The Rackenfaction: Bill MacDonald, returning champion

A brief ⏸ where we ⏪ our history and ⏹ to recognize Word▶️’s editor.

If it seems like all of our stories revolve around the erstwhile New York Times Crossword Forums, well … where else?

In the early '00s it was the only real gathering place for those who wanted to talk about the cryptic arts, or at least the only one where riffraff like us could just walk in the front door. Obviously the "real" crossword took up most of the oxygen in the room, but our little subforum was a lively place. While its contents have been lost to time, its archive of community-submitted puzzles serves as a roll of sorts: You'll spot Foggy Brume, Bob Stigger, Tom Toce, plus of course hosts Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon … and those are just the ones that have also published a new cryptic in the past couple of months.

But it wasn't a place just for setters; it was for seekers, theorists, enthusiasts. That's where we met Bill, an unfailingly gracious and erudite commenter. Sure, the community puzzles in that archive were presented as a pastime for their audience, but they were unedited — the forum paid the constructors back with their plaudits and tuts. Bill chimed in frequently, with both a keen sense of what was worth celebrating in a puzzle and a remarkable facility for showing how a less successful clue didn't meet the standards of fair play.

When we decided to self-publish, we knew we didn't want our puzzles to go out into the world without someone pushing back on them more authoritatively than would a test solver, and when it came to our subscription puzzles, all the more so.

Furthermore, the Word▶️ series was conceived as a reaction to a cryptic status quo that deliberately kept pop culture at arm's length.

Those conditions made Bill ideal. He had gone on to edit and publish Cryptics Monthly, which delivered puzzles by email from 2004 to 2007, but he's also a Jeopardy! and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? champion, so we trusted that he'd be well equipped for our lateral thinking exercises on matters trivial. (And, lo, he even got $200 on Jeopardy! for answering a question — er, questioning an answer — on a work that's the secret theme of one of the Word▶️ puzzles.)

His notes on these 12 puzzles have been thoughtful, exhaustive, and perfectly pointed, and from the feedback we've gotten on the puzzle suite, we think folks have noticed. And maybe we'll take a little bit of credit for helping reawaken his cryptic bug: Cryptics Monthly is now online, serving up a selection of puzzles from that magazine's archive.

If you saw us when we were fellow guests with Bill on Will Nediger's January 2023 Twitch stream solving some CM classics, that was actually the first time we met face-to-face, as it were. We're pretty sure we recognized Bill publicly for his excellent work on our puzzles then, but let us shore that up and do it again: If you like Word▶️, thank Bill. We certainly do.

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