3976 Hard Rectangle by Harpy

Harpy, appearing in the Listener series for the first time, provided us with a puzzle which wasn’t quite as difficult as the title might have suggested. With 56 clues, this puzzle could have been a struggle if the clueing had been less generous, but as it turned out, Gregson managed to make steady progress with the grid.

Extra letters spelled out POET CAN BE SEEN IN GRID. SHADE CELLS CONTAINING LETTERS NOT IN TITLE. Shading the cells which did not not contain any of the letters H,A,R,D,E,C,T,N,G,L (the distinct letters of HARD RECTANGLE) produced a patchwork of shaded areas, with the two largest areas separated by a chain of single cells. These cells spelled out THE GRAND CANAL, suggesting Venice as the theme. This was further confirmed by referring to a map, which showed that the shaded areas of the grid represented the actual shape of the city.

Examination of the grid led to the name SHELLEY, which could be found in the bottom row. Turning to the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (a standard Listener reference), and looking at the entries under Shelley, led to the appropriate quotation:

Underneath Day’s azure eyes,
Ocean’s nursling, Venice lies

which comes from Shelley’s work, Lines written amongst the Euganean Hills. Therefore, DAY’S AZURE EYES had to be written in the space above the grid, so that Venice could be seen lying underneath, which provided a pleasant finish.

Corrected words in definitions, and extra letters, are indicated by [].

1 Ashlar's smashed in streams of dump [mud][P] (6)
6 Widgeon [Winged][O] prepared with thyme after innards are removed (5)
11 Three notes re-echo [chore][E](3)
FAG F + A + G (Three notes)
13 Produced round cheese shaped into goblets [globes][T] (4)
EDAM MADE (Produced), reversed
14 Curtail [Ritual][C] slaughter? I'm main tool for reform (10)
17 Game [Gem][A] of Life featuring justice for all to see (5)
BIJOU BIO (Life) contining J (justice) + U (for all to see, ie a film classification)
20 Reardon [Roared][N], like Hurricane perhaps, wide as he got onto red (8)
WUTHERED W (wide) + UT (as) + HE + RED
22 Bums [Sum][B] to be paid in certain transactions in old silver up front (4)
AGIO I (in) + O (old), preceded by AG (silver)
23 Sheepdog finally, with "Come by", rounding a youngish mare [ram][E] perhaps? (4)
TEGG G (last letter of SHEEPDOG) + GET (come by), all reversed
24 Plank's edge has one knot, and supplier initially feels sorry for Sheraton [another][S] (6)
PITIES P (First letter of PLANK) + I (one) + TIE (knot) + S (first letter of SUPPLIER)
25 Virus finally targets alders [lards][E] (5)
SAIMS S (Last letter of VIRUS) + AIMS (targets)
27 A wise delay [lady][E] perhaps for the Persian king? (5)
SOPHY Two meanings
29 A group of five hollow yew (with a sort of rot) for woodland fern-owl [flower][N] (10)
QUINSY-WORT QUINS (A group of five) + YW (YEW with centre letter removed) + W (with) + ORT (anagram of ROT)
30 Sidecar [Sacred][I] bird in bliss on and off (4)
IBIS Alternate letters of In BlIsS
33 Tardiness [Disaster][N] in a low degree on the way back (4)
DOOM MOO (a low) + D (degree), all reversed
34 Perhaps composition by brooding [Borodin][G] Dominicans starts to unsettle singers (4)
OPUS OP (the Order of Preachers ie Dominicans) + US (first letters of UNSETTLE SINGERS)
36 These chortles [clothes][R] go with a gown - college bus returned carrying fellow and me (7)
SUBFUSC C (College) + BUS, all reversed, containing F (fellow) + US (me)
38 Car-sick [Cracks][I], and core of motor-racing team suffer at first (5)
QUIPS QUIP (central letters of EQUIPE ie motor-racing team) + S (first letter of SUFFER)
40 Endless rumour sated [East][D] German formerly (4)
OSSI GOSSIP (rumour), minus first and last letters
42 One of these was dashing [Gandhi][S] about Portugal in passenger transport (5)
BAPUS A (about) + P (Portugal), inside BUS (passenger transport)
43 Drift around a lake in Delhi [idle][H] (6)
FALLOW FLOW (Drift) containing A + L (lake)
45 Payment for lease is prepaid [ripped][A], perhaps by force (4)
RENT Two meanings
46 Regularly on railway in Dinard [drain][D] (4)
NALA Alternate letters of oN rAiLwAy
47 A part of hotel costs? It is providing a phone receives [service][E] (5)
TELCO Hidden in hoTEL COsts
49 For conics [coins][C], I must get in piece on eccentricity and one pole (7)
GUINEAS I inside GUN (piece) + E (eccentricity) + A (one) + S (South ie a pole)
50 Poster [Sport][E] is what's central to drawing attention (4)
WEAR W Middle letter of DRAWING + EAR (attention)
51 Dry until [unit][L] end of Feb, America's an endless inferno (6)
BUSHEL B (last letter of FEB) + US (America) + HEL(L) (inferno, minus last letter)
52 Beer with no head - drunkenly deny such a jar's been located [coated][L] (6)
LEYDEN (A)LE (Beer, minus first letter) + YDEN (anagram of DENY)

