me. And that’s okay too.

Recently, I received a message with the following brain teaser:

What’s common between the following set of words (Tiny, Noun, English, Polysyllabic, Sesquipedalian)?
Also, what’s common between these words (Verb, German, Misspelled, Hyphenated, and Monosyllabic)?

As a puzzle fan and a word nerd, I quickly realized that wordplay was afoot!

The first set of words are all autonyms (also known as autological words or homological words). They describe themselves. Tiny is a small word, Noun is a noun, etc.

It can be fun to go hunting for autonyms. How about real, pentasyllabic, mellifluous, self-explanatory, or grandiloquent?

There are lots of wordplay possibilities here. The fear of long words is called hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia, which seems a bit cruel. Also, lethologica is the inability to remember the correct word for a given concept or item. But that’s a hard word to remember, so it’s quite possible to have lethologica lethologica.

It’s rare to see wordplay like this in crosswords, but you do see it on occasion. For instance, if you see the clue “Civic center?,” it might take you a second to come up with the answer VEE.

As for the second set of words, they’re the opposite of autonyms, since they don’t describe themselves. Verb isn’t a verb, Misspelled isn’t misspelled, Monosyllabic isn’t single-syllabled, etc. These words are called heterological words.

And these words work their way into common wordplay with ease. Who hasn’t received a forward or seen a Facebook post asking, “Why is ‘abbreviated’ so long?” Because it’s heterological.

You could ask “Why isn’t ‘alphabetical’ alphabetical?” Well, it would be if we spelled it “aaabcehillpt.” Similarly, “backwards” would be backwards if we spelled it “sdrawkcab” and “vowelless” would be vowelless if we spelled it “vwllss.” That makes heterological words autological.

There’s even a paradox that applies to this specific word: the Grelling-Nelson paradox.

It’s both simple and brain-melting all at once. If “heterological” is heterological, then it describes itself, which makes it autological, which is a contradiction. But if “heterological” is not heterological, then by default, it is autological, which it can’t be since it doesn’t describe itself, so again, contradiction.

That makes your head hurt. It’s like a wordy version of the Barber paradox.

In a small town, the barber shaves all those, and only those, who do not shave themselves.” So if he shaves himself, he doesn’t. And if he doesn’t, he does.

Thanks, paradoxes, but I think I’ll stick with autonyms for now. They make life easier.


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It’s Follow-Up Friday: View a Clue Animals 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, we’ve got answers to last week’s View a Clue game!


If you recall, we selected ten animals that commonly show up in crossword grids — some have become crosswordese at this point — to see if the PuzzleNation audience could identify them from pictures.

Without further ado, let’s get to the answers!

#1 (5 letters)

Answer: ELAND, an African antelope

#2 (3 letters)

Answer: KEA, a New Zealand parrot

#3 (3 letters)

Answer: EMU, a flightless Australian bird

#4 (5 letters)

Answer: COATI, a tropical raccoon-like animal

#5 (4 letters)

Answer: NENE, a Hawaiian goose

#6 (3 or 4 letters)

Answer: ERN or ERNE, a sea eagle

#7 (4 letters)

Answer: IBEX, a horned mountain goat

#8 (3 letters)

Answer: SEI, a large whale

#9 (5 letters)

Answer: OKAPI, an African animal and kin to the giraffe

#10 (4 letters)

Answer: ANOA, an Indonesian buffalo


How many did you get? Let me know in the comments below! And if you have ideas for another View a Clue game, tell us below!

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View a Clue: Crossword Animals

Welcome to the third edition of PuzzleNation Blog’s newest feature: the View a Clue game!

I’ve selected ten animals that commonly show up in crossword grids — some have become crosswordese at this point — and I want to see if the PuzzleNation audience can identify them from pictures. It’s a visual puzzle I call View a Clue!

Without further ado, let’s give it a shot!


#1 (5 letters)

#2 (3 letters)

#3 (3 letters)

#4 (5 letters)

#5 (4 letters)

#6 (3 or 4 letters)

#7 (4 letters)

#8 (3 letters)

#9 (5 letters)

#10 (4 letters)


How many did you get? Let me know in the comments below! And if you have ideas for another View a Clue game, tell us below!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching…

puzzle-pin-valentines-day-craft-photo-420-ff0299vala16

Valentine’s Day is this Saturday, and it can be tough to find something appropriate for your significant other that’s sincere and interesting and heartfelt. This is as true for puzzle lovers as it is for everyone else.

So, in the spirit of romance, love, affection, and all things Valentine’s Day, I’ve compiled a few puzzly suggestions for what to give your significant other.

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Now, you can always start with something simple, like a subscription to a puzzle service like The Uptown Puzzle Club, The American Values Club Crossword, or Matt Gaffney’s Weekly Crossword Contest. New puzzles every week or every month are a great gift. (Especially the Valentine’s Deluxe Set for the Penny Dell Crosswords app on PuzzleNation! *wink*)

If they’re more into mechanical puzzles, our friends at Tavern Puzzles offer several brain teasers that incorporate a heart shape.

heartpuzzle

But if you’re looking for something more personalized, why not make a crossword for them yourself?

(Yes, you can also commission a top puzzler to do one for you — Brendan Emmett Quigley for one — but you’d usually want to get the ball rolling on something like that well before Valentine’s Day.)

Now, to be fair, crosswords can be tough and time-intensive to make, so if that feels a little daunting, why not try a Framework puzzle instead? It involves the same crossing style, but doesn’t require you to use every letter.

valentine-s-day-love-wedding-criss-cross-word-game-romance-themed-puzzle-also-known-as-fill-blanks-crossword-puzzle-36632791

[This grid is presented fill-in style, in case you
don’t want to use crossword-style numbering.
Check out the original here.]

It allows you to maintain a terrific word list all about you and your significant other without all the effort of filling in every square crossword-style.

Some themed entries could include where you first met, favorite meals, favorite movie… heck, if you’ve been together a long time, the names of your kids, or your favorite vacation spots.

Or you could write the object of your affection a coded love letter! All throughout history, people have employed different tricks and techniques to keep their private messages away from prying eyes, and you could do the same! Whether it’s a simple letter-shifting cipher or something more complex, make sure your message is worth reading. =)

If that’s not your cup of tea, maybe do a scavenger hunt! You could leave clues around leading to a gift, or a romantic dinner, or some other grand finale. Maybe a rose with each clue.

img_8721

Or you could hide jigsaw pieces around the house that, when put together, spell out a Valentine’s message or a picture of the two of you.

Put your own spin on the idea. A little bit of effort can go a long way, plus it doesn’t cost anything.

You could even make a game of it! Play Valentine’s Day Bingo.

valentines-bingo-stripes-blank-blog

[I found this blank template on Makoodle.com.]

Maybe go for a walk or take your loved one out to dinner, and see if they can get bingo by observing different things. A couple holding hands as they walk, a Valentine’s Day proposal, outrageously priced flowers…

The possibilities are endless when you put your mind to it.

A friend of mine did something puzzly and romantic for his girlfriend, creating cryptic crossword clues she had to solve in order to receive each birthday gift he’d gotten her. When all of the clues were solved, they spelled out a special message. (You can check out the story here.)

And let me know if you or your significant other have ever shared any puzzly romantic moments!

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!