An Analysis of Wall Street Journal Crossword Puzzle Authorship

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 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.


What Are These PUZ files you have linked?

This is the first in what will likely be a huge sequence of posts providing a walkthrough of some things on Across Lite. I aim to provide some guidance regarding using the program and creating PUZ files, since this site is aimed at newer solvers that are discovering the online side of crosswords.

If you look at my page of crossword links, you’ll notice I have direct links to .PUZ files and links to many other sites that will offer .PUZ files. The rest of this post will relay my observations regarding why I’ve chosen to use Across Lite.

So What Are PUZ Files?
The PUZ file is a generally closed format file which contains the full information for a specific crossword puzzle. Given the general ease of publishing crosswords in PUZ format, you will find many places that will offer PUZ files. This includes newspaper sources and online subscription sources, as well as constructors who have graciously offered their puzzles for free on their websites.

So What Do I Do With Them?
There are a handful of options, but the usual option mentioned for solving or printing out the puzzles is a program called Across Lite that is offered by Literate Software for Windows, Mac, and the iPad.

Why would I want to consider Across Lite instead of web applets?
If you look around, there are a large number of web solving programs in use. Unfortunately, they all seem to have different rules for operation.

You can see this in terms of the controls required, red-letter items entered in error, whether previously entered things are skipped over, and other factors. You can configure each one of the web applets, but what if an option you want isn’t available (i.e. NO red letters!) and you don’t think to before you play each puzzle? Not to mention, all the ads that are on some sites choke out your ability to solve the puzzle.

Then so many of them have proven to be unreliable from day-to-day. For example, I’ve had many web applets that wouldn’t print a puzzle at all, or would print it wrong.

And what if you want to solve a puzzle in a place that doesn’t have Wi-Fi?

Across Lite resides on your computer, along with any PUZ files you download. The settings you make stay, it does an excellent job in printing puzzles, and it provides a consistent offline interface for any PUZ file you obtain from anywhere.

Plus it’s free for download, along with a lot of puzzles people have created. So why not go for it?

Okay, so how do I download it?
Go here.

(Link To Next Post To Appear Here)

Wall Street Journal Crossword: Clue Stats For 2017

I continued doing some stats, and ended up looking at clues for the WSJ crosswords in 2017.

Any questions are welcome, if I didn’t think of them in the questions I wanted answered…

Anyhow, I’ll restate a few random facts that are relevant to any analysis of data:

  • Let’s start with the commonly known rule that a single word generally almost always is not allowed to appear more than once in a specific grid. Applying this rule will make looking at this data a lot easier.
  • I processed 304 PUZ files. This short number is not to be unexpected since the WSJ does not run a puzzle on Sunday or on holidays.
  • The WSJ crossword puzzles used 14,684 unique words in 2017.
  • Of those words, 10,079 were used exactly once. A ratio of words trending towards once is to be expected since most theme entries will be unique. But for some reason, I was surprised that there is this many that only occurred once.

Question 1: Repetition
Now the first question to look at with clues that I thought of involves repetition of cluing. This involves the same word appearing multiple times with the same clue. For example, ALOT appeared with the clue [Heaps] 7 times. Naturally, if a word appears once, the clue used with it only appears once, but a single word can be clued multiple ways.

Some random facts out of this analysis:

  • Words in the WSJ crossword puzzles were clued 24,822 separate ways in 2017.
  • Of those, 23,631 were clued only once. If we subtract the words used only once, there were 13,552 words that were used multiple times that were clued in different ways. This suggests a degree of creativity in how the clues were written.
  • Of the rest, 1,031 were used twice, 126 used three times. This eliminates all but 33 of the word/clue pairs.