2 Species [Pieces][S] moving slowly, 22 in sad shuffling (7)
ADAGIOS AGIO (answer to 22 Across) inside ADS (anagram of SAD)
3 Neurotic [outine][] bisexual in Trilby? (5)
HABIT BI (bisexual) inside HAT (trilby)
The question mark indicates that “trilby” is just one example of a hat
4 No yeomen [enemy][O] to be found in Asia Minor? (3)
AMI Hidden in AsiAMInor
5 Mixes of K-meson [smoke][N[ and low cloud trails at last - short intervals in which gravity's constant (5)
SMOGS S (last letter of TRAILS) + MOS (short intervals) containing G (gravity)
7 Wild OAP, excited to be receiving troop [poor][T] wages (7)
8 At heart, reputation going west sort of alarmed [dermal][A] Mark (4)
TATU Middle letters of repUTATion, reversed (going west)
9 Solvent used to prepare explosives mostly without forfeit [effort][I] (4)
ETHE ETHE(R) (Solvent used to prepare explosives, minus last letter)
10 Venturi [Virtue][N] pipe only half present, yet working (5)
PIETY PI (half of PIpe) + ETY (anagram of YET)
11 Meanies [Seamen][I] keep watch on these dandies carrying earth to be chucked in a bit (8)
FORETOPS FOPS (dandies) containing E (earth) inside ORT (a bit)
12 Ingenious little clarinets [articles][N] - instruments of torture introducing tango (7)
GADGETS GADGES (instruments of torture), containing T (tango)
15 When drunk, in sum, you'll see how a regal [Lear][G] character's nose glowed (10)
The reference is to Edward Lear’s poem, The Dong with a luminous nose
16 Investigate after friend's thrown up pills [slip][L] (6)
LAPSUS SUS (Investigate) after PAL (friend), reversed
18 American soldier with yen for espumoso [opossum][E](4)
JOEY JOE (American soldier) + Y (yen)
19 Son tucks into wild ox breast [bears][T] (5)
URSUS S (Son) inside URUS (wild ox)
21 I must abandon mountain river's dramatic rites [rise][T] (4)
EGER EIGER (mountain), less I
26 My hat! Spy freely provided white [with][E] tea at times (8)
28 Collar [Local][R] turned up over tip of beak (3)
PUB UP reversed (turned), + B (first letter of BEAK)
Here, “over” is indicating concatenation in the vertical sense
31 I'll leave cycle in coach - this is not a spiel [pile][S] (6)
BUBKES B(I)KE (cycle, less I) inside BUS (coach)
The third clue using BUS as an element of the wordplay, lending support to the theory that such devices always come in threes!
32 Donegal [Age-old][N] prophet has one rising about 1am, not noon (6)
ISAIAH HAS + I (one_, all reversed, containing I (1) + A (AM, less M ie noon)
35 Outflow on regular basis providing transport for sea-lion [aliens][O] (3)
UFO Alternate letters of oUtFlOw
37 Make intrados [inroads]T] into middle of vault - and there's matter arising about base (5, two words)
USE UP U (middle letter of VAULT) + PUS matter), reversed containing E (base)
38 Shakespeare's poetical [polecat][I] question: "What's jail if justice becomes universal?" (5)
This was a tricky clue, which required reference to Chambers to confirm that POLECAT and QUAIL are both Shakespearean words for a prostitute
39 Maybe Barnes [Sabre][N] is into crosswords (5)
SWORD Hidden in crosSWORDs
Gregson assumes that the surface reading of the corrected clue refers to the prominent Listener setter, Sabre
40 More than just a violent [love-in][T] cyborg ? Not half - Terminator in story (4)
ORGY ORG (second half of CYBORG) + Y (last letter of STORY)
41 Alison [Sloan][I] turned wheelies (4)
SNIB BINS (wheelies) reversed
Another clue needing reference to Chambers to confirm the definition, with snib(2) in Chambers = snub, ie sloan
43 Fellow partook of pot-roast [Atropos][T] for instance (4)
FATE F (Fellow) + ATE (partook of)
44 Part of cam turning, pulling line in old baler [bare][L] (4)
LEWD DWEL(L) (Part of cam) reversed, minus L (line)
48 Slumber without covers where Edwin [wind][E] won't find you? (3)
LEE SLEEP (Slumber), minus first and last letters