Introducing The Nerfracker

These puzzles (only) go to 11.

When we launched our subscription series, we hoped to also publish free variety puzzles fairly frequently. That's been tricky to uphold in year 2. We remain committed to publishing free variety puzzles, but as we asked ourselves why that was important to us, we realized our variety cryptic advocacy was secondary to our desire to make sure free puzzles were making their way back to the community. Furthermore, we know that even our easiest variety cryptic is still pretty steep for new solvers. Thus: The Nerfracker, written by jmsr525 and edited by dadgumituh. Thanks to joeadultman for test solving our first installment.

Speaking of joe, his Cryptic 101 series remains the best stopping point for a new solver … but they do go by rather quickly. The Nerfrackers will attempt to add more runway for new solvers, which puts this puzzle in the excellent company of the (now) late, great New Yorker cryptics and the epic suite of Steve Mossberg Quiptics. Solvers should choose among these branches as they see fit, but we’re all working toward the same goal: to help move people from “I hate this and am no good at it” to “wait, is this ... fun?”

Tailored versions

Each Nerfracker is an 11x11 block cryptic that's 1½ stars in difficulty — usually (but not explicitly) only one wordplay device per clue and only garden-variety deviousness. Each Nerfracker also comes with a selection of "nerfs" (to borrow the gaming term for changes that make something less formidable), manifested here as solver aids.

  • Version A has no aids.
  • Version B tells you what kind of wordplay device the clue has.
  • Version C tells you whether the definition will be found on the left or right side of the clue. (In the case of double definition clues, only the left side is indicated.)
  • Version D divides the clue into its definition and wordplay halves.
  • Version E boldfaces the clue's definition. (In the case of double definition clues, only the first definition is bolded.)
  • Version F italicizes the clue's wordplay indicator where applicable. (Remember, not all clues have indicators.)
  • Version G provides boldface definitions and italicized wordplay indicators.

With these variations, new solvers can find the level that's most fun for them. If that level becomes too easy? Try a higher level next time. (And speaking of solver aids, our cryptic crossword how-to is here.)

Nerf herding

We're making this up as we go along — we are providing a classic-style PDF for the no-aids version, but all the nerfed versions are in-browser only, because seven downloadable puzzle files and seven PDFs is all the more overwhelming. But! We're hosting the browser-based puzzles at Crossword Nexus, which has perfectly good printing functionality if you want a paper solve with aids. Like we said — this is intended to benefit solvers, so please let us know how you'd like to approach these puzzles.

Header image by azerbaijan_stockers on Freepik.

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