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HIT THE DECK

New York Times, Sunday, January 29, 2017

Author: Jim Hyres and David Steinberg
Editor: Will Shortz
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
2312/16/20021/29/20171
SunMonTueWedThuFriSatVariety
16632122
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.58030
Jim Hyres
TotalDebutLatestCollabs
866/16/20119/29/201816
SunMonTueWedThuFriSatVariety
66681128192
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.645163
David Steinberg

This puzzle:

Rows: 21, Columns: 21 Words: 142, Blocks: 79 Missing: {Q} Grid has mirror symmetry. This is puzzle # 23 for Mr. Hyres. This is puzzle # 59 for Mr. Steinberg. NYT links: Across Lite PDF
Constructor notes: JIM: I contacted David after solving his superb 'Out of this World' puzzle last year. I enjoy solving and constructing game-related crosswords and thought he might like to collaborate on a blackjack-themed ... more
Constructor notes:

JIM: I contacted David after solving his superb "Out of this World" puzzle last year. I enjoy solving and constructing game-related crosswords and thought he might like to collaborate on a blackjack-themed puzzle. I had been fumbling with a few ideas for several months (years?), but they were generally straightforward and most likely would have been rejected. Fortunately, David was receptive to the idea and proposed several theme concepts. We finally settled on creating a puzzle simulating a blackjack game between player and dealer. The puzzle layout lent itself perfectly to left-right symmetry, which was coincidentally used for "Out of this World" as well. I think the final puzzle turned out well, and I hope everyone enjoyed solving it!

On a personal note, this puzzle completes the "cycle" for me, in fact, David and I considered naming the puzzle "Hitting for the Cycle," but the joke was too "inside" for sure. Sadly, my dad wasn't able to see this puzzle in print, as he passed away late last year. He was an avid Times crossword solver for many years and was my inspiration to begin constructing crosswords several years back. I'd like to think he's smiling down on the puzzle today, sipping on a very dry martini.

DAVID: It was a pleasure working with Jim on this puzzle! As he mentioned, we discussed numerous other spins on a blackjack theme before settling on this one. In fact, we even thought of doing something with JACK BLACK/BLACKJACK (along the lines of Ed Sessa's masterpiece from earlier this month!). Once we decided on simulating a blackjack game, the next challenge was filling the grid. The theme proved very constraining, so we ultimately picked a slightly smoother/zippier 142-worder over our original 140-worder. Jim is an excellent clue writer, so we were ready to submit soon after settling on a fill. We hope you enjoy our puzzle! And who knows, we might just be back with more game-themed crosswords in the future :).

Jeff Chen notes: A BLACKJACK game! Er, TWENTY ONE. Curious how they have the same number of letters … there's a crossword theme in there somewhere. I missed the point of the puzzle in my first look, so here it is: ... more
Jeff Chen notes:

A BLACKJACK game! Er, TWENTY ONE. Curious how they have the same number of letters … there's a crossword theme in there somewhere.

I missed the point of the puzzle in my first look, so here it is: the PLAYER is on the left, while the DEALER is on the right. The PLAYER starts with a TWO and a THREE, and the dealer has an ACE and a FIVE (not sure which is the up card). PLAYER gets a SIX and a JACK and says, I've got TWENTY ONE, I WIN! The DEALER must keep going, getting a KING and then an EIGHT to BUST.

A ton of really nice bonus fill in this one, not surprising given David's skill level with themelesses. It seemed like everywhere I looked, there was a TOOL BAR/VAMOOSE/SKA BAND (great triplet!). DAY TRADER. FACETIME. ANN TAYLOR. CRAYON BOX. I DON'T MIND, no I do not, sir! I was very glad for all of those extras, helping hold my attention.

There were a few ENE, LTR gluey bits, but hardly a thing. Well, DREI / GRAU was pretty crunchy. It's understandable when you constraint the little SE corner on the top and bottom, making it so rigid and inflexible. But just GRAU by itself is pretty hard to take.

Sometimes I wonder if Will would help himself by raising his word count max to 142 (from 140) for a Sunday puzzle. It's so shazbotting hard to make any 140-word 21x21 puzzle, much less a theme-dense one packed with interesting fill. I quite liked the fill today, and the fact that it was at 142 words didn't bug me in the slightest.

Overall, I liked the idea of a blackjack-themed crossword, but I would have liked much more of a "story" reflecting real gameplay. Having the two starting cards be closer together, having the PLAYER fill out his/her set first and only then the DEALER going, somehow hiding the DEALER's down card, etc. So the theme execution didn't work that well for me. But given how nice so much of the fill was, I was still entertained.

