cooked sweet dish (7 letters)¹

Michelle McGhee and The Pudding have collaborated on an incredible piece of cultural data analysis about representation in crossword puzzles.

We sampled tens of thousands of clues across decades and publications from Saul Pwanson’s crossword corpus. Then, we manually labeled each person’s race and gender after researching them. For the purpose of this analysis, we classified people using US Census’s categories. We believe that the lines between races and genders are social constructs, and their precise delineations are moving targets without unanimous agreement. We recognize that this is an imperfect method, but it does not change our finding: crossword puzzles are dominated by men of European descent, reserving little space for everyone else.

I’ve been a New York Times crosswords player for a long time; in the past few years I’ve definitely noticed a mild trend towards a more diverse (and modern) set of clues, but there’s still a long way to go.

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Visualization from The Pudding

What’s amazing is what’s happening at USA Today:

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More from The Pudding. The yellow line indicates the US population.

Here’s why:

As of December 2019, The USA Today puzzle is edited by Erik Agard, a 27-year old crossword champ who told me, “bringing some balance on the representation front is something I actively try to do.” A prominent crossword blogger called USA Today’s puzzle “the most interesting, innovative, and provocative daily crossword” out right now.

The whole piece is worth exploring, especially if you’re even a casual crossword player. Fantastic analysis, wonderful data visualizations, and they even made a puzzle that illustrates how different sets of clues can yield the same answers.

¹ Pudding.

Written by

Labs @ Medium. Avid reader, long time blogger.

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