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Datasheet

Datasheet

Following Gebru et al.’s recommendations in Datasheets for Datasets, I provide this datasheet as detailed documentation for this dataset.

Motivation

Why was this dataset created?

This dataset was originally a project for me to practice my webscraping and data processing skills. Since then, it has evolved to become a potential resource for cryptic crossword solvers and constructors - for example, one might use this dataset as a lookup table for answers, or to see how an answer has been clued in the past by other constructors.

While there is prior art in datasets for cryptic crossword clue datasets (Decrypting Cryptic Crosswords by Rozner et al. and Cryptonite by Efrat et al.), to my knowledge this is the first such dataset that is at least as large as the research datasets, is openly accessible, and potentially includes annotations for each clue (however, see the answer to the “Is any information missing?” question).

Who created this dataset and on whose behalf? Who funded the creation of this dataset?

This dataset was created by me, George Ho, as a side project in my free time. No expenses have been incurred, so the question of funding is moot.

Composition

What do the rows that comprise this dataset represent?

Each row represents one clue from a published cryptic crossword. The crossword grid itself is not saved.

How many rows are there in total (of each type, if appropriate)?

Clues are sourced from three cryptic crossword blogs and a few online archives of cryptic crosswords (for more details, see the Collection Process section).

For a breakdown of the number of clues from each source, please see the source facet on the clues table.

Does this dataset contain all possible rows or is it a sample (not necessarily random) of rows from a larger set?

The dataset covers a large portion of the scraped blog posts, and may thus be considered exhaustive (or nearly so) for the covered sources.

However, there are many reasons why a clue may not appear in the dataset - in order for a clue to be included, the following must be true:

  1. The crossword must be covered by a blog.
    • The three blogs cover exclusively British newspapers. As such, the resulting dataset is heavy in British jargon, such as slang, idioms or names of British towns or royalty.
  2. The blog must publish a blog post.
    • In particular, the blog must include at least the clues and answers of the crossword.
    • Many blog posts from the sources are not about crosswords at all (e.g. they may be administrative announcements), and those that are may not include the clues, instead simply identifying clues by puzzle name and clue numbers. Several blogs’ early blog posts fit this description.
  3. The blog post must be parsable.
    • As explained in the Collection Process section, the clues and answers are extracted from the raw HTML by a collection of parsing functions. If none of the parsing functions successfully return parsed clues, the raw HTML is deemed “unparsable” and is skipped.

What data does each row consist of?

Each row contains data in eight columns:

Column Name Description Example
clue Labourers going around spotted tools (8)
answer HANDSAWS
definition tools
clue_number 17a
puzzle_date Date the puzzle was published 2017-08-25
puzzle_name Name of the publication and/or puzzle Quick Cryptic 904
source_url The URL of the blog post where this clue was scraped from https://times-xwd-times.livejournal.com/1799231.html
source String indicating the blog this clue was sourced from times_xwd_times

Is any information missing from individual rows?

Yes.

Firstly, some data may be missing or malformed due to data preprocessing errors (see the “Are there any errors?” question for more details). I unfortunately have not quantified what proportion of the dataset is missing or malformed.

Secondly, while the majority of the dataset is sourced from blogs which provide definitions and annotations from bloggers, there are a few sources which are parsed directly from .puz files, which do not support such rich-form clue markup. Thus, clues from these sources are missing definitions and annotations. These sources are: cru_cryptics and nytimes.

Finally, the source code on GitHub provides four more other columns, in addition to the eight provided in the dataset:

Column Name Description Example
annotation Explanation and/or commentary on this clue by a blogger HANDS (labourers) arranged around SAW
puzzle_url If available, a URL to the puzzle itself
is_reviewed If 1, a human has reviewed the parsed clue for correctness 1
datetime_reviewed If the clue is_reviewed, the date and time it was 2021-08-01 16:06:19

These four columns have been dropped prior to publication, either because they are redundant and of limited value, or to respect the copyright of the scraped blogs. While I believe it is fair use to republish the cryptic clues in a centralized, structured and searchable formata.k.a. a transformatively different resource.

, the blogs hold the copyright to any annotations and commentary on the clues.

Are there any errors, sources of noise, or redundancies in this dataset?

Yes. As described in the Collection Process section, errors may be introduced in the dataset through human error by the blogger, or through machine error by the parsing code.

Human errors may include:

Machine errors may include:

Asides from the source_url column, the dataset is self-contained. Users are encouraged use the source_url for manual lookups of the original source, e.g. for further context on a particular clue, or to validate that the source has been parsed correctly.

Does this dataset contain data that might be considered confidential?

No. All cryptic crossword clues have been published (either in newspapers or in online publications) and are not confidential.

Does this dataset contain data that, if viewed directly, might be offensive, insulting, threatening, or might otherwise cause anxiety?

