Back in 2016, Jim Peredo editorialized about the number of times Mike Shenk constructs Wall Street Journal crossword puzzles. Prompted by this observation, I wrote a program that lists the authors of these puzzles and count them to see exactly how many are attributable to Mike Shenk, the crossword puzzle editor there. Peredo repeated his observations today. This has given me the occasion to repeat the processing and post some analysis.
Shenk uses a large number of aliases in using his own puzzles as editor. This is a common crossword editing practice for several reasons that I won’t go into here. The question is not whether Shenk should be constructing puzzles as an editor, as he is a superb constructor that deserves to practice his craft. The question that has been asked by Peredo is whether the sheer volume of Shenk’s puzzles that appear in the Wall Street Journal reflects an issue:
Well, at the Journal, when 66% of the puzzles come from one individual, everyone else is an under-represented group.
To that total, we must also add the number of puzzles that we know are contracted out by Shenk, most notably the Friday meta puzzles, as he does not accept submissions for those.
So to remove the other possible editorial questions, the only question I have interest in looking into is exactly how many puzzles are constructed by Mike Shenk.
To that end, I used the program I used then to produce a list of authors and counts as tab-delimited CSV files. I processed against PUZ files available from the site that sources them (today’s PUZ file), as posted here. The date range I used is the entire time to today’s date that the Wall Street Journal produced a daily puzzle (09-14-2015 to 05-17-2018). I produced a listing of the entire period, but also a listing by years.
To begin, I will list the number of puzzles processed:
2015 - 91 puzzles
2016 - 306 puzzles
2017 - 303 puzzles
2018 - 114 puzzles
All - 814 puzzles
Upon first observation, the five data sets are incredibly similar in the names that show up. Other than this, I will keep observations confined to the entire data set of puzzles.
There are 165 constructors/groups of constructors that are listed. This data set is included below along with a raw listing of puzzles processed along with authors:
Count of times that authors have appeared in the WSJ Crossword Puzzle
List of puzzles I processed along with each author
The next problem at hand is identifying Mike Shenk’s aliases and his contractors. I hesitate to do this since I’m not incredibly versed at all of his likely aliases and could be wrong either in listing one or in not listing one. If I am, I am glad to correct things.
In looking over the list, a number of Mike Shenk’s aliases appear. Of the ones listed, those that have been identified or suspected to be known as Mike Shenk on crosswordfiend.com: Marie Kelly (his meta puzzle alias), Alice Long, Dan Fisher, Harold Jones, Daniel Hamm, Gabriel Stone, Damian Peterson, Melina Merchant, Nancy Cole Stuart, Julian Thorne, Ethan Erickson, Colin Gale, Martin Leechman, Maxine Cantor, Charlie Oldham, Heidi Moretta, Mae Woodard, Theresa Schmidt, Celia Smith, Natalia Shore, Becky Melius, Judith Seretto, and Maryanne Lemot.
If we add those together (assuming everything is correct above), Mike Shenk constructed 323/814 or around 40% of the total puzzles published since 09-14-2015 in the Wall Street Journal. We are left with 141 constructors.
The next question is one of contracted for grids if we are looking into the window of open submission space at the WSJ. It is known that submissions are not accepted for the Friday WSJ meta puzzle. Shenk does about half of these, but there are others that pick up this slack. I happen to save meta solutions and have 138 on hand from this period. Subtract the number from Shenk’s meta alias and you get 85 other puzzles. Add this to Shenk’s total and you have 408/814 that were either done by the editor or contracted by him. This amounts to 50% of the total number of puzzles printed.
While this is not Peredo’s original guess, it still represents a pretty high ratio of concern for his original concern. I can’t say I have a huge horse in this race, since I haven’t actually submitted grids yet. But I can say in seeing the claims of concern that looking into this has been an interesting pursuit. I’m pretty sure that I probably got something wrong somewhere along the way, so I’m pretty welcome to any criticism or thoughts that may stem from this.
Edit: I discovered in rechecking the data that I double-counted 11 puzzles (duplicate files from restoring all my WSJ puzzle backups). This post and its associated data files has been modified to reflect that correction.