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Army and Navy by Shackleton

Posted by shirleycurran on 23 June 2017

It is always a great pleasure to see that name Shackleton at the head of a crossword (or indeed anywhere – the original Shackleton of that astonishing journey in the James Caird is one of the greatest heroes of all time for me – and indeed for the compiler Shackleton who created that Ascot Gold Cup winning crossword ‘Six Across’ on the theme last year.)

It was soon clear from that very lengthy preamble that another expedition or even two expeditions were to be the subject of this puzzle. We were staying with crossword enthusiast friends in a village on the Atlantic coast of Ireland so I printed off copies of the puzzle for all of us on the one available machine in the Internet cafe and we all began to solve.

Of course I began by re-checking Shackleton’s entry right to the Listener Setters’ Tipplers’ Gang and I didn’t need to read far, “Got real porter maybe to carry son on foot (5)” gave the corrected ‘not real’ with ALE around S after F, so FALSE. So we started with ALE. Then he was in a Chinese pub with “Oldie’s stiff one, it’s served in Chinese pub (5)”, which gave LICHI. A bit of a dipsomaniac mixing the rice wine or whatever with the ale: not surprising that soon after we find, “Old mate turning up very hung over (6)”, which gave us EXSERT from EX with TRES turning up and we found that the word was some kind of projection. No, Shackleton hadn’t finished. The very last down clue had “Turned red ignoring mum’s whiny yarn (4)”. We found SHIRAZ ‘turned’ there and ignored the SH to give us ZARI which is some kind of shiny gold thread in embroidery, I am told by Auntie Google. So cheers, Shackleton – see you at the pre-Listener-dinner pub gathering next year.

By the time I had spotted those and managed to make myself a grid on Crossword Compiler (yes, it was amazingly symmetrical in view of all the thematic material it contained) the others were already deciphering the message: DOT AND DICK DASH TO THE POLE: NORTH IS WEST: ADD EIGHT FLAGS.

Dot and Dick! Years of juvenile reading, plus the fact that I originate from not too far from Windermere immediately led us to the theme (the Lake District – Windermere where, Ransome was unhappy in school and where, like those Swallows and Amazons on their ‘lake’ a sort of cross between Coniston Water and Lake Windermere, we spent holidays on a houseboat in Brathay Bay and learned to row heavy, old-fashioned dinghies). Of course, knowing of Shackleton’s interest in themes about polar exploration (see last year’s Six Across) told us that we were looking at Arthur Ransome’s fourth in the Swallows and Amazons series,  Winter Holiday, which uses the Nansen Polar expedition in the Fram as a model for the Walkers’ uncle’s houseboat, that they christen the Fram and from where Dorothy and Dick set off for their disastrous journey to the north end of the lake. (North is West, of course!)

It is exactly fifty years since Arthur Ransome died isn’t it? We thoroughly enjoyed the Swallows and Amazons film that came out last year (my great-niece was auditioned at her school for the role of Tatty – she didn’t get the role but did amuse us all by telling us that it was ‘Tatty’ and not the ‘Titty’ we remember.)

Completing the grid and deciphering the preamble, step by step, was magic (as Shackleton’s crosswords always are). A row had to cryptically indicate the author’s first and last names. ARTHUR appeared in row 10 surrounded by HURRIED (= RAN) and IN PART (= SOME). The row symmetrically opposite gave us WHITELY INROAD, an anagram of WINTER HOLIDAY, so we completed the gaps below the grid.

We were told that NORTH IS WEST, and with a smile changed S W ALLONS to SWALLOWS and highlighted that and the AMAZONS who had sailed into view three rows below. We had to add a line to the title and performed a similar manoeuvre to the title changing Army and Navy to ‘Army and Wavy’ which clearly led us to the semaphore which is a theme central to Ransome’s account. That, of course told us what to do with the VL and LV that were projecting at the two ends of the lake, and we laterally and vertically converted those into little semaphore flags spelling out NP (for North Pole) and FN (for Fridtjof Nansen) ADD EIGHT FLAGS, we were told – so we did. What an astonishing amount of thematic material Shackleton was cramming into this grid! And it hadn’t finished.

