Quartet by MynoT

,

Listener crossword 4073: Quartet by MynoT (2010-02-13)

No clue numbers! Answers to be fitted in jigsaw-wise! This crossword was divided into four quadrants, each of ten entries, and there were four sets of ten clues, one for each quadrant, each given in “alphabetical order of its answers”. One letter of each answer was to be moved to the perimeter “disclosing a relevant quotation (minus one word)”. But on the plus side, every letter was checked.

I got stuck into set 1, which had a shoal of fishy words: a GED eating an ASP to make GASPED; scombroid SEIRS; tunicate SALPAE; and a hydroid SEA FIR to which an E could be appended to form SEA-FIRE. The four six-letter answers from this set—GASPED, SALPAE, GNEISS and PER PRO (clued with the smoothly misleading “A professional by agency of another”)—were already enough to work out which of the four quadrants this set belonged to, and how to fit in the words.

This gave me enough crossing letters to get the remaining words in this quadrant, revealing the letters ...IRCOU_SEAND... going clockwise around the perimeter. These suggested the words THEIR COURSE AND, and going to Google I found a quotation from the ancient Chinese book of divination, the I Ching:

Sun and moon revolve on their course and cold and hot seasons take their turn.

If this were right, the theme was the four seasons, which would fit the title, but unfortunately at 63 letters the quotation was too long, no matter which word was dropped. So I moved on to set 2.

“American playwright to serve superior loud soldier” seemed likely to be the name of a playwright containing “superior” ↦ U followed by “loud” ↦ F. That’s a rare digraph, and a trawl through Wikipedia’s Category:American dramatists and playwrights found George S. KAUFMAN (“serve” ↦ KA, “soldier” ↦ MAN). Together with “Knight runs playing hard balls” ↦ KNURS, it looked as though set 2 went in the top right, and after a couple more clues I had much of that quadrant filled in.

For some reason I assumed that the U would be moved from KNURS to the margin, even though at that stage it could, for all I knew, have been the N. But it was a fortuitous mistake, because it suggested the quotation might go RUN THEIR COURSE AND.

Searching for that phrase found a quotation from Wing-tsit Chan’s translation of the Analects of Confucius:

Confucius said, “I do not wish to say anything.” Tzu-kung said, “If you do not say anything, what can we little disciples ever learn to pass on to others?” Confucius said, “Does Heaven say anything? The four seasons run their course and all things are produced. Does Heaven say anything?”

The emphasized phrase has 51 letters, and with SEASONS removed per the rubric, that left 44, a perfect fit. And with the corners filled in, I spotted SPRING along the diagonal of quadrant 1 (with the R moved to the corner) and SUMMER similarly along the diagonal of quadrant 2. So I could fill in WINTER in quadrant 4 and most of AUTUMN in quadrant 3 (it wasn’t yet clear which of the ‘U’s was moved).

It had been quite a struggle getting this far, but the rest of the crossword was a romp, with some great moments of deducing implausible words and looking them up to find they are for real: “I wonder if ROY is Australian for ‘dandy’?”—“I bet TANGUN is a type of pony!” This is the essence of advanced cryptics for me.

The final stings in the tail were a couple of words missing from Chambers 2003, but which I eventually found in the OED: MITUMBA (“In eastern central Africa: second-hand clothing”) and NGOMA (“In eastern and southern Africa: any of various kinds of drum”). The rubric noted that “one answer in set 2 is in Collins” so I guess the other must be in Chambers 2008.

I can imagine some purists objecting to “Cell’s self-contained down under?” ↦ ASCUS (since there’s a double indirection in the wordplay: “down under” ↦ “in Australia” ↦ in AUS) but I thought it was amusing.

Given the convenience for the setter that the four seasons all have six letters, I was surprised to see that this is only the second time the theme has been used. The previous occasion was number 2446, A Happy New Year by Duck.