That list of 33 word/clue pairs used 4 or more times in 2017 WSJ crosswords (or more than 1.3% of the time) – click to reveal:

ALOT	[Heaps]	7
ALA	[In the style of]	6
ONO	[Lennon's love]	6
ALA	[Copying]	5
ANI	[Singer DiFranco]	5
AREST	["Give it ___!"]	5
ATON	[Heaps]	5
EXERT	[Bring to bear]	5
ONSET	[Beginning]	5
AER	[___ Lingus]	4
AGO	[In the past]	4
APT	[Fitting]	4
AREA	[Vicinity]	4
ARIA	[Diva's delivery]	4
ASTO	[About]	4
ATE	[Put away]	4
CLAD	[Not nude]	4
DES	[___ Moines]	4
EAT	["Dig in!"]	4
EMT	[CPR pro]	4
EON	[Interminable wait]	4
ERAS	[Eon divisions]	4
ESPY	[Spot]	4
EXPO	[Convention center event]	4
IDEA	[Notion]	4
INRE	[About]	4
MIEN	[Bearing]	4
NADA	[Zilch]	4
OPEN	[Ready for business]	4
OVAL	[Cameo shape]	4
PAL	[Buddy]	4
REB	[Yank's foe]	4
SEEN	[Spotted]	4

Question 2: Creativity
The last question I had involved the creativity of cluing. In other words, how many times has a word appeared with different clues attached to them. For instance, UNO appeared 8 times using 7 different clues:

  • [One, for Juan]
  • [Card game with a four-color deck]
  • [Game akin to Crazy Eights]
  • [Start of a Cuban count]
  • [Game with red, green, blue and yellow suits]
  • [56-Down, to Fernando]
  • [One of the Medicis]

Some facts out of this analysis:

  • The number of this list should match the original list, which it does.
  • Of those, 10,294 words were clued exactly one way. This discrepancy with the number of words (215) that appeared only once (10,079) can be explained by different words appearing with the same clue.
  • 2,259 have 2 separate clues, 924 have 3 separate clues, 456 have 4, 248 have 5, 192 have 6, 90 have 7, 64 have 8, 37 have 9, 37 have 10. This eliminates all but 83 of the words.
  • The top of this list bears a striking resemblance to the original list. This says that even with the repetition that the constructors/editor are making an attempt to vary the clues.

    The list of 83 words with the most different clues:

    ORE	30
    ERA	28
    OLE	26
    ALI	23
    ERIE	22
    ALOE	21
    AREA	21
    ASH	21
    ALE	18
    ELI	18
    ETA	18
    RIO	18
    SET	18
    ARIA	17
    ERR	17
    YES	17
    ANTE	16
    EDEN	16
    LEE	16
    ONE	16
    TEN	16
    ALTO	15
    AMI	15
    EWE	15
    OREO	15
    SEE	15
    TEE	15
    ALA	14
    AMEN	14
    ASIA	14
    ELS	14
    END	14
    ICE	14
    NET	14
    SPA	14
    ANTI	13
    ASS	13
    EASE	13
    EMU	13
    IDO	13
    ISLE	13
    SEA	13
    USE	13
    ABBA	12
    ABEL	12
    ACE	12
    AGE	12
    AIR	12
    ALAS	12
    ARE	12
    ARENA	12
    ARI	12
    AWE	12
    EDIT	12
    EGO	12
    EROS	12
    EVE	12
    IRE	12
    LAB	12
    NEE	12
    ORAL	12
    SHE	12
    ACRE	11
    ADA	11
    ANN	11
    ARC	11
    ATE	11
    ATM	11
    CIA	11
    EBB	11
    ENDS	11
    ERAS	11
    ESP	11
    OAR	11
    OBOE	11
    OTTO	11
    RED	11
    RIOT	11
    SCOT	11
    SPAS	11
    STY	11
    TIN	11
    URSA	11

    Thanks for reading, and as stated, if anyone has any other good questions to ask out of the data, be sure to ask!

Wall Street Journal Crossword: Most Used Words For 2017

As part of my interest to get some interesting data (and a word list), I ended up using the code I used here (refined) against all the WSJ PUZ puzzles released in 2017 and generated a CSV word list, along with counts of the words.

