Crossword puzzles have been around for just over a century, but they're usually associated more with intellectual vigor and less with flagrant ethical wrongdoing. Those halcyon days appear to be over, though. The wonks over at FiveThirtyEight announced on Friday that they had uncovered an explosive plagiarism scandal in the crossword community.
That's right: a huge portion of the crossword puzzles that have shown up in newspapers around the United States have apparently been ripped off. From the investigation by FiveThirtyEight (which, it should be noted, shares a parent company with Fusion):
Since 1999, Timothy Parker, editor of one of the nation’s most widely syndicated crosswords, has edited more than 60 individual puzzles that copy elements from New York Times puzzles, often with pseudonyms for bylines, a new database has helped reveal. The puzzles in question repeated themes, answers, grids and clues from Times puzzles published years earlier. 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.
Parker, whom the Guinness Book of World Records once described as "the world's most syndicated crossword compiler," told the site that it was all a coincidence that could be chalked up to the inherent repetitiveness that comes from making the same kinds of puzzles for years in a row. "For themes to be the same is not an unusual thing in crosswords," he said.
The man who is possibly the main victim of Parker's alleged misdeeds is legendary New York Times puzzle editor Will Shortz—a man so associated with the crossword that people made an entire documentary about him.
In a 2012 video, Shortz said that he writes roughly half the clues for each published puzzle—meaning that, if Parker was lifting from the Times, he was more often than not lifting directly from Shortz, as well as from the legions of puzzle compilers who send him their efforts.