Not to my knowledge, no. These clues are published in widely syndicated newspapers and online publications, and are thus unlikely to contain offensive content. Nevertheless, it is possible.

One complication is that identifying offensive content is difficult, particularly for cryptic crosswords: even if the answer itself is not an offensive word, the wordplay may involve words or logic that may be offensive. This is best explained by quoting a Guardian article on cryptic crosswords:

Even puzzles that appear innocent may have something suggestive squirrelled away, as with an early Guardian grid by the setter Paul, which contained, without further comment, the entries HORSEMEN, WIDOW TWANKEY, CHARDONNAY, SCUNTHORPE, HOT WATER and, of course, MISHIT.

Collection Process

How was the data associated with each row acquired? What mechanisms or procedures were used to collect the data?

The data collection process breaks down into roughly three parts.

The first part is simply scraping all the web pages and writing the HTML to a SQLite table to avoid re-requesting them. Web scraping was done using the Python requests library.

The second part is a collection of functions that each take the scraped HTML and attempt to parse out the data using beautifulsoup and pandas. Since blog posts are written by a small team of individual bloggers - many of whom stick with a particular blog post template - there are only a small number (less than a dozen) of distinct “types” of blog posts, from an HTML parsing perspective. Accordingly, there are around a dozen functions, which are called successively until one of them doesn’t crash and returns a table of parsed clues. This parsed table then gets written to SQLite.

The third part is human evaluation of the clues. Between the human errors from the blogger and machine errors from the parsing code, it’s informative to manually look through a sample of the clues for any errorsI’ve gamified this with a CLI “cryptic clue practice tool” (review.py), which displays a random clue, allows the user to ask for crossing letters as hints, prompts the user for the answer, and prompts the user to review and edit the clue if necessary.

. This has uncovered a number of systematic errors, which can be corrected by either modifying the parsing code and re-parsing the saved HTML, or by simply running ad hoc SQL queries against the table of parsed clues. However, since it’s logistically infeasible to manually review all the clues, it’s admittedly difficult to see what further value human evaluation brings.

Who was involved in the data collection process and how were they compensated?

Since this dataset is the result of a side project in my free time, the only person involved in the data collection process was me, George Ho. I was not compensated for this work.

Over what time frame was the data collected?

The scraped blog posts cover crosswords published from January 2009 to September 2021: a twelve year period. New blog posts are being published daily and can be parsed to augment the dataset.

Preprocessing and Cleaning

Was any preprocessing/cleaning of the data done?

Yes. As described in the Collection Process section, the raw HTML is “preprocessed” by parsing the unstructured HTML into a structured table of clues and answers. This parsing is the main value proposition of this dataset over the raw blog posts, and the clues and answers are now presented in a centralized, structured and searchable format.

Is the software used to preprocess/clean the data available?

Yes, you can view it on GitHub. The following four modules contain the preprocessing and cleaning code:

Was the raw data saved in addition to the preprocessed/cleaned data (e.g. to support unanticipated future uses)?

Yes. As described in the Collection Process section, the raw HTML for the blog posts have been saved to avoid requesting them multiple times. However, the raw HTML is not published, due to size constraints.

Please email me if you’d like to receive the raw HTML data. Alternatively, you can simply rerun the open source cryptics library to recreate the dataset yourself.

Uses

The most immediate use case is for cryptic crossword constructors and solvers, both as a lookup table for answers and also to see how an answer has been clued in the past by other constructors.

Beyond that though, I am unaware of other uses for the dataset. If you are using it, please let me know!

Distribution

How will this dataset will be distributed (e.g., tarball on website, API, GitHub)?

The dataset is published online using Datasette. For more information, please watch Simon Willison’s introduction to Datasette on YouTube.

Yes. This dataset is made available under the Open Database License. A human-readable summary is available here. Any rights in individual contents of the database are licensed under the Database Contents License.

Have any third parties imposed IP-based or other restrictions on the data?

No.

Maintenance

Who is supporting/hosting/maintaining this dataset?

Me, George Ho.

How can the owner/curator/manager of this dataset be contacted?

I can be reached via email.

Is there an erratum?

No, but there is a CHANGELOG.md in the GitHub repository, which is similar enough.

Will this dataset be updated (e.g., to correct labeling errors, add new rows, delete rows)?

Yes. There is no set schedule for releases of new versions of the data. Updates will most likely entail:

Will older versions of this dataset continue to be supported/hosted/maintained?

No. Unfortunately, I currently have neither the time nor inclination to support, host or maintain previous versions of the dataset. I am open to changing my mind: please reach out if you suspect you can convince me otherwise.

If others want to extend/augment/build on/contribute to this dataset, is there a mechanism for them to do so?

Yes. Please raise an issue on GitHub if you have a specific issue in mind. Otherwise, reach out to me via email.