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Construction by Shackleton

Posted by shirleycurran on 5 July 2013

Construction by Shackleton 001There was a numpty murmur of delight when this came off the printer and Shackleton appeared at the top. ‘Bound to be magic!’ However, it was bound to be a challenge too, not least because of a numberless grid where the clue lengths, which, of course, we immediately colour-coded, didn’t, even then, correspond with the spaces in the grid. It was clear that some were going to circle round (rather like those Tubular Bells of three weeks ago) but, when we did our sums, there seemed to be a missing 7 space, a couple of extra 5s and an extra 6 space. Ah! ‘Unclued entries’ and ‘an overlong answer’. No doubt it will all make sense in the end and probably produce the sort of spectacular solution that we saw with the gold cup winning Sine Qua Non of 2010. Nothing for it – start solving!

One numpty anxiety was immediately put at rest. Shackleton is clearly a confirmed member of the totally tipsy Listener setters’ club with ‘Loaded, drive by one local house of ill repute (7)’ [DR + UN + KEN], and ‘Slowing down, executive committee knocked back by stock of wine (6)’ [RALL. + EC rev.]

Having the clues in alphabetical order of their solutions always helps and that require to sort them into conventional entry order, in order to get a message, is less glaring than the often too-obvious misprints or the weary device of the extra letter in the wordplay isn’t it? We tangled with these clues for almost four hours and still had a dozen gaps, even though we sometimes knew what letter the solution had to begin with.

What particularly held us up? ‘English god by one name, Mars essentially: he’s not this! (7)’ What a superb clue now that we know the answer! [A + N + TIW + (M)AR(s)] and that 8-letter word NINE-FOOT [FINE* cleaving TO + O + N rev.] My gridfill finally produced that, and I could then laboriously work out that complex wordplay. Wow! I believe that, as solvers, we immediately attempt to unravel the wordplay and sometimes overlook the splendid surface readings and I suspect that it is a set of flawless surface readings that really makes a compiler stand out from the bevy of less gifted setters.

I’m not so sure, though, about ‘Exudate adhering to tin bottles left in neck before dropping off in some places (7)’ [SN + OOZE round L] Well – if you don’t like it, produce a better clue!

Perhaps I should have attempted a gridfill earlier, as that was the real plus of this crossword. It very quickly became evident that TOGOLESE and EINSTEIN had to fill the circling across spaces – there wasn’t a 4-letter N word to intersect with the end of EINSTEIN, or a 6-letter word with an S or an I as its second letter. Trial and error soon put TOGOLESE in the lower position and the fill was then pure joy, as all our missing words appeared – TELE-AD, BOS’NS, PREONS, RISIBLE, EUROPOL, LINGAMS (‘who she?’ asked the naive numpty) and we could make a fair guess at HEAVEN and BACON in two empty spaces.

BY-LANES was extra and we immediately leapt to the conclusion that we were exchanging its BYL with the C of BACON producing CANES and BABYLON, so that, obviously, we were dealing with the Tower of Babel and a Bacon quotation but we still needed to arrange the initial clue letters in standard order to understand exactly what was going on.


That confirmed our suspicion that it was Babel and a quick visit to Wikipedia reminded us that Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven was considered by some to be the greatest rock song of all time. That had to be the link. The ODQ gave us Francis Bacon’s ‘All rising to great place is by a winding stair’ (Didn’t we have Bacon’s Love’s Labours Lost last week?) and there was the quotation, climbing in steps in the grid. Of course, we would have to wrap the grid round, or construct it, to unite the two parts of the quotation but I don’t think Mr Green would relish ungluing all our mini Towers of Babel so ‘Actual construction is not required’.

This was exemplary compiling wasn’t it? Thank you, Shackleton.

One Response to “Construction by Shackleton”

  1. Jaguar said

    You might say that it was a very fine construction. (I didn’t have to work too hard for that one!)

    Found this very tough going, as I did my last Shackleton puzzle, 4201 “The Missing Vowels Round”. I think I ended up not getting that one correct (Tayras for Tairas?) so hoping that I didn’t make a similar mistake on this one!

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