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Crossword Database Analysis Spots What Looks Like Plagiarism 44

Seattle software developer Saul Pwanson has a hobby of developing crossword puzzles, but another related hobby, too: analyzing the way that existing puzzles have been constructed. He created a database that aggregates puzzles that have appeared in various publications, including, crucially, the New York Times and USA Today, and sorts them based on similarities. Puzzles that have a greater percentage of the same black squares, or the same letters in identical positions, are ranked as more similar. Crosswords often re-use answers; puzzle-solvers are used to encountering some of the usual glue words that connect parts of the grid. As 538 reports, though, Pwanson noticed something odd in the data: Many of the puzzles that appeared in USA Today and affiliated publications, listed under various creators' names but all published under Timothy Parker as editor, were highly similar to each other, differing in as little as four answer words. These Pwanson classifies as "shoddy" -- they seem to be about as different as test responses based on a passed-around answer sheet. These seem to shortchange readers expecting original works, but may represent no real copyright problem, since Universal Uclick holds the copyright to them all. Perhaps puzzle enthusiasts aren't surprised that a publishing syndicate economizes on crosswords with slight variations, or that horoscopes are sometimes recycled.

However, another tranche of puzzles Pwanson calls "shady": these are puzzles that bear such strong resemblance in their central clues and answers to puzzles that have appeared in the New York Times that it's very hard to accept Parker's claim that the overlap is coincidental. In one example given, for instance, the answers "Drive Up the Wall," "Get On One's Nerves," and "Rub the Wrong Way" appeared in the same order and the same position in a Parker-edited puzzle that appeared in USA Today in June 2010 as they had in a Will Shortz-edited puzzle published nine years before in the New York Times.
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Crossword Database Analysis Spots What Looks Like Plagiarism

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Horoscopes are always recycled. Otherwise how would they ever get it right?

    • Re:Recycle! (Score:5, Funny)

      by lucm ( 889690 ) on Sunday March 06, 2016 @05:28PM (#51649681)

      Horoscopes are always recycled. Otherwise how would they ever get it right?

      Horoscopes are always right. If the one you read doesn't seem to apply that day, it's because your ascendant is more potent so you need a customized chart to understand how it applies to you. The problem could also be that your Chinese sign is confusing things, especially if your elemental aspect (Fire, Earth, Air and Water) in both traditions don't match. The celestial forces are complex and mysterious, only a certified astrologist can decipher your destiny.

      Also, horoscopes are based on recurring astronomical events. Until there's a new planet or star significant enough to impact people's destiny, there will be a limited pool of possibilities; how those events are interpreted to individually reach the millions of people who have the same signs requires the expertise of a certified astrologist.

      One last point: did you know that on the Yahoo portal, the horoscope is found in the Women section? How sexist is that? []

      Thousands of years of cosmic wisdom now crammed between makeup tips and "should you break up with him" tests. Thank you Marissa.

      • by houghi ( 78078 )

        I once was asked was asked what my sign was. I told then that if they knew anything about it, they should be able to deduct my sign. It took them 13 times. They named one twice when they started just saying them in order.

        If people ask my sign I always say Elephant and when they realize that isn't a sign, I say 'But I have a trunk!'

        On another occasion a friend of mine told a girl that he knew nothing about palm reading., That he knows it is bull. That anybody could do it by guessing a bit.
        He repeated that se

  • The only surprise is that anyone reads that rag. Their circulation numbers are as made up as their crossword puzzles; every hotel in the country has a stack of them that customers won't touch.
    • Re:USA Today - meh (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Deadstick ( 535032 ) on Sunday March 06, 2016 @04:47PM (#51649535)

      I remember when they sent a guy to Australia to report on the America's Cup. He got there well in advance, and wrote several preliminary columns to "educate" the readers in what sailing is all about. He began with an entire column's worth of rambling, incoherent explanation of the definitions of "port" and "starboard" -- and got it backwards.

      • by lucm ( 889690 )

        He began with an entire column's worth of rambling, incoherent explanation of the definitions of "port" and "starboard" -- and got it backwards.

        Maybe he was quartered on the port side during his transatlantic crossings, like W.S. Gilbert... []

      • by Anonymous Coward

        "port" and "starboard" -- and got it backwards

        he was upside down. give him a break.

