How a File Format Exposed a Crossword Scandal

Vincent Warmerdam shared this Youtube video which I thoroughly enjoyed watched. It’s about Saul Pwanson, a software engineer whose hobby project got a little out of hand.

In 2016, Saul Pwanson designed a plain-text file format for crossword puzzle data, and then spent a couple of months building a micro-data-pipeline, scraping tens of thousands of crosswords from various sources.

After putting all these crosswords in a simple uniform format, Saul used some simple command line commands to check for common patterns and irregularities.

Surprisingly enough, after visualizing the results, Saul discovered egregious plagiarism by a major crossword editor that had gone on for years.

Ultimately, 538 even covered the scandal:

I thoroughly enjoyed watching this talk on Youtube.

Saul covers the file format, data pipeline, and the design choices that aided rapid exploration; the evidence for the scandal, from the initial anomalies to the final damning visualization; and what it’s like for a data project to get 15 minutes of fame.

I tried to localize the dataset online, but it seems Saul’s website has since gone offline. If you do happen to find it, please do share it in the comments!

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