Any questions are welcome, if I didn’t think of them in the questions I wanted answered…

Note: Some of the words will be invalid/nonsensical because some gimmicks involve taking a universal part of a theme set and moving it up or down from the across entry (the WSJ has run at least one puzzle like this in this time frame). So the whole list won’t be that exact or accurate.

Anyhow, here’s some readily identifiable random facts I found:

  • Let’s start with the commonly known rule that a single word generally almost always is not allowed to appear more than once in a specific grid. Applying this rule will make looking at this data a lot easier.
  • I processed 304 PUZ files. This short number is not to be unexpected since the WSJ does not run a puzzle on Sunday or on holidays.
  • The WSJ crossword puzzles used 14,684 unique words in 2017.
  • Of those words, 10,079 were used exactly once. A ratio of words trending towards once is to be expected since most theme entries will be unique. But for some reason, I was surprised that there is this many that only occurred once.
  • 2,230 occurred twice, 980 occurred three times, 503 occurred 4 times, 269 occurred 5 times, 207 occurred 6 times, 114 occurred 7 times, 84 occurred 8 times.
  • This eliminates all but 218 of the words in the list. This entire list has words that occurred in 3% of the total number of puzzles or greater.
  • ERA and ORE occurred 34 times, making them the most used words in WSJ crosswords for 2017. This constitutes 11% of the total number of grids that were produced.
  • A super-majority of the 218 are three or four letter words with a few five letter words sprinkled in between.

Now here’s what I’m sure people were waiting for: The top #100 words in the WSJ according to usage:

ERA 	34
ORE 	34
AREA 	27
OLE 	27
ALA 	25
ALOE 	25
ERIE 	25
ALI 	24
ARIA 	22
ASH 	22
ELI 	20
ERR 	20
RIO 	20
SET 	20
ALE 	19
IRE 	19
ONE 	19
SEE 	19
YES 	19
AMI 	18
ANTE 	18
EDEN 	18
END 	18
ETA 	18
ALTO 	17
ANTI 	17
ISLE 	17
LEE 	17
OREO 	17
ALOT 	16
ELS 	16
EMU 	16
EWE 	16
TEE 	16
TEN 	16
USE 	16
AMEN 	15
ARI 	15
ASIA 	15
ATE 	15
ENDS 	15
SPA 	15
ABBA 	14
ABEL 	14
ACE 	14
ASS 	14
AWE 	14
EASE 	14
EGO 	14
ERAS 	14
EROS 	14
ICE 	14
NET 	14
ORAL 	14
SEA 	14
ALAS 	13
ARE 	13
EAT 	13
IDO 	13
IKE 	13
LAB 	13
NEE 	13
OAR 	13
RIOT 	13
ADO 	12
AGE 	12
AIR 	12
ALEE 	12
ANN 	12
ARC 	12
EBB 	12
EDIT 	12
ELK 	12
ELSE 	12
ESP 	12
EVE 	12
OBOE 	12
ODE 	12
PSI 	12
RED 	12
SETS 	12
SHE 	12
TIN 	12
ULNA 	12
ACRE 	11
ADA 	11
AGO 	11
ALEC 	11
AMMO 	11
ANT 	11
ASK 	11
ATM 	11
ATOM 	11
BRA 	11
CIA 	11
ETON 	11
EURO 	11
EYE 	11

BEQ Crossword Answers: Going Too Far

BEQ Crossword: Going Too Far (02/01/2018)

Constructed By: Brendan Emmett Quigley
Edited By: Brendan Emmett Quigley
Source: Obtain and Play This Puzzle Here
Theme: One-Offs
For a number of entries in this puzzle, one more letter is required, which can be gained by the black spaces. This is illustrated above. While it’s hard to illustrate which entries belong to which spaces, I tried to illustrate by using colors on the squares before the relevant black space (might have tried drawing the whole words, but that would have required tracing in the black grid entirely):

  • Red: Black space before the across entry.
  • Green: Black space after the across entry.
  • Blue: Black space before the down entry.
  • Yellow: Black space after the down entry.

