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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Super Bowl Snack Puzzle: The Solution!

Last Friday, we shared a football-themed brain teaser just in time for Super Bowl Sunday, and today, we’re going to walk you through solving it!

So, first, let’s refresh you on the puzzle itself:

Five couples have gathered for the big game, each football-loving woman having invited a male date, because it’s fun to invert stereotypes sometimes.

The women are Amanda, Evelyn, Janice, Rhianna, and Sue, and the men are Bill, Cory, Mack, Ted, and Walter.

Each couple brought a different snack: Doritos, Pringles, Lays, Tostitos, and Cheetos.

Can you figure out which couples brought which snack from the hints below?

Here are your hints:

1. Ted did not accompany Rhianna to the Super Bowl party.
2. Amanda and her date brought Doritos to the party.
3. Bill and his date and the couple who brought Pringles cheered for the Falcons.
4. Rhianna and her date cheered on the Patriots.
5. Mack and his date decided to bring Cheetos.
6. Evelyn and her date did not bring Lays chips.
7. Sue and her date, who wasn’t Ted, were Patriots fans.
8. Sue and her date didn’t bring Tostitos.
9. Cory and his date did not bring either Lays or Pringles to the gathering.
10. Bill and Amanda and their dates all sampled the five different types of chips.
11. Evelyn and her date did not bring Tostitos.
12. Ted and his date cheered the halftime show instead of either team.

So, given all the information, we know there are five couples, and we have clues regarding the men, the women, the snacks, and what they were rooting for. Let’s build a grid to help organize our information.

With the info in Clues 2, 3, 5, and 10, we have this starting grid:

We can now start to map out where some of the other women fit. According to Clues 4 and 7, both Rhianna and Sue were Patriots fans, which means they weren’t part of couples 1, 2, or 3.

Now, this doesn’t immediately place Sue or Rhianna, but when you combine this information with Clue 12, we can place Ted.

If we turn our attention to Clue 9, we can now place Cory, since we know he and his date didn’t bring Pringles or Lays, which means he can only be part of couple 5.

Since he didn’t bring Lays, we can also place both Lays and Tostitos in the snack column. And, by placing Cory, we also place Walt in the men column.

According to Clues 8 and 11, neither Evelyn nor Sue brought Tostitos, so we can place Rhianna in couple 5 with Cory. That leaves Sue as the other half of Patriots-cheering couple 4.

Finally, Clue 6 tells us that Evelyn didn’t bring Lays chips, meaning that we can place her in couple 3, and Janice in couple 2, completing our grid.

And there you have it, five couples enjoying the big game (or the halftime show). To each their own.

How did you do, fellow puzzlers? Did you unravel this one in celebration of Game Day? Let me know how you did!


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International Puzzle Day is almost here!

This Sunday, January 29th, is International Puzzle Day (aka National Puzzle Day), a day dedicated to all things puzzly — be it crosswords, jigsaw puzzles, riddles, or other brain teasers — and there are plenty of fun ways you could celebrate.

For instance, last year, we commemorated the day by building a puzzle fort!

Now, if you don’t have dozens of puzzle books handy, don’t despair! You could bust out an old jigsaw puzzle (or a new one!), try your hand at a Rubik’s cube, or tackle a puzzle you’ve never tried before!

If you’re looking for more of a group activity, you’ve got the Internet at your fingertips. You could find your nearest hobby shop and try out a new puzzle, or track down an Escape Room or Puzzle Hunt event near you!

For instance, I stumbled upon this link for a National Puzzle Day Jigsaw Competition in Mobile, Alabama this Sunday! Race to see who can solve a 1,000 piece jigsaw the fastest!

And that’s just one of dozens of events happening around the country this Sunday.

Need a place to start? Check the event calendar for your local library! Many libraries host events open to public on days like International Puzzle Day, and you might meet fellow puzzlers in your area!

And if there’s not an event in your area, why not host one? You could host a team puzzle-solving challenge, a scavenger hunt, a crossword contest, or a night of trivia!

This year, we opted to do something a little different, whipping up some puzzly bouquets of Daisy, Flower Power, and other floral puzzles, and handing them out to friends! Just a little way to brighten someone’s day! (This excellent suggestion came from puzzler and friend of the blog Jen Cunningham.)

And, hey, if you need something a bit more extreme, you could celebrate like this guy and solve a Rubik’s cube while skydiving!

Now, I won’t be doing that, but that doesn’t mean you can’t.

So, how are you celebrating International Puzzle Day? Let me know! I’d love to hear from you!


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New Puzzle Sets for the Penny Dell Crosswords App!

It’s been a little while since we updated you on all of the great new content for the Penny Dell Crossword App, so we decided to dedicate today’s Follow-Up Friday post to sharing all the newest puzzle sets and deals available for both Android and iOS users!

Let’s start off with our new Deluxe Fun Set! It’s loaded with 35 puzzles — easy, medium, and hard, with 5 bonus themed puzzles!

And check out other Deluxe Fun Sets for more great puzzles!

There’s also our January Deluxe Set! You get 30 easy, medium, and hard puzzles, plus 5 January-themed bonus puzzles to keep you on your toes!

