Preface: Word▶️

Puzzles that pop.

Welcome to Word▶️, a suite of 12 puzzles about movies, music, television, gaming, and digital life — all those things you’ve pressed ▶️ for from the 1980s to today. Word▶️ will publish a new puzzle on the 25th of the month until August 2023, and is available only via subscription. We'll send subscribers new puzzles via email, and they can also access them here on The Rackenfracker — but note that if you subscribe after that month's puzzle is published, you won't get the email and you'll have to come to the site, which will always have the last four Word▶️ puzzles available. (Well, it will have the last four once at least four have been published.)

‌‌‌‌Word▶️ actually existed before The Rackenfracker. We conceived it as an attempt to counter the arm’s-length approach to pop culture in the cryptic mainstream. While we sympathize with that stance — much of the traditional solver base has signaled that pop culture is not where they’re at — we feel the contrapositive is also true: If you’re not reaching solvers activated by modern culture, then you’re stunting that solver base from growing.

But we weren’t the only ones who came to that conclusion. In the past couple of years, the cryptic mainstream has shifted a little bit, with new publishers seeking out nontraditional solvers by making timely cultural clues the coin of their realm. Even for that crowd, however, variety puzzles with deep culture themes remain underrepresented.

Now, “deeply themed” does not mean “deeply trivia-y” — we expect any variety solver to be able to take on any of these puzzles regardless of whether they’re conversant with the cultural object at play. In fact, in most cases the theme will only emerge during solving, as typically happens with a variety cryptic. That said, part of the joke driving a few of the puzzles is the superfluity of thematic bits once the solver has sussed the theme — and where that happens, Googling to close a gap is part of the design. It should always feel like a puzzle you’re solving based on scaffolding you’ve already built, and never like a pub trivia question you’re grasping at.

We’re excited to share Word▶️ with you. While its 12 puzzles are being published, we’re pledging another eight free puzzles on The Rackenfracker — so that’s 20 puzzles in the next 12 months, including some killer collaborations. So if you’re not here for Word▶️, there will be plenty to keep you busy, and if, as we hope, you are here for Word▶️, there will be plenty to keep you busy.

For starters, we hope you enjoy On First.

Subscribe to The Rackenfracker

Don’t miss out on the latest issues. Sign up now to get access to the library of members-only issues.