Please forgive any screwiness in how I drew in things.

As the blurb by the setter indicates:

Many of the answers in this crossword are one letter too long and won’t fit in the spaces provided. Each of these answers will either begin or end in the square immediately before or after it. When the puzzle is done all these squares will have been used exactly once and the letters in them (reading from left to right, line by line) will spell out a quote by Mitch Hedberg.

There is a quote by Mitch Hedberg. It should read:

I’m against picketing, but I don’t know how to show it.

Glenn’s Time: DNF after 63 minutes (paper). Needed 5 squares to finish.
Glenn’s Errors: 0.

While I have no interest in doing a full blog post on this puzzle, I thought it might be useful to post some answers. It should be useful if anyone wants to see the puzzle’s answers and how the gimmick works.

Edit Again: It’s kind of nuts in the first place to explain what’s going on with this grid, so I reproduced the answers below (black space letter is in RED):

1-A. [___ bath (treatment)] – SITZ.
5-A. [“Buzz me in!”] – I‘M HERE.
10-A. [___ code] – MORSE.
14-A. [West Indian island] – ARUBA.
15-A. [Doing lunch] – EAT IN.
17-A. [California wine region] – NAPA.
18-A. [French wine region] – ALSACE.
19-A. [Five Pillars belief] – ISLAM.
20-A. [Type of hate mail?] – DEAR JOHN.
22-A. [“Grand” range] – TETONS.
23-A. [College where DEVO formed] – KENT STATE.
27-A. [Back from a trip] – IN TOWN.
31-A. [Meshy door part that ventilates] – AIR SCREEN.
35-A. [Roughed up] – MAULED.
37-A. [Needing to hit the gym, say] – FAT.
38-A. [Decaf containers] – URNS.
39-A. [King David’s third son] – ABSALOM.
41-A. [Fighting chance?] – WAR TIME.
44-A. [Mythical bird] – ROC.
45-A. [Plummet] – DROP.
47-A. [More authentic] – REALER.
48-A. [Ecstatic feeling] – EXALTATION.
52-A. [Private liaison] – TRYST.
53-A. [Small talk] – IDLE CHAT.
55-A. [Port barrels] – CASKS.
58-A. [Classic Vans sneakers style with a funky spelling] – OLD SKOOL.
63-A. [Mitch Miller’s instrument] – OBOE.
64-A. [Depressor’s request] – SAY AAH.
67-A. [Sunday songs] – HYMNS.
68-A. [Frida Kahlo’s affliction] – POLIO.
69-A. [Needed a recharge] – RAN LOW.
70-A. [2014 Best Supporting Actor] – LETO.
71-A. [Help out] – ABET.
72-A. [Squid’s container] – INK SAC.
73-A. [Mortise fitting] – TENON.
1-D. [Dow cousin] – S AND P.
2-D. [“Dies ___”] – IRAE.
3-D. [2017 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee] – TUPAC.
4-D. [Letter-shaped construction piece] – ZBAR.
5-D. [Breakfast slice] – MELON.
6-D. [Trending marker] – HASH TAG.
7-D. [SeaTac calc.] – ETA.
8-D. [Wrestling legend Flair] – RIC.
9-D. [Compass reading] – ENE.
10-D. [Bar snack?] – OYSTER.
11-D. [Move, in bizspeak] – RELO.
12-D. [Editorial bias] – SLANT.
13-D. [Slippery plants] – ELMS.
21-D. [Crown piece] – JEWEL.
22-D. [[I won’t list all the names], briefly] – ETC.
24-D. [Look for evidence] – SIFT.
25-D. [Spitball projector] – STRAW.
26-D. [“___ Is Born”] – A STAR.
27-D. [Inn in Istanbul] – IMARET.
28-D. [Encased] – IN A BOX.
29-D. [Like Dante] – TUSCAN.
30-D. [Suffix with crap or pay] – OLA.
32-D. [In a spooky way] – EERILY.
33-D. [Tangle up (in)] – ENMESH.
34-D. [Enclose] – INSERT.
36-D. [Suburb of Miami] – DORAL.
40-D. [Sacred song] – MOTET.
42-D. [QB Favre and others] – BRETTS.
43-D. [___ chips (trendy snack food)] – TARO.
46-D. [Instagram posting] – PIC.
49-D. [“Sweet!”] – I LIKE IT.
50-D. [Jet points: Abbr.] – TDS.
51-D. [“Ni-i-i-i-ice”] – OOH LA LA.
54-D. [Like some short-term work groups] – AD-HOC.
55-D. [Barry’s nightclub] – COPA.
56-D. [Meat on a stick] – KABOB.
57-D. [Exclusive] – SOLE.
59-D. [MacLachlan of “Twin Peaks”] – KYLE.
60-D. [They make a lot of deliveries] – WOMEN.
61-D. [Suspicious of] – ONTO.
62-D. [“The Mick” actress Kaitlin] – OLSON.
64-D. [Tip off] – WARN.
65-D. [Talk forever and ever] – YAK.
66-D. [Years of French classes] – ANS.