And for a little more bang for your buck, check out the January Deluxe Combo Set, which offers double the puzzles at a special low price! That’s right, 70 puzzles awaiting you, crafty solver!

(You can also snag our December Deluxe Combo Set while you’re at it, complete with another 70 terrific puzzles!)

And today is the perfect time to pick up some more puzzle sets, as we’re running a Big Bundle Flash Sale! Be sure to hustle, because the sale ends soon!

With these outstanding puzzle sets to choose from, we proudly continue our efforts to match the lofty standards we’ve set for ourselves in terms of puzzle quality and variety! PuzzleNation means terrific puzzles right in your pocket, and when you nab these puzzle sets, we know you’ll agree!

Happy solving!


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Do you accept the Cryptiq challenge?

Normally, this would be a Follow-Up Friday post. But since Follow-Up Friday is all about continuing or expanding upon previous topics we’ve covered, and I suspect today’s post will be something we’ll return to in the future, it gets the nod this week.

I’ve written about puzzle contests plenty of times in the past, whether they’re single crosswords to solve or elaborate multi-step puzzle suites to unravel. Constructors are constantly innovating, and we’ve reached a point where you can tackle amazing puzzly challenges without even leaving your favorite chair.

So if you’re looking for a diabolical new puzzle series you can sink your teeth into from the comfort of your own home, Cryptiq fits the bill nicely.

Cryptiq is a collection of puzzles — available both on their website and in book form — designed to test your puzzly mettle. There are dozens of logic, deduction, and visual puzzles involved, and the designers have clearly set a very high bar for solvers.

From the Cryptiq website:

To win the game you must solve all the puzzles on the given pages on http://www.cryptiq.com or in the book Cryptiq. Once you solve the puzzles you will be left with a code that has 6 values. Be the first to enter these 6 values, in the correct order, on the code input page and you will be moved forward to the verification step. The game can only be won through skill.

After you have entered the correct code, you will be prompted to supply a written solution showing that your solve of the puzzles was not by chance. Once your solve is verified as skill, you will be declared the winner and receive the prize.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a puzzle contest that requires written explanation of the solve in order to prove your skills, but when you consider that the winning purse is $5,000 — and there’s a chance that prize could increase — the team at Cryptiq wants to be sure that someone EARNS that prize, rather than getting lucky.

[Kind of Cunning, one of Cryptiq’s many mind-bending obstacles.]

Best of all? There is no purchase necessary to enter or to win the game. Everything you need to play is right there online. (The book version costs $20, but has all the same information as the website.)

So, fellow friends and PuzzleNationers, will you accept the Cryptiq challenge? Let me know if you do! I’d love to hear about it!


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It’s Follow-Up Friday: Gems from 2016 edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

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 post listing our favorite crosswords and clues from 2016!

[Image courtesy of blog.dictionary.com.]

At the end of the post, I asked readers and fellow puzzlers what their favorites from 2016 were, and several top constructors and puzzle personalities reached out to share the puzzles that caught their eye!

The Crosswords Club editor and friend of the blog Patti Varol shared four crosswords she really enjoyed last year: one from The LA Times, one from The Crosswords Club, and two from Andrew Ries’ Aries Xwords puzzles.

Both The LA Times Daily puzzle and the 21x Crosswords Club puzzle were created by constructor Ed Sessa, and Patti considered them two of “the cutest crosswords I’ve solved in a very long time.”

[Image courtesy of Dunkin Donuts.]

The Crosswords Club puzzle, “Made to Order,” had different donuts as themed entries, complete with the all the O’s circled, so that there were actually a dozen donuts in the grid. It was a clever visual gag executed with style.

I enjoyed that one, but I preferred the LA Times puzzle from October 6th, which offered four clues in all caps: OREO, ORE, OR, and O. Those were your themed entries, and the revealer explaining the all-caps entries? ME EAT COOKIE. That was great.

[Image courtesy of District of Calamity.]

The other two puzzles were a double-header from March 12th. “Can You Read Me?” was constructed by Andrew Ries and “Copy That” by Jared S. Erwin.

“Can You Read Me?” was a solid puzzle with a three-part quotation (I CAN’T WRITE FIVE WORDS BUT THAT I CHANGE SEVEN) and the speaker (DOROTHY PARKER) as the featured entries.

But the fun really began when you solved “Copy That,” which featured the same quote, but cited TIMOTHY PARKER as the speaker. And there were seven words in total changed from “Can You Read Me?”

This one-two punch of puzzling is a savagely clever reference to the crossword plagiarism scandal we covered in detail in the blog. Very well played, Andrew and Jared.

[Image courtesy of Jake Silverstein’s Twitter.]

We’ve got one last puzzle to highlight, recommended by constructor and friend of the blog David Steinberg. It was the absolutely monstrous puzzle pictured above, a 50×50 puzzle by Frank Longo that appeared in the special Puzzle Mania section in The New York Times.

I haven’t had the pleasure of tackling this one yet, but David said, “I’ve never solved such a big puzzle before, and it was amazingly smooth and entertaining!”

And with that, we wrap up our look at 2016 and look forward to all the puzzly creativity and inventiveness coming in 2017!


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