Listen With Others

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3998 – Squaring The Circle by Centigram

Posted by Listen With Others on 26 September 2008

Thursday evening, London, sunburnt. Just back from Mallorca, where I took Centigram (though not Chambers) with the intention of doing him on the beach between swims, and I did actually have a quick look at him on a mountain between Valdemossa and Deia, but my idea of actually doing the thing on holiday was never going to happen. So now I’m back home, and really ought to get this knocked off before the next Listener appears tomorrow.

And it’s another ‘Squaring The Circle’! This’ll have to do something very special indeed to beat Sabre’s puzzle of the same name in The Magpie last month, which was one of my all-time favourites. (I get the feeling no-one else loved it quite as much as I did, but perhaps they’ll come round.) It’s an original idea, the circular gimmicks crowbarred into a square grid, and I always like barless puzzles. On the face of it the preamble seems to give away more than it needs to – are the asterisks really necessary to indicate the jumbled clues? Couldn’t we be left to work out that the quotation is “clockwise from word 1”? But maybe that’s just my masochistic streak, and one of many reasons why I’ll never make a crossword editor.

So, kick off at the top with Cloak with ceremonial headpiece or the equivalent. ‘Or the equivalent’ is too uncrosswordy a phrase not to be in Chambers, and sure enough it’s OTE. And the only thing I know about Truman Capote is that he’s a cloak, so that’s that one done. So 7 has a T in it somewhere: Warning: the Earth’s distorted. A simple enough THREAT. This feels like an easyish one – they’re probably softening us up for 4000 – but one mustn’t drop one’s guard.

4 has a letter from ‘threat’ in it somewhere: Traveller’s language – almost the last to be translated. I remember SHELTA from previous crosswords, but it throws up an interesting editorial decision in Chambers. The 2003 definition, ‘a language used by travelling people in Britain and Ireland’, has by 2008 become ‘a language used by the Travelling People in Britain and Ireland’. Been a bit of lobbying there, I fancy.

This is definitely an easy one – an observation, not a denigration – and the top right corner comes together in a few minutes. The quotation isn’t immediately obvious, though, as the ‘circle’ clockwise from 1 reads C U/A IS N/O LRS. Which isn’t English, at any rate, and I wonder if the quote is going to be two concentric circles read together somehow – one letter from one, one from the other, or something.

Oh, hang on, ‘AT THE ROUN’ appears in the second circle, and the preamble specified from word 1, not from the first letter. Right. DRUIDS and DEARTH in the bottom right make it probably ‘at the round’, and a dive into the ODQ comes up with John Donne. And there’s ‘OUR TRU’ in an inner square. Splendid. The whole quote goes in, and now just to finish off the clues.

Which doesn’t take too long. I know that sounds like a bit of a cheat when you’re supposed to be blogging it, but there’s really very little illuminating to say about the solving process here – which, I repeat, is absolutely not a comment on the quality of the work. Indeed, the clues are easy because they’re completely fair and well constructed, and filling in the grid is amusing without being a struggle. But it’s finished in under an hour, and the round earth’s imagined corners spell… LURS, I suppose. Yes, that’ll do. Lur, as well as being a jolly useful Scrabble word, is also the name of the best occasional character in Futurama (the ruler of Omicron Persei 8, if I’ve spelt it correctly).

A fine grid. Fair, clear, concise, neat, and with a cracking quotation. I can’t help feeling that LURS itself is a bit of an anti-climax, though: it’s a slightly obscure word, and were the angels really likely to be blowing Bronze Age trumpets?

Speaking of which, and because I’ve nothing much more to say about the puzzle, can anyone suggest why Donne began with that line? I mean, the phrase ‘At the round earth’s imagined corners…’ just seems a little over-specific, somehow, particularly in the context of the poem and the whole sequence of the Divine Meditations. On top of which, surely there were seven trumpeting angels. How could seven angels be arranged neatly at the four corners of the earth? There are four angels at the corners of the earth in Revelation, but they’re just there to hold the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree, they haven’t got trumpets. What’s the textual justification for the numberless infinities of souls arising at the blowing of four angels’ trumpets? Shall I shut up?

Thanks to Centigram for a nice neat puzzle, and for making me read more of Donne than I meant to.

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