Fireball Crosswords Review: Workarounds

Fireball Crosswords Review : “Workarounds” (2018-01-04)


Constructed By: Alex Eaton-Salners
Edited By: Peter Gordon
Source: By Subscription Only: See page here.
Theme: Double Meanings
In each theme entry, a proper answer indicated after the word “Doubly” moves into another row, providing a visual representation of another meaning of the word, making it “doubly”.

  • 17-A. [Doubly drunk?] – PLTABLEED.
  • 20-A. [It’ll make white brown] – TOASTER. (answer is really PLASTERED, which is UNDER THE TABLE
  • 24-A. [Start of an alley-oop, say] – ASSIST.
  • 31-A. [Doubly immoderate?] – EXCETOPVE. (answer is really EXCESSIVE, which is OVER THE TOP
  • 43-A. [Doubly stressed?] – PRGUNURED.
  • 46-A. [Actually existing] – INESSE. (answer is really PRESSURED which is UNDER THE GUN)
  • 50-A. [2000] – EIGHTPM.
  • 57-A. [Doubly ecstatic?] – DELMOONED. (answer is really DELIGHTED which is OVER THE MOON)

Glenn’s Time: 56 minutes.
Glenn’s Errors: DNF. I couldn’t get crosses around the gapped part of the words well enough to see what was going on. After I saw the gimmick I was able to finish the grid without any errors.

(Quality) Rating: 4.5 stars/5 stars.
Fireball Crosswords is a by subscription-only crossword service provided by Peter Gordon, that features puzzles either constructed or edited by him. They often feature unique and creative things. However, the primary pitch is the difficulty as indicated on the website’s pitch: “The puzzles are hard. How hard? If you have to ask, too hard for you.” One will indeed find difficulty in these puzzles, often due to the cluing which is generally far more oblique than the norm, though not as difficult as some other examples people can find, such as the Newsday Saturday Stumper or some of the New York Times Friday or Saturday puzzles.

This puzzle provides a wonderful solve after several weeks off from the typical norm. It provides an interesting gimmick along with some challenging and somewhat interesting entries. While this has a few questionable entries, it provides a wonderful entry back into my renewal subscription of these grids. For those that are interested in finding something different and challenging, I highly recommend this set.

Unfamiliar/Interesting Stuff To Me:

14-A. [Its formula has IP in the denominator] – ERA. This would be Innings Pitched and Earned Run Average.

