Rackenfracker #6: The Hard Way

A puzzle of four-letter words. (Not *those* four-letter words, but we make no warranty about what you might say while solving it.)

Between the first two Rackenfrackers, 90 percent of the answers were five-letter words. As a solver, you not only want a little variety, but you want some longer words to sink your teeth into, which our subsequent puzzles have provided.

This one is 18 four-letter words. #sorrynotsorry

None of them are those four-letter words, but we make no warranty about what you might say while solving it.

Our editor this week is Aaron Riccio, video game critic at Slant Magazine and blogger at The Crossword Scholar, which assesses newly published straight and cryptic crosswords on a timely basis. We hung out our Help Wanted sign and Aaron responded. He’s been very kind to The Rackenfracker in his weekly Cryptic Roundups, and it was a pleasure to give him a peek behind the curtain to see how the sausage is anagrammed.* Those write-ups are indispensable for those interested in the North American cryptic scene (although they also sometimes cross the pond), with Aaron addressing clues at a very fine level of analysis. There’s always a lot of talk about how to introduce new people to cryptics — we’ve been trying our hand at some new ways ourselves — but we can see his thoughtful and reflective parses serving as a gateway for threshold-dwellers intrigued by his examples and compelled by his enthusiasm. If you’re reading this, we imagine you also want to be reading that.

In Roundup #15, Aaron introduced a new metric, the +1, to indicate how many times in a puzzle he came across “new-to-me stuff I love.” Part of our purpose in insisting on editors is to see what happens when they push the puzzle closer to their tastes; Aaron had us take a clue where we were compromising on the difficulty and nudge it deeper into +1 territory, and he also recommended changes to another clue that gave the puzzle its fifth &lit (those clues that end in ! that are simultaneously all-wordplay and all-definition). So, if you would, please spare some of those four-letter words for him.

Thanks to Andy, John and Kaye for the test solves. As the entry of answers into the grid is once again fraught, don’t forget your ✏️ (for in-browser solving) and 💡 (for Puzzazz app solving) icons to record note and answers as needed.

We have four cubes, with each face containing a unique letter (no J and no Q). We rolled them 18 times and came up with dictionary words each time — lucky us. They are clued alphabetically by answer. Each column represents one cube, so there can only be six distinct letters per column. Consequently, answers for all but the starred rows will need to be rearranged before being entered. Each clue shows the alphabetic relationship between adjacent letters in the answer, e.g. [–+–] for GAME because A is before G, M is after A, and E is before M. (Our thanks to Joel Nanni, whose puzzles inspired this.)

Image credit: “308/365” by Mykl Roventine is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

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