We still had to replace letters in the row that spelled ICED WALKS NORTH with ‘a name common to both expeditions’ using code options (six each) from the description (DOT AND DICK DASH TO THE POLE). It was at once clear to us that we were going to fit the FRAM in Morse code – the other code the Swallows and Amazons used – into those fourteen cells (..-. .-. .- –) but we had to back solve to work out how ANDDICK  and THEPOLE could lead us to the dots and dashes that spelled out FRAM. We have followed with interest all the agony that this has caused solvers on the Answerbank and TSTMNBM (the site that must not be mentioned – oops – sorry) but surely they know Shackleton and our editors well enough to know that they are not going to make a counting error; the answer was simple and dazzling. The six letters ANDICK told us what to convert to dots and TOHEPLE converted to dashes and spelled out FRAM in Morse code with three spaces. Stunning, as usual, thanks, Shackleton.

Hare paddling

Oh the poor little hares! I think they are not spectacular swimmers and one was swamped, anyway, by the Morse code and the other was desperately hare-paddling or frozen stiff up in the north-west corner of the lake.


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Listener No 4453: Army & Navy by Shackleton

Posted by Dave Hennings on 23 June 2017

Here we had this year’s Shackleton puzzle following on from last year’s 6 Across with its… um… Shackleton theme. By my reckoning, this was his ninth Listener, the first coinciding with my current period of solving. I think I’ve managed all of them without a mistake. However, [Spoiler alert. Ed] I’m pretty sure that run has come to an end.

At first glance, pretty much everything about this puzzle was strange. The grid was an irregular shape, albeit symmetrically barred, there was a detached space beneath it to be completed with Something by Someone, and the preamble took up as much space as the grid did. At second glance, the preamble was even more tortuous. Luckily, only the first seven words related to completion of the grid — “Each clue’s definition has a letter misprinted”. The rest of the preamble told us what needed to be done in the endgame with D (a description), H (a hint), and A (an action). So onwards and upwards…

After thirty minutes, I had solved a mere dozen clues with a few extra likely misprints such as duties for cuties at 1ac and in addition for in audition at 16ac. A couple of hours later, and only the top right corner was looking sparse. However, the corrections to misprints were D•••ND••CK which looked remarkably like it could be Dog and Duck, but I didn’t think Shackleton would compose a crossword based on pub names!

Those who know me will not be surprised that my favourite clue was 7dn Break toes ties with very wide racket frames (6) for DISOWN, followed closely by the cunning misprint in 26dn Meat-lover menus genus always served up chicken sandwiches before (6) for HYAENAS.

Eventually, the misprint corrections spelt out the Description Dot and Dick dash to the poles, the Hint North is west and Action Add eight flags. Unfortunately, this meant nothing to me, so I looked to see what else the preamble required. We had to identify two expeditions described by two consecutive rows in the diagram. I took those as ICED WALKS NORTH and IN PART HURRIED, having dismissed AMAZON SITE above them as it didn’t occupy the full row. However, it made me think that the theme was another Antarctic expedition emanating from somewhere in the Amazon… a self-imposed red herring!

IN PART HURRIED led to ARTHUR for the author’s first name, and I toyed with RAN in PART or BIT or ORT for his last name, obviously without success. I turned my attention to the symmetrically opposite row WHITELY INROAD which was an anagram of the “account’s title”. I’m sure that Tea would have given the answer, but I decided (somewhat masochistically) to solve it without.

I doodled the letters: WIERDLY, EARTHLY, IDLY, WEALTHY and HOLY were all there, but when I stumbled on HOLIDAY (after about forty minutes), the letters for WINTER were soon spotted and we had Winter Holiday by Arthur… Somebody. At this point, Google needed consulting for Arthur Ransome to reveal himself (well I got the RAN bit right). Apparently, that children’s novel involved ice skating, semaphore and Morse. (Shackleton obviously has a fascination for Morse: remember dit-dit-dit-dah dit-dit-dit-dah for Beethoven’s 5th in Sine Qua Non back in 2010?)

