On the occasion of the seeming last chapter in one of puzzling's greatest stories.

Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon receiving the MEmoRiaL Award at the 2022 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. Photo by Don Christensen

Let us raise a glass to Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon, who work collaboratively as Hex. When we first encountered the cryptic form in the mid '90s, their byline was splashed across every possible outlet. Later, when we really tried to learn the dark arts of cryptics ourselves, they were the ringleaders of the Cryptic Clue Workshop in the NYT fora and we sharpened our blade against their patient and knowledgeable whetstone. (“Patient and knowledgeable” undersells that they are just the nicest folks.) The space they cultivated remains unmatched: the published and the aspiring and the envelope-pushers and the sticks-in-the-mud all giving constructive feedback, clue by clue, puzzle by puzzle.

It was around this time that we started to do every Hex puzzle we could get our hands on. jmsr went to the library microfilm to print off a copy of every Atlantic puzzle they had done (save yourself a trip; it's now conveniently located at coxandrathvon.com), and each month brought a new joy. When The Atlantic discontinued their puzzle in 2009, we were on tenterhooks hoping for a new Hex home, which they found at The Wall Street Journal working with Mike Shenk … all the way up to yesterday.

This cannot be overstated: Hex established the style guide for the North American cryptic crossword. Brit folk uses the term Ximenean to describe those rules of fair play that UK setters adopt or rebel against, but the bar for Americans was set by Hex. Their ideals rang out in their puzzles from GAMES to Dell to Fraser Simpson's weekly puzzles to Tough Cryptics to Cryptics Monthly to the Boston Globe to the National Post to the New Yorker to the NYT: completely grammatical clues with no non-functional words and clear instructions to the solver, if they could only find them. (Hex was fond of saying in the forum “Your clues are always harder than you think they are,” which is an axiom we take to heart, believe it or don’t.) We can say without a doubt that the Hex variety puzzles — started in 1977, the year we were both born — compose the greatest single contribution to cryptics on these shores.

The preservation of a distinctly North American set of cryptic conventions is one of the things that The Rackenfracker aspires to, because to us those are steadiest flagstones on which new solvers can learn to walk down these garden paths. And it's our promise as setters that while we might clue deviously, it won't be at the expense of those principles.

Hex are the fulgent gold standard; however palely we may imitate, it's nevertheless their reflected light. We (as solvers, as setters, as people with ideas) will forever be in their debt. Cheers.

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