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Listener 4721: Quads IV by Shark

Posted by vaganslistener on 12 Aug 2022

Fearsome names are a bit of a tradition for the setters of fiendish crosswords, and a “Shark” instinctively puts me on my mettle. He’s an excellent setter – but not always an easy one.

QUADS as a title doesn’t give anything away about the theme, although we are led to expect that there will be action in each quadrant of the grid. That, is it turns out, is both true – but also a bit misleading, as one of the final illsutrations breaks free; but at no point does Shark indicate that this is not the case, so all’s fair …

The clues proved reasonably straightforward with just a few clashes to watch out for. Shark’s style is elegantly concise and sometimes witty. 39d “Evacuate during forced take-off” (5) raised a smile of course, after I’d biffed in STOOL and then rubbed it out as I couldn’t make the word-play work. The right answer was POO in SF, “sf” being the abbreviation for “sforzando” or “forced”, and “take-off” the definition. Top clueing.

Then to the end-game. The setter’s challenge in the preamble is to say what they mean, but not always mean what they (appear to) say, to adapt a famous clueing motto. So the wording here was a bit awkward and it wasn’t entirely clear to start with just what it meant. The backslashes gave a quick start for the bottom quadrants, with SWORD and WAND obvious as words. That may have been enough for some solvers to crack the whole thing open, but by and large bishops don’t spend their time studying the Tarot and its MINOR ARCANA cards, so no pennies dropped yet, and at this stage I was just pencilling in lines for the two words, which with the backslashes gave the object shapes, and assuming that was it. Hum.

Next came a search for the relevant unchecked letters, and some careful counting and checking which words generated real new words when changed narrowed the choice for new thematic entries to MANOWAR/TARTARS, RAMATE/ETTERCAP and MINAR or MINOR and ARCANA. I suspected the Tartars didn’t run much of a fleet, and branched spiders sounded scary but not hopeful as a theme, so ARCANA then, and Googling that with WAND and SWORD led to the relevant Wikipedia page that gave the four symbols – and I knew I was now looking for a Pentacle and a Cup (though other words were also given for those, which proved red herrings).

CUP was obvious – but it was upside down, and only one line. Something was obviously missing. A peek at the card designs showed that the CUPs in question were chalice-like with the one cup-shape standing on another inverted one as its base. Looking up from CUP in the grid and drawing the shape produced the letters of WATER. Interesting. Back to Wikipedia and yes, each symbol or suit is associated with one of the elements. And – tricky beast – didn’t Shark say, “each illustration has an element of mirror symmetry.” I’d thought that just meant “partial symmetry” but not so: each illustration is going to have both a line connecting the letters of the symbol and another the letters of the element, which together depict the symbol object.

But hang on a minute, I thought I’d already got those in the the bottom two quadrants. Whoops. There in plain sight – and yes I’d already looked for extra words but not seen them – were FIRE extending the wand, and AIR extending the cross-piece of the SWORD. One more to go.

To the top-left corner and looking for P for PENTACLE then. No joy. Or not until I allowed for the possibility of non-contiguous letters to be joined, at which point I found P-E-N-T-A-C-L-E making knight’s moves round a big circle – but overlapping out of the quadrant, which worried me. I decided to look for one of the shorter alternative suit names, and found C-O-I-N, also non-contiguous, but making a more suitably sized ring. How to choose? And I still hadn’t got EARTH, which was also not to be seen in any contiguous pattern.

In the end, going back to the card designs, I saw that the a five-pointed pentacle was enclosed within a circle, so that would be the ultimate illustration of the suit that I needed, and yes, there were the letters E-A-R-T-H at the pentacle points within the circle connecting the letters of P-E-N-T-A-C-L-E, and together illustrating the symbol of the PENTACLE suit. Got that? Apply for a post at GCHQ now…

So it was with some relief that finally I could ink in the letters and lines, call it a day, congratulate Shark on a very sophisticated and beatifully-constructed puzzle, if a fiendish one, and pour a drink. Cheers!

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