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NYTimes Crossword clue: “Flits here and there” – The New York Times

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Tom McCoy's Sunday puzzle might be hard to get a handle on, but it’s worth it!
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SUNDAY PUZZLE — This grid marks the Sunday return of Tom McCoy after a far-too-long absence — nearly two years — that likely corresponds to a period of intense study. Mr. McCoy, who lives in Wexford, Pa., recently defended his doctoral dissertation in cognitive science at Johns Hopkins University, on the subject of how language is represented in artificial intelligence systems and what that tells us about language in humans. This fall, he will begin a postdoctoral program at Princeton, which might be easier to juggle with crossword construction (probably wishful thinking on my part).
If you’re a recent Sunday solver, or if you haven’t gotten to past Tom McCoy Sunday puzzles, they are always creative and interesting, especially if you appreciate subtle tweaks that make you realize all the strange coincidences hiding in letters, words and language.
This puzzle has an explanatory note that will go a long way toward demystifying the odd feature of some letters that makes its theme work:
Seven clues in this puzzle relate to their answers in a manner for you to discover. Standard clues for these answers appear here in mixed order:
Accounting total
Communicating (with)
Leg cramp
Peyton, to Eli Manning
Showing gratitude
Unlikely election winner
Where golfers practice short strokes
Most of the fill today is congenial, which is a lifesaver — without crosses, I don’t know how I would have gotten a firm footing on this puzzle’s theme. There is far more wordplay than trivia, and I enjoyed the smattering of million-dollar-word synonym clues like “Cacophony,” “Lachrymose,” “Panache,” “Excoriate” and “Shenanigan” (try and use all of those in a conversation!).
32A. This entry isn’t part of the theme, but it shares a small element and I find it unexpected and clever. “Like some cheeses … or some movies” solves to GRATED … or G-RATED.
108A. This “9 a.m. service” refers to a midmorning prayer called a TERCE; I needed crosses for this one, which doesn’t appear often in Times puzzles.
12D. I can picture both of these giants and love the imagery here. “Big Bird?” describes both LARRY Bird, the basketball player, and the beloved Sesame Street resident.
14D. It took a beat to register this usage: “Looks good on” is BECOMES. Thinking of “Death Becomes Her” was what made things click for me.
43D. This is another rarity that makes its return to the puzzle after several decades of “Flit(ting) here and there,” as one does when one GALLIVANTS.
The seven entries in today’s theme set are all in the across clues, at 23-, 29-, 41-, 63-, 84-, 97- and 103-Across. They take advantage of the phenomenon that gives us “grammagrams,” or “letteral words” — words that sound just like a string of letters, like “seedy” (CD), “zeal” (ZL), and “expediency” (XPDNC). These theme entries are each a single-letter example of this, like “bee” and “eye,” and they each incorporate a neat twist that involves one of those clues listed in the introduction to this post (and in the puzzle’s information online). That extra clue also explains the puzzle’s title, “Expansion Pack,” but it takes some solving before all of that becomes clear.
For starters, as you know, each of those across entries has another clue, the one that’s in the grid itself, and they are infernally mystifying until you get the gist of this theme, which is not EZ. Most of the grid clues are rather clear — suspiciously so, in retrospect — and caused me much befuddlement.
For example, 63-Across, “Something avoided during awkward situations” is clearly “eye contact,” no? I can’t imagine an alternative. A handful of crosses confirmed this to me, except that it just didn’t quite fit: CONTACT worked perfectly, but there were only two squares left at the beginning of the entry for “eye.” Ay ay ay, I thought to myself, I sure hope this isn’t a rebus. I then moved on to 84-Across, “Fish with a prehensile tail,” and encountered the opposite problem. This has to be “seahorse,” of course, but now our sure thing is too short. HORSE works with its crosses, but there are seven squares remaining when only three are needed for “sea.”
It was then that I looked at the second clue set (if I hadn’t, I’d probably still be scratching my head, although I’ll bet people figured this out somehow without the help). “Leg cramp” is a pretty specific clue for a strangely-named vexation, the CHARLEY HORSE. Sure enough, this entry fits. How does “sea” fit with CHARLEY, though? I still wasn’t quite there.
Truth be told, the trick finally dawned on me in a reverse maneuver. I solved the grid’s clue for 105-Across, “Mad Hatter’s social event,” without issue — “tea party,” which is two squares too short to fit this spot in the grid. But I also had great luck with the down entries here, mostly short bottom-of-the-puzzle fill, and solved it completely on the crossings — THIRD PARTY. This jibes with “Unlikely election winner,” one of those seven secondary clues from the puzzle’s introduction. What’s happening here? Instead of “Tea,” read T. The “Expansion Pack” in the title is the second clue, which grows that T to a new word, THIRD.
So, instead of “sea horse,” read C HORSE, which becomes CHARLEY HORSE. Ah, and “eye contact?” That’s I CONTACT, which goes with the clue “Communicating (with)”: IN CONTACT.
The remaining four entries use G, O, B and P as their base letters. As Mr. McCoy says in his notes below, the puzzle almost had both clue components in the grid’s clue set; I think the trick would have worked beautifully in either case, but I agree with the constructor that separating them is a lot of fun.
The idea for this puzzle came from the way my university assigns email addresses: first initial plus last name (plus a number, but I left out that part). In my initial submission, the cluing reflected this origin. For example, the clue for 23-Across was [Name: Takeaway. User ID: Direct path], giving one clue for the full answer (“name”) and one for the abbreviated answer (“user ID”). The editorial team suggested the different framing that you see in the published puzzle, and I think it’s a big improvement!
Subscribers can take a peek at the answer key.
Trying to get back to the puzzle page? Right here.
What did you think?
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