Rackenfracker #11: Rackenfracker’s Eleven

The crew is waiting for you — are you in or out?

If there's one thing the two of us love, it's mixing it up with collaborators. Three's no crowd when it comes to shaking up our routine, our perspective, and our bag of tricks — such synergy can make a puzzle four-dimensional. Once we saw the awesome synchronicity with the calendar if we postponed release until today, we all high fived, but having to sit on the puzzle has had us at sixes and sevens because we didn't want to weight. And so we're on cloud nine to finally present the puzzle we've been on tenterhooks to share: Rackenfracker's Eleven.

The collaborator is joeadultman, our earliest friend in the indie crossworld and a maker of very fine cryptics at his blog Mental Judo: A Cryptic Blog (11) and elsewhere. He'd also like to welcome you to the puzzle:

The Rackenfrackers have been instrumental in my growth as a cryptic constructor for as long as I can remember (about a year and a half). In making this puzzle together, I feel like we've come full circle in the best of ways, and I hope that it's at least as satisfying to solve as it was to construct.

Many thanks, fellas! Let's do it again sometime ….

We have many test solvers to thank: Andy Stilp, John Sams, George Ho, Norah Sharpe, and Kaye Barton captaining a Crossweird crew of meatdaddy, catherinewheel, sazde, Rich and DXCUCR. The above poster is courtesy Crosstina Aquafina, with our glee and gratitude. And we're very pleased to say our editor this time is Nate Cardin, whose crosswords and cryptics have been published throughout the cruciverse, and who also edits puzzles for The Browser and is a 🧇Wheel of Fortune champion🧇.

Long-winded though we are (believe it or don't, those instructions are as short as they can be, and we have the drafts to prove it), we try to present puzzles with a minim of horntootery because you're already here — what's to sell? However, we feel compelled to mention two facts in classic good news/bad news fashion: At least three test solvers called this their favorite Rackenfracker, but none of them completed it in less than three hours. We'll note that we sat in on a collaborative two-day solve, and each of those adjectives contributed significantly to everyone's enjoyment.

We hope solving it brings you as much happiness as making it brought us.

(The .ipuz didn't work for Puzzazz or Crossword Nexus, alas.)

We've put together a heist, with Danny Ocean returning to the Bellagio as the ringleader of a brand new crew of experts.

Our eleven crew members (including Danny) are listed above the Across and Down clues, each with a set of three clues that form a path from one of the casino's exterior doors to the safe room. The safe itself must be cracked by two of the members.

Nine members modify their answers according to their specialty before entering them in the grid. Each modified answer is also a dictionary word, with enumeration provided for the unmodified answer. The modified answer to their clue A starts or ends in a unique door. Each subsequent answer for that member intersects its immediately prior answer, either across or down. The first or last letter of the answer to their clue C uniquely contributes one letter to the safe room.

Two crew members take a slightly different approach: They modify the placement of their answers, leaving the answers unchanged. The answer to their clue A starts in a unique door. It and each subsequent answer for that member forms a continuous path according to their specialty. The last letter of their final answer uniquely contributes one letter to the safe room.

The remaining 24 Across and Down clues represent the regular occupants of the casino and are entered regularly.

But it wouldn’t be an Ocean heist without one final surprise! One crew member, instead of visiting the safe room, is handed the contents of the safe and completes their path at an exterior door, ending up with the thing you’ve watched us steal this whole time.

Don't worry; we didn't leave the crew hanging: they still get to share the real treasure, which is spelled out clockwise in the nine squares of the safe room, starting from an unspecified corner. And if everything goes according to plan, you and the crew will get your own reward, spelled out clockwise in eleven entrance doors, starting after the twelfth door.

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