Today's AVCX+ is a themeless collaboration between Ryan McCarty and Brooke Husic. It's titled "Real Firecracker," and we think** it's fairly chewy at a 3.5/5 difficulty.
Ryan McCarty (he/him) has written dozens of crossword puzzles for various publications including The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Wall Street Journal, but this is his first AVCX puzzle! He runs an indie blog, McGrids, where he posts mostly wide-open themeless puzzles of the fairly-to-very difficult variety. When not making crosswords, Ryan works in federal consulting, sings as a baritone in several vocal ensembles, and composes choral music i nGaeilge. Brooke Husic (she/her) has been constructing crossword puzzles since 2020. She regularly writes easy crosswords for the USA Today and super challenging crosswords on her blog. She is part of the editing teams at Inkubator Crosswords and next door at Lil AVC X, and co-hosts the illustrious Crossnerds podcast.
From the editing side, it was a pleasure to work with Ryan and Brooke -- we hope you enjoy this puzzle as much as we did, with its striking diagonal symmetry and intersecting triple stacks. If you're hungry for more puzzles, These Puzzles Fund Abortion Too (TFPA2), a puzzle pack featuring social and reproductive justice themes, is now available for a $15+ donation to an abortion fund of your choice. We're proud to support the puzzle pack and the cause.
**Admittedly, we're not quite sure how challenging you will find Ryan and Brooke's puzzle! We're grateful that some of you wrote in to say you found last week's puzzle by Yacob Yonas tougher than a 1.5/5, which is how we'd rated it. Calibrating difficulty is an inexact science (as Francis recently pointed out in an AVCX Cryptic newsletter), so we appreciate any feedback you can share with us. On that note... AVCX+ Laboratories ran the numbers on last week's PDF layout survey, and 77% of you preferred the 3-column format. We're following your lead: today's PDFs are formatted with clues in 3 columns. We also received several requests to provide a left-handed PDF version, so today we're including southpaw-friendly color and inksaver PDFs. Huzzah!