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Listener 4079 – Sine Qua Non by Shackleton

Posted by erwinch on 16 April 2010

Shackleton gave us the splendid Much Ado About Nothing last April, a master-class in how to present a theme in the form of a crossword.  I was pleased to see that it was voted second best puzzle of 2009 by the Listener All-corrects, beaten only by Kea’s chopped down cherry tree.  Needless to say, the anticipation was high for Sine Qua Non.
The crossword part of the puzzle turned out to be fairly straightforward and two messages were revealed by corrected misprints:
Dot one’s i’s and cross one’s t’s (were lower case letters involved?)
Iddy-umpty (unknown to me but Chambers said Morse code)
So, counting the i’s as dots and t’s as dashes (the cross of a t is a dash) in non-misprint clues gave the two versions of a question:
Must it be?
Muss es sein?
ODQ5 confirmed that this was Beethoven’s epigraph on his String Quartet in F Major, Opus 135.  The answer to the question (Es muss sein) explains the puzzle’s title.
At this point I managed to go spectacularly off track.  A slight weakness in the puzzle was that it proved all too easy to find the final message concealed as the nth letter of the nth word of non-misprint clues – diametric exchange on 5/5.  Misinterpreting the preamble, I thought that S could represent 5 and that the four elements were those letters consisting solely of dots in Morse: E (dit), H (dit dit dit dit), I (dit dit) and S (dit dit dit) – the clincher for me was 5 being dit dit dit dit dit.  The penultimate letter of the first version of the question was supposed to be one of these elements but B was not.  My rationale for choosing the I of sein was that the German version really came first.  However, highlighting E, H, I, S and my choice of major as the five-letter word resulted in a right mess, rather resembling last April’s Winter Phoney:
If you half close your eyes, might it resemble this iconic image of Beethoven:
I stared at the interim grid for hours and just could not see the five-letter definition of the four elements formed by dots alone – was it something like dotty or something like HIES – races?
Without the five-letter definition nothing made sense – what had Morse code to do with Beethoven other than the double dit dit dit dah (V) opening of the Fifth Symphony?  Dit, dah and dot all appear in the grid, there is only one F (String Quartet in F Major) and one B for Beethoven, which can almost be spelled out.  Diametrically exchanging IDTID (row 10) with PAEON (row 4) gave DITDITDITDAH in row 4 (for the V in Beethoven?) and maintained real words throughout so that looked likely.
Well, I had to kick myself for not looking at paeon earlier.  I thought that it was a labourer but Chambers said that it was a prosodical foot and could be represented as dah dit dit dit!  All was immediately clear and with the Fifth Symphony being in the key C Minor I could complete the puzzle:
I was genuinely surprised to learn that Beethoven (1770-1827) and Morse (1791-1872) were alive at the same time.  I always thought of Morse as coming much later and did not know that he was also a painter and only the co-inventor of Morse code that was in any case based on earlier codes.  Morse code was developed some years after Beethoven’s death and it is intriguing but surely fanciful to consider any link between V and the 5th Symphony (first performed in 1808 when Morse was 17).
So, another cracker of a puzzle from Shackleton, fast becoming one of my favourite setters.  This would make a very worthy winner of the Ascot Gold Cup.

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