23-A. [“That was some nutmeg!”] – OLE. The same meaning as the typical soccer chants that are clued with this word, but I guess it’s going to a cooking compliment instead?

50-A. [2000] – EIGHTPM. A questionable entry to me. In references I find to this, like this one, military times are always written with colons. In this one, I should expect the clue to logically be [20:00]. No doubt, some shenanigans pulled by the setter/editor to try to make this tougher. But thankfully, Fireball does it a lot less than the New York Times.

60-A. [Filipino dish whose name comes from the Spanish word for “marinade”] – AD
OBO. Never heard of this before, but from what I gather it’s not a dish per se, but a type of dish that is marinated in a specific sauce.

61-A. [Dog in the Newbery-winning children’s book “Call It Courage”] – URI. This happened back in 1941. Never heard of the book until this puzzle.

5-D. [1957 hit for the Bobbettes whose title completes the lyric “One two three
, look at ___”] – MR LEE.

42-D. [Dried poblano pepper] – ANCHO. As seen here, it’s a “a dried poblano chili pepper.”

54-D. [Brace’s partner] – BIT. This refers to an older hand-drill.

Until next time! Feedback about what to consider looking at or talking about, or questions (if I can answer them) are always welcome!

Counting Words In Crosswords

I mentioned previously that a lot of constructors (and people in general), really don’t care about the number of Across and Down entries that are in a crossword. However, the key metric people do care about is the total number of words. This post aims to instruct in an easy way to determine that without counting clues.

The WSJ 12/26 grid, Our Example


1. Start by locating the largest number in the list of clues. In this case, this one is 60. This is almost always the Across listings.

2. Locate all the clues with a number in common and count those. I have highlighted all of them in this grid that are common. There are 12 of those.

3. Simply add the two numbers together. 60+12 = 72. There are 72 words in this grid.

Counting Across and Down Clues

Another interesting question came about in following a discussion. Writing on Bill Butler’s NYT blog, Dale Stewart writes:

Why are there always more Across entries than Down entries?

I had thought originally that that must mean that the Acrosses are shorter words than the Downs.

Am I missing something that is obvious? I really do not know. Can you possibly explain this to me?

Despite mistaking the clue numbers for the actual counts of across and down entries, Stewart comes upon something that’s interesting to look into.

Are There Any Construction Constraints Upon Across/Down Answers?
A further question is put forth by Dave Kennison that adds to the discussion:

… I might insist on flipping some of my completed puzzles (all of them? half of them, chosen at random?) about the diagonal running from upper left to lower right (so that every across clue becomes a down clue and vice versa), necessarily swapping the numbers of clues in the two directions and invalidating your observation for my puzzles …

As it turns out in this case, unless there’s a cogent reason to have answers run in the down direction (e.g. “something up” embedded theme answers), the preference for long or theme answers is in the across direction as people read them most naturally. According to most of the style guides I’ve read on constructing, most editors will reject important answers in the Down direction. Typical crossword constructing software will perform this “grid flip” easily in a setter or editor’s hand, so it becomes a moot point. But it brings out a constraint that we can note in our further discussion.

The Analysis
To look into the original question of ratios of down and across answers in a grid, I collected a number of Wall Street Journal, BEQ grids, and Matt Jones grids. I removed all but the 15×15 grids (the most common), and then wrote software to analyze them and output a CSV with the number of across/down clues and a ratio. I ended up with 294 puzzles in the final output, which I then loaded into my spreadsheet and sorted by the ratio. A small sample below:

(PUZ NAME),(ACROSS),(DOWN),(AcrClues),(DownClues),(Ratio)

I couldn’t get an attractive looking chart off of this data (too many data points), but one fact came out in observing the Mode of the data (the data point that occurs the most):

Most grids are perfectly balanced (Ratio of 1).

Furthermore, in performing a similar culling of the data as in this study (Mean: 0.926713490721385, Std Dev: 0.094482691813345, 61 outliers total), we can make a few observations:

The majority of grids are balanced slightly towards less across answers than down ones.