    • by Dahamma ( 304068 )

      Their circulation numbers are as made up as their crossword puzzles;

      Wait, I don't get that analogy - does that mean their circulation numbers are stolen from the NY Times?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    America's crosswords are used to communicate to a ring of secret agents.

    The only question is whose? The Russians use the Chess column, the Chinese use Sudoko, the French use the personals...

  • Government regulation of crossword puzzles is the only answer. It's time for the Obama administration to appoint an undersecretary of Commerce for crossword puzzles and word jumbles. Congress must immediately enact the Comprehensive Crossword Puzzle Reform Act of 2016 and fund the new office before it's too late!

    • by KGIII ( 973947 )

      You jest but there's almost certainly a group of people who agree with that sentiment, or could be easily convinced to express agreement zealously. I suspect that group of people is larger in number than many people realize. That's even more disturbing is how many folks are in that camp who don't realize they are members of that camp.

      Now that I think about it, I don't want to think about it.

  • Wow! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Sunday March 06, 2016 @05:00PM (#51649571)

    I’ve never heard of such a brutal and shocking injustice that I cared so little about!

  • by __aaclcg7560 ( 824291 ) on Sunday March 06, 2016 @05:03PM (#51649577)

    [...] these are puzzles that bear such strong resemblance in their central clues and answers to puzzles [...]

    My parents gave me a Coleco Quiz Wiz game in the late 1970's. The trivia book had 1,001 questions with an electronic keyboard that could plug into different trivia books. I went through three trivia books before I discovered that I had a memorized the answers for all 1,001 questions, which were identical for all the trivia books. In fact, you don't even need a trivia book. You could punch in the same numbers and letters to get the correct answer. I threw it away in disgust because I expected the answers for each trivia book to be different. As an adult who have gotten back into electronics as a hobby, the circuits in many electronic games from that era were quite simple to implement repetitive game play. []

    • by KGIII ( 973947 )

      When I was a wee lad, and the Sun still had a price-tag attached, we had these rectangular cases. Inside was a scroll of paper the case had off-set slits in it that were large enough to read the text on the scroll. You'd scroll, read a question, and flip it over to find out the answer. When you hit the end, you turned it over, flipped it upside down, and repeated the process. That meant one scroll would have something like 500 questions on it.

      After going through them enough times, I'd memorized all the ques

  • I am sure there a lot more such plagiarisms to be unearthed. All those recipes in all those cooking magazines, shows, and books. Who actually vetted them or even filed copyright? Same with crochet patterns and embroidery ideas. Home furnishings and decorative ideas seem to be recycled forever, except for more recent and more glossier pictures. BTW who keeps random lemons and half cut red peppers next to washed and cleaned dishes on the counter? Who are those lemon obsesses demons?

    I know for a fact lots of Bollywood music is totally pirated from the West. Actually there is one actor in Tamil who keeps remaking Hollywood hits in Tamil, not sure he is paying royalties. I am looking at you Kamal Hasan. Superstar Rajnikant does not plagiarize Hollywood because he is making the same movie again and again for the last 25 years. (Rajni good. Other guy bad. Dishoom dishoom! bang! Everyone is happy, the end.)

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      "Copyright law does not protect recipes that are mere listings of ingredients. Nor does it protect other mere listings of ingredients such as those found in formulas, compounds, or prescriptions. Copyright protection may, however, extend to substantial literary expression—a description, explanation, or illustration, for example—that accompanies a recipe or formula or to a combination of recipes, as in a cookbook."

      • by vux984 ( 928602 )

        Copyright law does not protect recipes that are mere listings of ingredients.

        Quite. But plagiarism is as much about stealing credit, as it is about copyright.

        Ethically (if not legally), if I collect a bunch of recipes off the web and publish them in a book, its a pretty douche move if I present them like they were in anyway "my recipes".

  • He would have gotten away with it if it wasn't for those meddling kids!

  • There are clues that appear commonly in crosswords and people have been compiling lists of them for years now (e.g. a five letter word starting in "O" and ending in "A" with the clue "works" --> "opera"; four letter word beginning and ending in "A" with clue "largest of 7" --> "Asia").

    I suppose you could call using commonplace clues and answers "plagiarism", or you could call it "part of the game". But even if it's part of the game, wholesale copying of clues/answers from another puzzle would be pl

    • by Anonymous Coward

      You didn't read the article, did you? This is not what it's talking about.

  • And now we need to get rid of the person who cracked the code.

  • Plagiarism, or syndication []?

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