Listener No 4348: Quads by Shark
Posted by Dave Hennings on 19 June 2015
Shark’s third Listener, although he’s had a fair few Evs, Inquisitors and Magpies. The fact that his Magpie puzzles tend to have D (for Difficult) grades should be a warning to us all. The preamble told us that words in all but six clues needed to be swapped with their first letters spelling out three instructions. The remaining six clues had extra words that would help us even more.
Well, all that play with words (as opposed to wordplay) meant that you couldn’t be sure what the definition was, and would have to rely on the wordplay (as opposed to the play with words) to nudge you in the right direction.
I hurried through the across clues to see what I was up against. 20 LADED, 24 DENET, 26 CHOIR and 33 STAIRED were all that I got. Still, that was four more than I was expecting. It was good to see that the grid was nice and symmetrical — I only got four downs as well — 3 ECARTES, 7 HAAR, 9 GLOSSY and 11 EDILES.
It also struck me that there were a lot of proper nouns in the clues, from ‘Moulin Rouge‘ and ‘France’ to ‘Utah’ and ‘Virginia’. I wondered if this was at all relevant. [Appears not.]
Back to the acrosses, and 1 ALLEMANDE and 13 SADDENS got me going nicely, and after about 90 minutes, I had 75% of the grid filled. OK, it took me another 90 minutes to make a list of all the correct words and the first letters of the clue each came from. This enabled me to finally resolve the outstanding clues, and I was home and dry.
If only I had a pound for every time I thought I was home and dry, only to be faced with a tricky endgame. Knowing Shark’s devious mind, I suspected that I was only home or dry, not both. At least it didn’t take long to work out the three instructions :
Turn NW quadrant to SE
Fill with original entries’ initials
Anagram same eight letters
The hint given by the extra words in the six unpaired clues:
Successive letters from original paired clues
It was evident what the first instruction needed us to do, which the preamble told us applied “en bloc“. I was still gobsmacked when the first six letters from ALLEMANDE in the northwest corner flipped round onto the end of the first three letters of SQUITTERS (with its lovely ‘looseness’ definition) to give SQUAMELLA. Is that really a word?! It is — a small scale (as in lizard).
This left a gaping hole in the top left corner, and the second instruction told us to fill it with the initial letters of the original entries. Surely that can’t be right! Well, there were 36 squares that needed filling, and there were 36 numbered cells, so it looked as though that was exactly what needed doing.
However, I had absolutely no idea where, or indeed how, to start. Even 1ac could become one of several entries — DEMI-MONDE, ASH BLONDE, BEAU-MONDE among them. Luckily, we were given yet another hint, as spelt out by the extra words. But what exactly does ‘successive letters’ mean? It was only a short while later that I found myself taking the first letter of the first unpaired clue (D), the second letter of the second clue (E), third of the third (M). Was I going to follow them with an I, an M and an O? I certainly was, and it wasn’t long before I had a full grid.
Actually, not quite full. There was no thirty-sixth letter of the thirty-sixth clue (31dn). Instead I was faced with a question mark. I was thus left with an empty square in 11dn STIR·S. It could be STIRES, STIRKS or STIRPS. Going back to the initial letters of all the clues, I had accounted for all of them except a second K, so in went STIRKS.
Lastly, the Word to go beneath the grid. This had to be an anagram of those letters that were the same in the original and final grid. I have to say that MAAIADEC looked unlikely to be the anagram of anything! However, a bit of doodling enabled me to get ACADEMIA without any help from Sympathy.
And so, after a long afternoon’s work, I was done. What may seem from this blog was a nice smooth progression from one stage to the next was, in fact, a series of stutters. (My blogs have a habit of compressing time wonderfully!) Personally, I think a better title for the puzzle would have been Phenominal. How Shark managed to weave all this complexity into a simple 12×12 grid is staggering. I am in awe. I feel lucky to have been able to enjoy the experience. Many thanks, Shark.