17A. I love learning new things from crossword puzzles. Everyone knows about Tin Pan Alley, right? If you’re not, it was “the small section of 28th Street, Manhattan that lies between Broadway and Sixth Avenue,” according to Online etymology dictionary. The name of the early 20th century music mecca of the songwriting industry was taken from a “Rickety piano, in old music biz slang” called a TIN PAN, so named because its sound was reminiscent of tin pans clattering together.
10D. When I was in elementary school, I remember our teachers at various times talking about us children having to learn a universal language called ESPERANTO. The arguments for (made by the teachers) and against (from the parents) seemed to come and go at the same time as our teachers frantically searched for materials to teach us something called the metric system, which also mysteriously disappeared from our young lives. Anyway, the word for “crossword” in ESPERANTO is “kruvvortenigmo”, which probably explains a lot about why the language never caught on.
34D. Liquor in “Some Liquor” does not refer to alcohol in this puzzle. They are apparitions, and in this puzzle they are GENII, plural of “genius”.
Adding letters to the front of words is not in itself theme-worthy because it is so common in English. For it to be fodder for a puzzle, there must be as much surprise as possible: The pieces must all change their meaning completely so that a solver does not see it coming too easily. It is also more surprising when the “borrowed” letters are meaningless in themselves (eg INDIG from SHINDIG), or unrelated to their context (eg TRAPS from STRAPS).
I found that if one of the parts is too short or too long, the result tends to feel less transformed and thus less fun, but adding five letters to an unrelated six or seven letter word, produced the most unexpected results. I found fewer strong candidates for this theme than I expected, and I looked at what I could on the web. And luckily, TAKE FIVE presented itself as a handy reveal to help explain what’s going on.
It just so happens that August 3rd is my birthday, so I want to use this space to say “Hi, Mom!” and thanks to all of you for the solution! Seeing this puzzle in print today (it was originally posted April 2022) is a nice gift.
Hope you enjoy it.
Don’t fear Friday: About the Easy Mode newsletter
Christina Iverson, a puzzle editor, sends a weekly Friday puzzle with more accessible crossword clues straight to your inbox if you sign up for the Easy Mode newsletter. This extra goodness is for those who want to try the Friday puzzles but have heard all about how hard they are.
If you solve the early weeks’ puzzles but feel like you don’t have the experience to go any further, think of the newsletter as a set of intersecting training wheels. Use easy-mode clues until you don’t need them anymore, then tell your struggling friends how you conquered Fridays. Perhaps they can also benefit from this newsletter.