(Note: A last-minute clue edit introduced an error into the puzzle; not all emails had gone out by the time someone pointed out the issue, so this may be the first email you receive, in which case, even better! But if you did already receive it, here is a corrected version of the puzzle. Apologies! The original email appears below.)
Hello, and Happy Pride to all! This is my first Pride Month being out as nonbinary, and I chose to celebrate by writing a variety cryptic. In my customary fashion, of course, I chose to do The Most. This puzzle is like many people's relationship status: It's complicated. Very complicated! Definitely the most complicated puzzle we've run so far. Many thanks go to our fabulous guest editor this week, Nate Cardin, who is an absolute delight to work with, and who did an amazing job wrapping his head around this puzzle's many moving parts and steering it toward its best possible form. Actually, let me hand this email over to Nate to say a few words:
It was quite an honor to tackle early versions of this puzzle and give editorial suggestions, and I hope your solve will realize even a fraction of the pride I felt at conquering this tour de force. Kudos to Francis for putting this together!
I'm always excited for Pride Month puzzles for how they make many of us feel seen and included. Even still, we can and should actively celebrate Pride and fight for our right to exist year round. With the tremendous rise in anti-queer animus and the sharp uptick in anti-LGBQT+ (and, specifically, anti-trans) legislation throughout the U.S., I hope that puzzles like this will inspire us all to action. We must each do what we can: donate, volunteer, educate, and/or fight back. Even doing something as little as including positive and affirming LGBTQ+ references in your own puzzles can do so much to make many in our community feel less alone.
"We need, in every community," gay rights activist Bayard Rustin once said, "a group of angelic troublemakers." I hope you'll be ours. Be gay, do crime.
Finally, some notes about the various versions of the puzzle you'll find attached. There is no digital version of the puzzle; it is PDF only. And since it is a color puzzle, there is no Inksaver version. The main version of the puzzle, which Nate and I hope you'll attempt to tackle because we think it's the most satisfying, is labeled "Hard". You'll find two versions of it: one that squeezes everything onto one page (if you want to conserve paper & ink) and one with an airier two-page layout (with a larger font and more room to make notes).
As for the other versions, it's hard to explain how they differ and what "spoilers" they contain without explaining the whole puzzle (which takes a while), so what I would suggest is, open the "Hard" version, contemplate for a bit, and if you decide to nope out of it, then try the "Easier" version. If that's still too much, move on to the "More Easier" version. Finally, the "Most Easier" version is the most beginner-friendly. (Not all of these exist in one-page PDFs, because they just did not fit.)
We are off for the next two weeks (which means there's no puzzle next week, and our next mini cryptic will run on July 7), but on the bright side, that means you've got plenty of time to solve this thing. If it seems like too much to handle by yourself, consider solving with a group! This is a great time to get your entire polycule on board with solving cryptics.
Love and pride to all --
-- Francis (he/they) and the AVCX Cryptic crew