USA Today has permanently severed ties with the longtime editor of its crossword puzzle, Timothy Parker, after allegations of plagiarism by Parker were investigated by FiveThirtyEight.
Neither USA Today nor any publication owned by its parent company, Gannett, will run puzzles edited by Parker, the company said on Monday. Parker, a 56-year-old crossword constructor and editor, began editing the USA Today Crossword 13 years ago this month.
A FiveThirtyEight investigation, published in March, explored the allegations of plagiarism against Parker by using a new online database of tens of thousands of puzzles. Some of Parker’s puzzles appeared to replicate themes from The New York Times and elsewhere. There were also repeated instances of almost entirely replicated puzzles he himself had previously edited, which were often run again under fake names. After the investigation was published, Parker stepped aside while both USA Today and the syndicate Universal Uclick ran internal investigations. The newspaper and the syndicate say those investigations are now complete.
Late last month, Universal Uclick, a syndicator of puzzles and Parker’s employer, announced that he would be allowed to return to work after a three-month leave of absence, and said processes and reviews had been put in place to ensure that all puzzles would be original from now on.
USA Today will still get its crossword puzzles from Universal, as it has for years, but neither it nor Gannett will publish any that are edited by Parker.
The news comes after a period of silence from USA Today, which had not commented publicly since early March on how it would handle the allegations. The silence was broken, it seems, because a reader asked whether Parker would continue to be involved in the crossword. The reader, Dan Feyer, a six-time American Crossword Puzzle Tournament champion, sent a message on Friday using the paper’s online Reader Feedback form, expressing his hope that Parker would not be allowed to return as editor. Feyer received a response on Monday that was similar to the statement sent to me Monday by Amber Allman, a communications vice president at Gannett:
Crossword puzzle vendor Universal Uclick completed its internal investigation into allegations concerning duplication of prior work in crossword puzzles edited by Timothy Parker and issued its statement here. USA TODAY continues to take this matter very seriously. We conducted our own investigation and we are satisfied with how Universal Uclick has responded to the situation. Timothy Parker is not, nor ever has been, an employee of USA TODAY. 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.
Feyer told me he decided to write to the paper after Mike Selinker, the president of Lone Shark Games, a game design studio, signed an open letter earlier this month announcing that his company would boycott USA Today and Universal, and inviting others to “stand with the puzzlemakers.” That letter led to the re-emergence of the #gridgate hashtag on Twitter (as the allegations had become known), and renewed interest in the scandal.
It’s not yet clear who will be editing the USA Today Crossword on a permanent basis. Fred Piscop, who has been interim editor, told me that his position was temporary unless he was officially informed otherwise, and that there was nothing else he could tell me at this point. A call to Universal Uclick was not returned.