Crossword clues suggest scandal, puzzle fanatics claim

A sports spectator fills out a crossword, used by many to pass time and exercise the brain.

Story highlights

  • Puzzle fanatics claim Timothy Parker copied elements from New York Times puzzles
  • Parker tells FiveThirtyEight.com that any similarities are "mere coincidence"

(CNN)A crossword publisher is looking for clues after allegations its longtime puzzle editor has been plagiarizing from The New York Times.

Puzzlers using a digital database claim that USA Today and Universal Uclick crossword editor Timothy Parker copied elements from New York Times puzzles, according to the blog FiveThirtyEight.com.
    FiveThirtyEight writer Oliver Roeder said the plagiarism was uncovered by "a group of eagle-eyed puzzlers using digital tools."
    Some puzzles were also duplicated within USA Today and Universal Uclick and published under fake bylines, he wrote.

    'Mere coincidence'

    Asked about the alleged plagiarism, Parker told FiveThirtyEight that any similarities were "mere coincidence" and that he hadn't looked at the New York Times' puzzles "in years."
    "We don't look at anybody else's puzzles or really care about anyone else's puzzles," Parker said, according to the blog.
    Roeder wrote that "themes" are the longer answers in a crossword grid that make it unique. The rest of the answers are fillers, he says.
    Parker told FiveThirtyEight it was not surprising that puzzlers found 65 crosswords that duplicated New York Times' themes, given the number he had edited.
    "Out of 15,000, I'm not surprised at all," he said. "I would expect it to be a couple of hundred."

    Parker takes break

    In a statement Monday, Universal Uclick said it had high regard for Parker's work but took FiveThirtyEight's allegations "very seriously" and would look into them.
    "Until then, Tim has agreed to temporarily step back from any editorial role for both USA Today and Universal Crosswords," it said.
    USA Today has not responded to a CNN request for comment.