As It Happens

Plagiarism scandal puzzles crossword community

Crossword creators are puzzled about how, they say, an editor managed to blatantly steal grids. They say he often re-published them under fake names for years without anyone ever noticing.
The first-known crossword puzzle was printed December 21, 1913 in a newspaper called "The New York World". (Damian Dovarganes/AP)

The crossword community is trying to solve a puzzle within its ranks: a plagiarism scandal. The alleged culprit is one of the world's most prolific crossword editors, who is accused of lifting black and white grids from other sources and re-publishing them.

An article published on the website FiveThirtyEight alleges Timothy Parker, a crossword puzzle editor, whose work has been published in more than 80 countries, has plagiarized puzzles that appear in major newspaper publications.

 "Many puzzles, more than 60, at least, appear to be identical with puzzles in the New York Times."- Ben Tausig
Ben Tausig was one of the first to discover irregularities from crossword puzzles edited by Timothy Parker. (Supplied)
Ben Tausig, editor of American Values Club Crossword, was one of the first people to notice inconsistencies when a friend sent him a database of crossword puzzles put together by an amateur puzzle enthusiast.

The allegedly plagiarized puzzles appear in USA Today as well as Universal Crossword, a syndicated service that appears in papers all over the world, including The Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail. The puzzles are edited by Timothy Parker, who holds the Guinness World Record as the most syndicated puzzle compiler.

"It was a puzzle that had my name on it from 2015 that had been published in USA Today, and I haven't sent anything to USA today in 10 years."

As a [crossword] editor, it makes me feel kind of sick.- Ben Tausig

Tausig realized he had sent the puzzle to editor Timothy Parker in 2004. Parker then re-published the puzzle two more times, once using a pseudonym.

Timothy Parker is accused of plagiarizing crossword puzzles from the New York Times (

"It may be within the rights of the editor to do that, but it's not considered good business practice," says Tausig.

Tausig says his discovery isn't the only case of plagiarism. "Many puzzles, more than 60, at least, appear to be identical with puzzles in the New York Times."

Timothy Parker dismisses the claims of copyright. In the same FiveThirtyEight article he says that overlap is bound to happen.

"Out of 15,000 [crossword puzzles], I'm not surprised at all, I would expect it to be a couple of hundred."

Tausig disagrees. "The database shows there are no other examples in major crossroads of anybody copying or replicating puzzles to that extent, there's only one outlet here," He says.

Tausig says he and the tight-knit crossword community hopes this whole ordeal gets wrapped up as soon as possible.

"As a [crossword] editor, it makes me feel kind of sick."

USA Today and The New York Times have both said they are looking into the matter.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.