This is further shown in the first outlier entries on either side:


This would seem that the editing constraint I mentioned above comes into play to pull this data slightly towards the across side.

So What Determines This Ratio?
In looking at Dale Stewart’s original comment, the question above becomes interesting in answering the question. The side effect of this data analysis is that we can identify extreme cases, where whatever property that causes this should be very evident, and investigate further. These are the most extreme cases:


These both happen to be BEQ grids. In posting to his own web site, he gets to experiment a bit more as opposed to when he is subject to another editor. We will start with the first:


The large number of long across answers should jump out at you immediately. But we’ll delve a bit deeper. In counting the words:

4 3 letter words.
4 4 letter words.
8 6 letter words.
2 7 letter words.
4 8 letter words.
1 9 letter word.
2 10 letter words.
2 15 letter words.

26 3 letter words.
4 4 letter words.
8 5 letter words.
2 6 letter words.
5 7 letter words.

We can definitely note that the larger across words are limiting to the size of the words in the down fill. This is to facilitate completing the grid in an easier way, as often the longer answers are preferred for theme entries or the like. This is especially seen in the next puzzle after this one, which contains 2 triple stacks of 15 entries.

I won’t go into as much depth with the other entry, but I’ll provide a screen shot of it:

Note that a similar situation to the first example occurs in the Down direction.

In performing this analysis, it seems that the ratio of across/down answers is determined by the relative number of long entries. Furthermore, given editor constraints that important/long theme entries be in the across direction, most puzzles will tend to have fewer across answers than down answers. I also observed that the kind of puzzle (themeless, 21×21) doesn’t make a difference as these kinds of grids appeared similarly in the analysis. Beyond this, I would make the observation that most constructors aren’t going to particularly care about how many Across and Down clues that might exist in any particular puzzle. Whatever results will tend to be from the requirements of the puzzle.

I don’t know how interesting this will turn out to be, but hopefully it was interesting to someone. If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to do so below or to my e-mail.

Crossword Puzzles, Timing, Errors, and Ink

In doing crossword puzzles, it’s interesting to hear people talk sometimes in terms of their outlook in doing puzzles. Often times, you will see people talk in terms of times, errors, and the use of ink. The opportunity to address these things came up, and I saw it useful to explain what I’ve learned.

As Steve Wallace writes:

Perhaps someone can explain to me why anyone keeps track of time and errors at all (except in competition, of course). Is a crossword puzzle a test? a speed contest? I don’t think so. I just solve the best I can, enjoying the nuances of the clues, the word play, the theme, etc., as I go. And solving in ink? What is the big thing about that? Just a senseless ego trip as far as I can tell . . . I can not see how making a “solve” a contest adds any enjoyment to the process. Someone is faster/better than someone else? . . . How does that add to the enjoyment?

I can’t speak for the majority of solvers, but I can relate my own experiences and what I’ve noticed. To start with timing and errors, people do keep track of those things for competition. But at the same time, it’s an objective measure of how you did with a puzzle.

To look at what I did when I started doing puzzles, I didn’t much care much about the time I spent on puzzles and wasn’t too strict on errors. I simply was interested in improving, as I still am. I usually didn’t finish puzzles, and I often needed several words to even break into certain parts of a grid. Back then, I measured errors in terms of words.

When the time came that finishing a puzzle without help wasn’t a question anymore, I needed to change the metrics beyond simply finishing the grid. I moved from counting number of words I needed to look up, to number of letters in error. And when I started realizing that a lot of puzzles were getting finished with no errors, I started timing puzzles.

If there is a competition in any way, it’s just with myself. I’ve even gotten old Los Angeles Times puzzles I’ve saved, redid them and compared them with what I wrote on blogs then. It’s fun to see progress and even encouraging, especially when I run into crossword puzzles I still have problems with. Part of my need in doing puzzles is to see that improvement, so in that sense I find an enjoyment in it. I can’t say that’s how others treat it, but that’s how I treat it.

