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Listener 4144: Shackleton’s Location³ (or Eagles on the Chinese Road)

Posted by Dave Hennings on 22 Jul 2011

Ah, one of my favourite setters this week. Remember his last? Dah-dah-dah-daaaaah!! This week it was a bit of help with moving house, which is excellent timing since my house is currently on the market. A carte blanche grid, and the preamble tells us that every clue has a misprint in its definition, and there will be one cell holding two letters and four others holding none. It also starts “Clues (which are presented in the normal order) …”, and I’ll remind you of this in next week’s blog. At least we were given entry lengths!

I was sort of off to a reasonable start with 1ac Where you might find capitans, whose latter half set about historic city harbour. The corrected misprint was obviously capstans and I was fairly confident that it would be something-PORT with an UR in there somewhere. The surface reading was a superb piece of misdirection for me, and it would be about an hour before I entered TAPE TRANSPORT, the old city being Petra.

I tried the other 13-letter entries. 51ac was an obvious anagram of a serene single. I didn’t use any help for this, so I wasn’t surprised that SALES ENGINEER didn’t immediately jump off the page, and would also be about an hour away from being solved. 1dn A spicy mixture in pastry, in the manner of Greek tastes; it wasn’t an anagram, but I remember a pantry / pastry misprint in a fairly recent puzzle … oh yes, Dysart’s Trailblazers :sad:. No joy, so on to the last long entry, 12dn Fox bolts with this equestrian sportsman jumping ditches as mist dissipated. This was likely to be an anagram of equestrian sportsman minus the letters of as mist, and a bit of doodling got the SPANNER bit which left TORQUE to go before it, the definition being Fix bolts with this.

Having tried the long entries, whose positions in the diagram made them natural to attempt to solve first, I concentrated on the first few acrosses and downs. A few minutes later, and I had a few pencilled entries peppering the top of the grid, including 13ac ATELIER, 14ac ORFEO, 3dn PEDIMENTAL and 6dn REINSERTED. Progress was reasonably steady from this point, and after about two hours the grid was about three-quarters complete. The correct letters for the misprints were beginning to reveal a couple of locations: Key West and Florida by the looks of it.

At this point, I had also discovered the square that contained two letters. The last letter of 7dn ARAGORN and the first letter of 31dn LANOLIN shared the central square in the grid. Determining how a line should appropriately divide them was still unknown. Plus, the four isolated squares were there just waiting to be filled.

About 30 minutes later and the grid was complete. Now, I have to say that this week the grid seemed particularly pokey (only 7½ cms square); how George can see messages in his grids is a mystery to me :wink:. Anyway, the first Shackleton PDM came as I saw that the grid bars made letters, and I doodled H I E G M B I W A Y. The correct letters spelt out Sloppy Joe’s Bar, Key West; The Ritz Bar, Paris; El Floridita, Havana, and having been to his house in Key West a few years ago HEMINGWAY was staring me in the face. Well almost … the central square needed to be divided in two diagonally to form an N, and the B I had to be read as 61, the “overlapping thematic year” of his death.

If you ask me, the preamble gave a bit too much away with its reference to a “resonant title”, and FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS took only a few seconds to reveal by filling the empty squares with F, H, B and S. A more sadistic preamble wouldn’t have mentioned the isolated cells, and would have just stated that in the final grid there were no empty cells but there was the title of a relevant work!

As usual with Shackleton, the clues were faultless with some excellent surface readings. My favourites were the fox-hunting clue at 12dn, mentioned above, and 35ac In depression there’s time for whiskey — single malt, giving STAG (single male); and the sneakiest was undoubtedly 50ac Greet international and domestic trading partners for INTENSE – Greet for Great and INT + ESNE (a domestic) with N and S switched round.

And finally I was reminded of a day about forty years ago when I was looking over the shoulder of someone doing the Guardian crossword. Across the middle of the grid was an entry that I was sure he’d made up. “What’s ERNES  THE  MINGWAY?” I asked!!

Happy days!

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