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USA Today’s Embattled Crossword Puzzle Editor Is Stepping Back, For Now

The longtime editor of two major crossword puzzle series is temporarily stepping away from his editorial role, the puzzles’ publishers announced Monday, three days after FiveThirtyEight published an investigation into accusations of plagiarism against him.

The subject of the investigation, Timothy Parker, edits both the USA Today Crossword and the syndicated Universal Crossword. The copyright for both puzzles is owned by Universal Uclick (formerly the Universal Press Syndicate). According to an analysis of a newly completed database, 65 puzzles edited by Parker perfectly replicated themes and theme answers that were originally published in New York Times puzzles, with some using the same clues and grids. Hundreds more USA Today and Universal puzzles, edited by Parker, were re-published in those same two outlets with extremely minor changes and often under fake author names.

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Since FiveThirtyEight published its initial article, USA Today and Universal Uclick have issued statements in response, and it appears that Parker is, for now, no longer in charge of either puzzle.

On Monday afternoon, Universal Uclick said the following:

Timothy Parker has edited thousands of puzzles for Universal over many years, and we have high regard for his work. So we are naturally very concerned by the recent story by FiveThirtyEight.com that puzzles he edited contained many similarities to puzzles edited by others.

We are taking the allegations very seriously, and will explore them thoroughly and quickly. Until then, Tim has agreed to temporarily step back from any editorial role for both USA Today and Universal Crosswords. In the meantime, we are well prepared to immediately provide our customers crossword puzzles from a different source. We sincerely regret any inconvenience or concern this situation may have caused our clients and their readers.

Earlier Monday, USA Today published the following editor’s note:

USA TODAY is investigating claims made by FiveThirtyEight.com that crossword puzzles provided by Universal Uclick and edited by Timothy Parker were plagiarized from parts of puzzles that appeared in The New York Times. As we investigate, we will publish crosswords edited by other contributors.

The paper’s print-edition crossword on Monday listed no editor byline but did carry a Universal Uclick copyright credit. USA Today’s online puzzle on Monday, however, still listed Parker as the editor. An email to USA Today asking who edited today’s print puzzle was not immediately returned.

Read more: A Plagiarism Scandal Is Unfolding In The Crossword World


VIDEO: Oliver Roeder on the crossword scandal fallout

Oliver Roeder is a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight.

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