Puzzle that makes you weep softly on Twitch
How we met the solvership that's the bedrock of The Rackenfracker.
The title is a bastardization of God-tier US constructor Henry Hook's classic clue for CRY+P.+TIC, remixed here because it summarizes two salient points.
It’s a Twitchin’ town
Second point first, the video game streaming service Twitch provided an important inflection point in the creation of The Rackenfracker. The 21st century had been a time of US cryptic market contraction — the two magazines that brought cryptic crosswords to our shores, The Nation and The New Yorker, ceased publishing a daily puzzle in 2020 and 1999 respectively, and The Atlantic retired The Puzzler in 2009, creating a huge vacuum for mainstream solvers who might thereafter only encounter the puzzles in occasional weekend editions of The New York Times and especially The Wall Street Journal (where Puzzler constructors Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon reemerged with more variety cryptics).
When we began creating the crosswords that would become this site, the trigger was an opportunity to get a puzzle into an edited publication — specifically, a digest of variety cryptics that was printing its last volume. (That's a common publication life cycle in this business — Tough Cryptics, Cryptics Monthly, and Cryptic All-Stars all brought a new publication to this audience and rode that opportunity as far as made sense, but the journey was always finite.) We didn't get up to speed fast enough to take advantage of our inciting opportunity, but knowing that it was past and that fewer places were publishing cryptics of any kind, we resolved a couple of years ago to go our own way and publish a book of our work.
Enter Twitch. It was the video game The Witness that brought us both to Twitch — and for the record, we've rarely found an affinity group that responds to cryptics as strongly as players of The Witness — but then we saw that there were a growing number of individuals streaming their solves of cryptic crosswords. Coincident with this was a surge, perhaps lockdown-related, of new cryptics being published — venues like The Browser and AVCX were bringing new constructors and editors into circulation, and even The New Yorker began publishing them again. Some of those constructors and editors were even on Twitch. This was a new solvership, and so our prospective book became The Rackenfracker.
Our formative cryptic experience was the NYT forums back in the early '00s, and Twitch (and its handmaiden, the Discord server) often achieves that same salon-like quality, with solvers and constructors — both amateur and professional, and both traditional and cryptic — mixing it up, fizzing with the prospect of the next puzzle, the next setter, the next convert.
Mystery loves company
First point second, we think group solves can really demystify, defang, and de-weep the cryptic introduction process for new solvers, and the Twitch cryptic crossword crowd tend to be good eggs worth hanging out with. This week's Word▶️ will be a salute to that community.
These are the folks that have streamed solves of Rackenfracker puzzles, and we'll update this post as more do. (If we've missed you, let us know!) You'll often find us in these streams, and we try to catch the replays when we don't make it.
If this sounds like the kind of community you could use, you should consider Twitch.