A bit of reading showed that Ransome’s great influence for this book was Fridtjof Nansen’s crossing of Greenland in 1888 and his Arctic expedition from 1893–1896 in the Fram. So we were in the Arctic now, compared to the Antarctic last year (6 Across), and the North Pole loomed large. With the help of the map in Winter Holiday, I could see that the children had it on the western edge of the lake and in the grid we had 23/25 as V/L for N/P. In other words, North is West. Moreover, opposite, we had L/V which presumably had to be transformed into F/N to represent Nansen. In order to Add eight flags I needed to flip and flop the letters, and with a bit of semaphore help give N/P vertically on the left of the grid and F/N on the right:

At this point, my mind was beginning to spin with all the thematic goings-on, but here was more spinning to come. Dot and Dick and their Dash had Morse code jumping out from the description, and the Fram seemed to be the name that was common to both stories. With the hint that North is West, I finally spotted SWALLONS becoming SWALLOWS, with AMAZONS three rows below. Also the title, Army & Navy, became Army & Wavy!

All that was left was the transformation of row 9 where the letters had to be “replaced using code options (six each)”. And this is where I ground to a halt! 6 dots and 6 dashes plus 2 spaces gave the contents of the 14 cells, but no amount of juggling of Morse enabled me to get the required code. What’s more, I just could not get FRAM out of my head, but that had 6 dots, 5 dashes and 3 spaces: ••• •• • .

In the end, my golfing holiday in Portugal got in the way, and I had to surrender. I don’t know whether AnswerBank would have helped, but there are limits to the advice that I am willing to seek. Congratulations to everyone who solved it.

No doubt I will be kicking myself when the solution is published, but meantime all I can do is gasp in admiration at yet another Shackleton masterpiece.

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‘Army & Navy’ by Shackleton

Posted by Encota on 23 June 2017

As a relative newbie to Listener solving I haven’t solved loads of Shackleton’s puzzles – but I do recall that his was one of the very best of 2016 with the Endurance-based puzzle.

So what do we have here…?  Will it be another packed-full grid?  I am already assuming the answer is Yes 🙂

Let’s cut to the chase: row 10 is fabulous!  If you wanted to clue ARTHUR RANSOME, a name at a time, then what could be better than:


A hidden word ‘in’ (p)ARTHUR(ried) and a synonym-phrase of ‘RAN SOME’, all in one.  Delightful!

After a lot of rummaging the following copy appeared from a box in the attic.  Aside: why is there never enough shelf space for all the books one owns?  Is it some sort of fundamental law?  I build more shelves; I give hundreds to the charity MIND; but there’s still not enough space.  Anyway, back to the plot…

WH 1974

As shown on the cover, the North Pole the children visit is definitely to the left of the picture (and the map inside backs it up).

However … hold on a cotton-picking minute … don’t be fooled so easily!

Though it appears to be this, it isn’t at all.  The book title anagram actually reveals ‘Whored in Italy’, the until-recently lost (and slightly seedy) early autobiography of Roald Amundsen, the most famous explorer common to the North and South Pole expeditions, both in the Fram.  Some solvers may have thought that the publication date nods towards the death of Arthur Ransome on 3rd June 1967 but clearly it’s really about the departure of the Amundsen expedition towards the South Pole, having departed from ‘recreational activities’ in Italy on 3rd June 1910.

And so Amundsen’s name has to be encoded in Row 9 using – of course –  the Penguin-based code used in the 2016 GCHQ puzzle book, with the penguins obviously a clue to the destination of the Southbound expedition.  14 characters including the ‘space’: ROALD AMUNDSEN – it could clearly be nothing else.  I needed to look them up to complete the grid – I could only remember the Space being a Spaceman penguin complete with spacesuit helmet.  I’ve left a few characters as an exercise for the reader – see below.
Army and Wavy
Surely I have got it right this time!  [Good grief!  Ed.]
More seriously, a great puzzle – thanks Shackleton!


