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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
976/16/201110/30/201918
SunMonTueWedThuFriSatVariety
76691132242
ScrabbleRebusCirclePangram
1.645173
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 ... read more

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 ... read more

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
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
Down
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: 10 unique to this puzzle, 5 debuted here and reused later, 4 unique to Shortz Era but used previously.

Found bugs or have suggestions?