As far as doing puzzles in ink versus pencil, it’s not an issue I’ve seriously addressed. I do most of my puzzles either online through Across Lite, or in pencil since I’m still way too error-prone in the course of doing a puzzle. As I understand it, some prefer ink because it is indelible – and that you can’t cover up your missteps upon inspection of the final product.

While there are objective standards to a puzzle in terms of how much you solved, there shouldn’t be anything that others should say in terms of your progress towards grids. As long as one gets there, there shouldn’t be any pressure from others as to how they get there, as long as they’re honest about how they get there.

The Week Crossword Review : Chain Reaction

The Week Crossword Review : “Chain Reaction” (2017-12-15)

Constructed By: Matt Gaffney
Edited By: Matt Gaffney
Source: Play Online.
Theme: Restaurant Chains
As indicated by 1-A, each theme entry contains two restaurant chains:

  • 20-A. [Two chains merging to form a board game played with music blaring?] – SONIC CHECKERS
  • 25-A. [Two chains merging to form Swee’Pea, all grown up now?] – POPEYE’S BIGBOY
  • 45-A. [Two chains merging to become convenient transportation to the middle of Australia?] – OUTBACK SUBWAY
  • 52-A. [Two chains merging to form a steamy romance novel written by TV host Williams?] – WENDY’S SIZZLER

Glenn’s Time: 16 minutes (paper).
Glenn’s Errors: 0.

(Quality) Rating: 3.5 stars/5 stars.
The Week is a general news digest magazine that publishes weekly on Fridays. As part of this publication, Matt Gaffney provides a puzzle which is comparable to the Tuesday New York Times. To that end, Gaffney tends to use a lot more timely clues than the norm, reflecting current news and entertainment trends. Sometimes, Gaffney will use enough of these that Naticks can be produced. Overall, there isn’t too much to commend these puzzles over others, although they are all of very good quality.

In turning to this puzzle, this is a good typical example. The theme is simple, commemorating the recent purchase of Buffalo Wild Wings by Arby’s. The combinations of restaurant outlets are interesting. However the fill is pretty standard, save some other recent news and entertainment items that Gaffney puts into the grid.

Unfamiliar/Interesting Stuff To Me:
6-A. [Band that won the 2007 Grammy for Best Video for “Here It Goes Again”] – OK GO. Never heard of this band. Meanwhile, here’s the song:

20-A. [Two chains merging to form a board game played with music blaring?] – SONIC CHECKER’S This is Sonic. This is Checkers.

25-A. [Two chains merging to form Swee’Pea, all grown up now?] – POPEYE’S BIG BOY This is Popeyes. This is Big Boy.

45-A. [Two chains merging to become convenient transportation to the middle of Australia?] – OUTBACK SUBWAY This is Outback. This is Subway.

52-A. [Two chains merging to form a steamy romance novel written by TV host Williams?] – WENDY’S SIZZLER This is Wendy’s. This is Sizzler. Wendy Williams has a one-hour syndicated talk show that she has been doing since 2008.

65-A. [Ward with the 1979 hit “Ring My Bell”] – ANITA. This is Anita Ward. Notably she is also a one-hit wonder with this song.

4-D. [Chongqing currency] – YUAN. Chongqing is a major city in SW China.

7-D. [Surname of the brothers who recently purchased Time, Inc.] – KOCH. Another example of very recent news.

22-D. [Jewish casserole] – KUGEL. Kugel is a baked casserole or pudding dish that is made with either egg noodles or potatoes.

30-D. [Catherine of For Your Consideration] – OHARA. Catherine O’Hara appeared in the movie For Your Consideration in 2006.

35-D. [Theresa in a recent Twitter feud with Trump] – MAY. Again some recent news.

Until next time!