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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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Quads IV by shark

Posted by shirleycurran on 12 Aug 2022

When we see the name Shark, we know that this will be a fair but challenging puzzle, probably one with a considerable step from the full grid to the one we finally submit and the preamble tells us that: three clashing crossing answers with careful instructions about how to enter a backslash and both of the clashing letters. Then we are told that we must change a letter that occurs twice in a column so that two affected entries will become new words and identify the theme.

I found a number of repeated letters in unchecked cells in columns but we were lucky to spot that a couple of Es could become O and A, giving us MINOR ARCANA. What on earth is that? Something to do with Tarot cards – I have to consult my friend Wiki who gives me the name A E WAITE and points me towards the four elements, FIRE with a WAND symbol, AIR with a SWORD, WATER with a CUP and EARTH with a PENTACLE.

Working copy

Now I see why we had to enter those letters around the backslashes: AIR is spelled above the slash and the W of SWORD below it. FIRE is continued to complete the WAND. WATER appears over a CUP in the northeast but finding that PENTACLE that will spell out EARTH for us is a real challenge. It is finally the hint about mirror symmetry that gives me the five points of the star. Very satisfying. And then I realize that the letters of PENTACLE have been staring at me all along – typical Shark endgame that gave us some minutes of puzzling.

I’ve forgotten something – the alcohol. Well there wasn’t a lot but I think RED RUM qualifies. ‘One with Red Rum after start of race (5)’. No, I don’t think this was a royal mount – we just had to take the R of race, the I for ‘one’ and anagram the RED (rum = *) giving us a RIDER. Mixing RUM and RED – Oh dear, but ‘Cheers’ anyway, Shark.

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Listener No 4721: Quads IV by Shark

Posted by Dave Hennings on 12 Aug 2022

Last year’s Shark Listener was Manhunt and won the Ascot Gold Cup for best puzzle of the year. This year we had another Quads outing after nearly four years since Quads III. They’ve all involved some combination of rotating bits of the grid, chopping some of it, shuffling bits of it and generally throwing your hands up in despair. This week, just three clashes to deal with but some illustrations in the endgame which got me worried before even reading 1 across.

As it was, 1, 6 and 11 passed me by, but 12 Battleship retreats, besieging once enough for these battleships (7) with its ENOW shout-out went in as MEN-O’-WAR and then 13’s nice &lit. One with Red Rum after start of race? (5) for RIDER [I + RED* after R(ace)].

Not all of them were that straightforward though. As usual, Shark’s clues were generally tough but scrupulously fair. The three clashes certainly caused me a bit of a headache. 29dn Easy bull’s-eye? (5) eventually resolved itself as SWEET, just a double definition, the question mark standing in for “for example”. (Personally that’s not my favourite technique, but heigh-ho.) 35dn Medical agency programme dismissing Doctor (3) also took me longer than I care to admit, being the abbreviation the preamble warned us of (even though it is also just a straightforward word — WHO [Doctor Who – the Doctor]. Great fun!

Probably my favourite clue, even though somewhat gruesome, was 17ac Predicament of medical examiner having dropped heart (6) for CORNER [COR(o)NER]. And of course, there was 7dn Drippy = dippy (without second consonant) (5) for INANE [IN(s)ANE].

And so, after a slightly longer than average solve, onto the endgame. First, find a letter occurring twice in a column and change each (not necessarily to the same letter) to give two new words. It didn’t take me long to spot MINER and ARCANE which could change to MINOR and ARCANA, the latter being a bit of a guess. Luckily Google confirmed that we were in the bizarre world of the Tarot.

All that was needed then was to translate some element of the cards into the grid and seeing the FIRE and WAND in the south-west corner got me going. According to Wiki, the four suits are Wands, Cups, Swords and Pentacles and the Wand, Cup and Sword got slotted in nicely. Not for the first time, I stared at the grid wondering how to get the EARTH in before putting it down, having a glass of wine, and revisiting it a couple of hours later to see it all in the top left as shown in the animation.

A nicely mysterious puzzle. Thanks, Shark.

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Listener No. 4720: Mute Stop by Llig

Posted by vaganslistener on 5 Aug 2022

Llig has clocked up an impressive 21 Listeners before this one since a debut in 1983, though it’s nearly 5 years since the last one appeared. Welcome back!

I was a bit thick on spotting the theme this time. Something musical seemed to be indicated by the title (and lots of references in the clues) and “mute” brought “swan” to mind – but at the back of my mind, so I didn’t make the quick jump to Schubert’s Swan Songs, which would have saved a lot of time!

Not that this was a difficult puzzle though. No walkover, but fair clues, quite a lot of anagrams in generating the extra letters, and a susupiciously familiar name emerging quite quickly from the downs. Once I was sure of that, it was simple to look up the song cycle, identify the Heine songs, and pencil them into the grid, and then to complete the allocation of the “perpetrators”’s names to the remaining clues.

We’re in relaxation mode after returning from our holidays so thankyou to Llig for a happy solve. Favourite clue? As a medievalist I had to smile at 18d “Ditch ruler of Florida (4)”. I dare say Offa would have liked to include Florida in his burgeoning kingdom but alas the ditch only got as far as Wales.

P.S. My name came out of the hat! And the Big Red Book has just been reprinted so I’ll be able to update the old(er) one on my shelf. If anyone passing my way wants to pick up a 12th edition they’d be very welcome.

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Mute Stop by Llig

Posted by shirleycurran on 5 Aug 2022

Nothing to worry us in this neat little preamble. Six thematic components that would have wordplay only and make up eight clues; two other clue answers that would give us the theme. A further hint would be given to us by one extra letter produced by the wordplay of one answer in each row and column. These were too be read in row and column order.

That was what gave us our way into the crossword. HEINRICH HEINE rapidly appeared as the letters down the side of my grid and, with FRAN? ??????RT appearing along the bottom, I made a lucky guess that we were looking for the Schubert’s SCHWANENGESANG. And SWAN and SONG had appeared symmetrically as the first and last down clues, explaining the title. A visit to Wiki gave me the six relevant poem titles and they filled the cells that had been puzzling us, like A?ME?R. ‘AM MEER’ of course.

We used STADT, DOPPELGANGER, FISCHER MADCHEN, ATLAS and IHR BILD to complete our grid. A gentle, very musical solve with LIED, ARIA, MAESTRO, TROMBONES, ORCHESTRA, TENOR as just a few of the words used.

No hare scuttling around in the grid this week, and the alcohol? Well, we leave to join family in Germany first thing tomorrow morning (so this was a good foretaste of German for me) and I think we might spoil ourselves with the DOPPEL G & T’s so Cheers Llig!

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