Out of Shape preview: Musical Round

Welcome AVCX solvers, and also welcome everyone to our new puzzle series!

We've got two puzzles to tell you about today. Before we get to our latest free puzzle, we want to welcome to those finding us for the first time from our debut cryptic at AVCX! We had a great time working with editor Stella Zawistowski and her merry band of solvers, and are so excited to have brought that puzzle to your pencils. (Nota bene, you can get a free trial subscription at avxwords.com.)

The Rackenfracker has been our home for variety puzzles for more than a year now, and we have plenty of free ones for you to cross swords with. In fact, we've got a new free puzzle today with a grid like whoa:

Going off the grid

Not all variety crosswords are cryptics — sometimes they're standard clues but in a grid that's diagramless, or encoded, or circular as in the above image, or spiral or broken up into literal jigsaw pieces. Our series Out of Shape asks, "Yeah yeah yeah, but what if they were also cryptic?"

Today's puzzle is a preview to whet appetites for Out of Shape, which launches in September. We're delighted to announce that the Out of Shape series is going to be edited by Will Nediger, whose puzzle byline you may have seen literally everywhere. Cryptics are only a small part of his prodigious output, but they're great cryptics and we're so thrilled to be working with him.

Until September, our monthly subscriber puzzles are the finales for Word▶️, our series edited by Bill MacDonald where each puzzle is inspired by a slice of pop culture from the past 50 years. The next one comes out in two weeks on May 25, and trust us when we say these last four crosswords finish off the series with some bang(er)s. If you like your cryptics on the 🤯 side, you've come to the right place.

There's also a free subscription tier at that button to be notified when new puzzles come out — we've put out five free crosswords since Word▶️ launched and are committed to keeping free puzzles coming.

Opening round

As the above image shows, today's puzzle literalizes the Out of Shape ethos — no acrosses, no downs, not even a single square.

Our editors this time are a pair of indie crossword luminaries: Norah Sharpe, in her first editing gig at The Rackenfracker, and Will Eisenberg, who previously edited our puzzle Rock Bands (which is the least variety-y of our variety puzzles for visitors who want to dip their toes in those waters). Besides the blogs linked above, you can find their work (separately but also sometimes collaboratively) in venues such as the L.A. Times, Universal, AVCX and The Atlantic. Thanks to them for digging in to make sure this puzzle was a sizzler for you.

Apprenticing on this puzzle was Alexis Viera — Alexis has set a couple of sharp cryptics herself, including one last September for AVCX, as well as this swell variety cryptic for Lemonade Disco (which, now that you mention it, is another place that Norah and Will collaborated). We were fortunate to have Alexis.

And as ever, bottomless thanks (though, you know, not in the Tampa way) to today's test solvers Andy Stilp and John Sams, who were also the first solvers on our AVCX puzzle, which also got an assist along the way from Quiara Vasquez.

Spoke entries begin at the exterior of the grid at their numbered square and are written inward. Ring entries are clued in order, but those consecutive entries may begin at any position in their Ring — the labelled cells simply identify which Ring is which. Ring entries are written clockwise. The unclued Ring (e) will be fitting and, we trust, well-balanced. (Note for screen solvers: Each ring is displayed as a row that wraps from the right edge back to the left edge à la Pac-Man.)

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