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© 2017, The New York TimesNo. 0129 ( 24,554 )
Across Down
1. One side of a 69-Across showdown : PLAYER
7. Strip of buttons : TOOLBAR
14. Other side of the showdown : DEALER
20. Collective works : OEUVRE
21. "Get lost!" : VAMOOSE
22. Pinball wizard's hangout : ARCADE
23. Mother ___ : TERESA
24. Entertainment on a Jamaican cruise, perhaps : SKABAND
25. Kind of paper or test : LITMUS
26. Lieutenant, informally : TWOSTRIPER
28. It's unreturnable : SERVICEACE
30. Musicianship : EAR
31. Green plant? : MONEYTREE
33. Path to enlightenment : ZEN
34. Cannon in movies : DYAN
36. Developer's purchase : LOT
37. Samoan staple : POI
38. Bullets legend Unseld : WES
40. Top-shelf : BEST
41. Sushi restaurant wrap? : OBI
43. Moxie : SPUNK
45. X-File subject : UFO
47. Fairy tale family : THREEBEARS
52. Celebratory request : GIVEMEFIVE
58. "Great!" : COOLBEANS
59. One doesn't hold stock for long : DAYTRADER
60. "My man" : BRO
61. "What ___?" : ELSE
62. Storied workshop worker : ELF
65. Sand wedge, e.g. : IRON
66. Sean Lennon's mother : ONO
67. Thanksgiving dish : YAMS
69. Game depicted in the shaded squares : TWENTYONE
72. Carpenters with small jobs? : ANTS
73. Last mustachioed president : TAFT
76. See 125-Across : SERIF
77. Easy-breezy tune : LILT
79. Place where taps may be heard : BARRACKS
82. Skype alternative : FACETIME
86. Amount of separation, in a party game : SIXDEGREES
88. Investment seminar catchphrase : CASHISKING
90. Lost big : ATEIT
91. Big retailer in women's fashion : ANNTAYLOR
93. Upscale bag brand : FENDI
94. "Damn right!" : YES
95. Indy 500 winner A. J. : FOYT
97. Silly Putty holder : EGG
98. Standard poodle name : FIFI
100. Hound : DOG
101. Digital camera mode : AUTO
102. Countenances : MIENS
104. Confession subjects : SINS
106. "The Call of the Wild" author : JACKLONDON
110. March Madness stage : ELITEEIGHT
115. In the distance : AFAR
116. Having a lot to lose, maybe : OBESE
117. "___ Care of Business" (1974 Bachman-Turner Overdrive hit) : TAKIN
118. Eins + zwei : DREI
119. Message with a subject line : MEMO
120. Unlikely partygoer : LONER
121. Lieu : STEAD
122. Bring in : EARN
123. 1-Across's cry : IWIN
124. Tel. no. add-ons : EXTS
125. With 76-Across, like Arial and Helvetica : SANS
126. 14-Across's result : BUST
1. Like houseplants : POTTED
2. Wiggle room : LEEWAY
3. Light show : AURORA
4. The "Y" of Y.S.L. : YVES
5. Once, at one time : ERST
6. Behind : REAR
7. Campaign expense : TVSPOT
8. Wine barrel descriptor : OAKEN
9. Linc's portrayer in 1999's "The Mod Squad" : OMAREPPS
10. One may get smashed : LOB
11. Chest-thumping : BOASTING
12. "Up" voice actor : ASNER
13. Changed, as voting districts : REDREW
14. Artist who said "I don't do drugs. I am drugs" : DALI
15. Speed skater Heiden : ERIC
16. Entr'___ : ACTE
17. Delivery instructions? : LAMAZE
18. Infers from data : EDUCES
19. Feel bitter about : RESENT
27. "I think," in texts : IMO
29. Neckline shape : VEE
32. Word shortened to its last letter in texts : YOU
35. Holiday air : NOEL
36. Tabloid issue : LIBEL
39. Total : SUMTO
40. Citi rival, informally : BOFA
42. Neuwirth of "Frasier" : BEBE
43. Some SAT takers: Abbr. : SRS
44. Tease : KID
46. Item by many a reception desk : FERN
47. Super Fro-Yo seller : TCBY
48. "Hava Nagila" dance : HORA
49. Hotel bill add-ons : ROOMTAXES
50. Right on a map : EAST
51. From square one : ANEW
53. Marked by futility : VAIN
54. Jane Rochester, nee ___ : EYRE
55. "O.K. by me" : IDONTMIND
56. Blow off steam : VENT
57. Matchmaker of myth : EROS
62. Suffix with acetyl : ENE
63. Printer paper size: Abbr. : LTR
64. BTW : FYI
68. Famed Broadway restaurateur : SARDI
70. Ruhr industrial city : ESSEN
71. Butcher's discards : OFFAL
72. How great minds are said to think : ALIKE
74. Worried : FRETFUL
75. Laser ___ : TAG
77. Maui memento : LEI
78. "O.K. by me" : ITSFINE
79. Word after snake or sound : BITE
80. Container that may have a sharpener : CRAYONBOX
81. Superman, at other times : KENT
83. Starting on : ASOF
84. Like the sign of the fish : CHRISTIAN
85. Marijuana, in modern slang : ENDO
86. "___ cheese!" : SAY
87. Composer Max who was called "the father of film music" : STEINER
88. Young swans : CYGNETS
89. Part of a tour : GIG
92. Basis of some discrimination : AGE
96. "Lawrence of Arabia" star : OTOOLE
99. Maniacs : FIENDS
101. City that's home to the Firestone Country Club : AKRON
102. Divider in the Bible? : MOSES
103. Venetian blind parts : SLATS
105. Bottom of an LP : SIDEB
106. "Twister" actress Gertz : JAMI
107. Some : AFEW
108. Intimate garment, for short : CAMI
109. Bit of progress : DENT
111. Company with a noted catalog : IKEA
112. Dull color, in Düsseldorf : GRAU
113. Word on a towel : HERS
114. Shade : TINT

Answer summary: 14 unique to this puzzle, 1 debuted here and reused later, 4 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

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