Tim / Encota

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Listener No 4452, Bobs: A Setter’s Blog by Nud[d]

Posted by Listen With Others on 18 June 2017

Well I was asked by Shirley to write a blog on this puzzle, and was more than happy to agree – but now I come to tackle it, there’s not much to say really.

It’s actually a puzzle I created about four years ago in the days when I was a bit more productive. I obviously had more time on my hands in those days too as the idea came from one of those occasions when I sat idly flipping through my Chambers and happened across a word I had not encountered before. As soon as I saw it, it stood out as a potential subject for a simple and traditional puzzle with no need for internet trawls, secret messages, encoding etc. so I thought it might just make a nice change.

So much for the idea – putting it into a grid was a little trickier. Once I’d chosen where to place the word itself to kick things off (that act causing constraints from the outset), everything else had to be a modified entry. That meant essentially no real words, so no opportunity for using any kind of grid-filling software to do some of the donkey work. I did start things off by compiling a longish list of modified candidates and let Crossword Compiler (“other packages are available”) come up with a few suggestions for partial grid-fills using those, but never got particularly close using that method. And the really tricky bit was always going to be finding ‘words’ to fill the remaining gaps.

I picked at it for quite some time, getting very close but not quite there with a pretty enough grid. In the end I decided to ask for a leg-up, and sent copies of my closest efforts to Chalicea and Shark both of whom had a go and came up with suggestions for getting round the odd stumbling block. I ended up incorporating a tweak or two from each of them and was then able, with a bit more faffing, to come up with a completed grid which worked. My thanks to both of them – and to Artix for the test solve.

It was nice to be able to clue a puzzle without needing to think about a clue gimmick, and I came up with what I thought was a good set. What I had failed to anticipate was the space problem I had created: Whilst the average answer length was a healthy 6.5 letters, the omissions left a much shorter entry length of about 5.3 which of course resulted in a larger than ideal number of grid entries. The consequence was a first pass overhaul from Roger to shorten a number of clues, accompanied by a request that I continue the process to keep as many clues as possible to single line entities. All that accomplished, the resultant set of clues was much punchier than my original version, and probably none the worse for the abridgement.

That’s about it really – except to offer the usual thank you to Shane & Roger for accepting my offering and of course to John Green for his sterling work. I always feel guilty for including non-words in a grid as it must make the checking so much more demanding, so this time around please accept my extra profuse apology John. Anyway, having just received the bundle of comments from the aforementioned, I’m pleased to hear that there seems to have been something in the puzzle to suit just about everyone.

As a little extra, I know Shirley will be off unearthing a couple of hares in the grid – I wonder if she also spotted the setter’s name nestling at the foot of that central column? Now there’s an idea for future Curran commentaries!

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Listener No 4452: Bobs by Nud

Posted by Dave Hennings on 18 June 2017

My first thought on reading that this puzzle was about a night out with the lads was that Shirley would be in seventh heaven at the thought of all the alcohol. Or perhaps Nud’s mates are coffee-shop-aholics! Boring!

1ac and 1dn soon put paid to that. ACCOSTS and ABETTERS (soon to become ABETTORS) immediately indicated that we were dealing with double letters that presumably would become one, the sort of thing that a few pints of beer would lead to. It also meant that Nud was in fact Nudd (as I had already suspected).

After about 45 minutes, I had half of the grid filled. I could also see a mish-mash of letters in the NW–SE diagonal but SHA•••RA•HY• running NW–SE. Since the word we were looking for was only 11 letters, it didn’t take long to guess that HAPLOGRAPHY was the word that described what we were doing.

In fact, this was a word that was new to me and which Chambers gives as “the inadvertent writing once of what should have been written twice”. Now, I’m sorry, but surely this trait does not warrant a word in its own right. Unless there is a common tropical disease that induces this in its victims!

Just over ninety minutes in total saw this puzzle complete. It was only when I solved 21dn Perviate roof? Auditor’s to check (6, two words) that I discovered that a pair of letters could be haplographed such that RAIN IN became RAIN, and the same with ANA[NA], ORO[RO]TUND and TI[TI]AN.

So thanks to Nudd for his Boobs — an enjoyable couple of hours.

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