17A. I love learning new things from crossword puzzles. Everyone is familiar with Tin Pan Alley, right? If you are not, it was “that little section of 28th Street, Manhattan, that lies between Broadway and Sixth Avenue,” according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. The name of the music mecca of the songwriting business in the early 20th century 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 clacking together.
10D. When I was in grade school, I can remember our teachers talking at various times about us children having to learn a universal language called ESPERANTO. The arguments for (offered by the teachers) and against it (from the parents) seemed to come and go around the same time our teachers were frantically looking for materials to teach us something called the metric system, which also mysteriously disappeared from our young lives. Anyway, the word for “crossword puzzle” in ESPERANTO is “krucvortenigmo,” which probably explains a lot about why the language never caught on.
34D. The spirits in “Some spirits” do not refer to alcohol in this puzzle. They are apparitions, and in this puzzle, they are GENII, the plural of “genie.”
Adding letters to the front of words isn’t inherently theme-worthy, because it’s so common in English. In order for it to be fodder for a puzzle, there needs to be as much surprise as possible: The parts should all change their meanings entirely, so a solver doesn’t see it coming too easily. It’s also more surprising when the “borrowed” letters are meaningless on their own (e.g., INDIG from SHINDIG), or unrelated to their context (e.g., TRAPS from STRAPS).
I found that if either part 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 yielded the most unexpected results. I found fewer strong candidates for this theme than anticipated, and fit what I could on the grid. And luckily, TAKE FIVE presented itself as a handy reveal to help explain what’s going on.
It happens that Aug. 3 is my birthday, so I’ll use this space to say “Hi, Mom!” and thanks to you all for solving! Seeing this puzzle in print today (it was originally submitted April 2022) is a nice present.
Hope you enjoy it.
Don’t Fear the Fridays: About the Easy Mode Newsletter
Christina Iverson, a puzzle editor, will send a weekly Friday puzzle with more accessible crossword clues right to your inbox, if you sign up for the Easy Mode newsletter. This extra bit of goodness is for those who would like to try the Friday puzzles but have heard all about how hard they are.
If you solve the early-week puzzles but feel as if you don’t have the experience to go any further, think of the newsletter as a set of cruciverbal training wheels. Use the easy-mode clues until you don’t need them anymore, and then tell your friends who are struggling the way you were about how you prevailed over Fridays. Maybe they can benefit from this newsletter, too.