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Solution to Evan Birnholz’s June 12 crossword, “Shuffling the Deck”

Filled grid to June 12, 2022 crossword, “Shuffling the Deck” (Evan Birnholz/FTWP)

Today’s puzzle is a meta that’s just in time for the 2022 World Series of Poker, which is going on until July 20. The instructions say we are looking for “the winner of the World Series of Poker Main Event from the past 20 years who completes this puzzle’s theme.” You’re also given a link to a website where you’ll find a list of winners — you have to scroll down and click on the button that says “Previous WSOP Winners,” or you can find the same list on Wikipedia. I figured that, unless you follow professional poker closely, there’s a good chance you may not know names of the World Series of Poker Main Event winners, so I gave you that link as a way of stating that you have my permission to look up the potential answers. You have that permission for any non-puzzle tournament crossword, of course. As I often say, looking up information that you need to figure out a meta answer is not only allowed, it’s strongly encouraged.

Anyway, the first thing to do is to identify the theme answers. There are 12 symmetrical two-word Across answers that seem like good candidates:

  • 23A: [TV show that featured fights between remote-controlled machines] is “ROBOT WARS.”
  • 25A: [2004 Tom Hanks film set at JFK airport] is “THE TERMINAL.”
  • 31A: [Public drinking site] is WATER FOUNTAIN.
  • 48A: [Kayaking safety devices] is LIFE VESTS.
  • 53A: [NBA team that Charles Barkley and Steve Nash played for when they won MVP awards] is PHOENIX SUNS. This would be super-timely if they’d made the NBA Finals this year. Alas, they were eliminated by the Dallas Mavericks not long before I wrote the puzzle.
  • 66A: [Where some people conduct their affairs?] is LOVE NESTS. Hmm, LIFE VESTS and LOVE NESTS in the same puzzle? They share many letters in common.
  • 69A: [Alloy used for some wedding bands] is WHITE GOLD.
  • 84A: [A, B, C, etc., in D.C.] is STREET NAMES.
  • 86A: [Football referee who stands behind the defensive secondary] is BACK JUDGE.
  • 103A: [We don’t know the answers to them yet] is OPEN QUESTIONS.
  • 110A: [Epson cartridge stuff] is PRINTING INK.
  • 115A: [Phone number trios] is AREA CODES.

So what do we do with the above 12 answers?

We know this is about cards, so that might get you to consider the four different suits (Hearts, Diamonds, Clubs, Spades), but another idea is the 13 different kinds of cards (2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, Jack, Queen, King, Ace). Since there are 12 theme answers, and you need to find a person who would complete the theme, there’s a good chance that the theme answers involve 12 of those 13 cards and the meta answer gets you the 13th.

Your best bet is to think about the title. What does “shuffling” suggest? Scrambling letters! Each card is jumbled across both words in its theme answer … but one of them is missing.

  • ROBOT WARS contains a scrambled TWO.
  • THE TERMINAL contains a scrambled THREE.
  • WATER FOUNTAIN contains a scrambled FOUR.
  • LIFE VESTS contains a scrambled FIVE.
  • PHOENIX SUNS contains a scrambled SIX.
  • LOVE NESTS contains a scrambled SEVEN.
  • WHITE GOLD contains a scrambled EIGHT.
  • STREET NAMES contains a scrambled TEN.
  • BACK JUDGE contains a scrambled JACK.
  • OPEN QUESTIONS contains a scrambled QUEEN.
  • PRINTING INK contains a scrambled KING.
  • AREA CODES contains a scrambled ACE.

The NINE is missing, so now we need to go to the internet to find the World Series of Poker Main Event winner from the past 20 years who scrambles NINE in their name. You’ll find him right at the top of this list: HOSSEIN ENSAN, who won the Main Event in 2019.

My personal knowledge of professional poker players is fairly limited — off the top of my head I know the names Phil Ivey, Stu Ungar, Johnny Chan, Daniel Negreanu, and Doyle Brunson. I had not heard of Hossein Ensan before writing this puzzle, but I thought it was neat how there was a WSOP Main Event champion whose name could lend itself well to the concept of shuffling letters from a deck of cards. Also, unless I’m mistaken, I don’t think there are *any* other scrambled cards in the grid. I didn’t aim for that originally; I could have put stars on the relevant 12 clues if I needed to. But I figured if I could somehow keep stray scrambled TENs or scrambled ACEs out everywhere else, then I could pull it off. The southwest corner went through at least one rewrite when I’d had NEWTON at 95D, and that has a scrambled TWO.

What did you think?