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6 Across by Shackleton

Posted by shirleycurran on 13 May 2016

6 Across ShackletonHow does he do it! Books have been written about the saga of the Endurance, the struggle of Shackleton and his men to survive when the Endurance, with its complement of 28 men, was crushed and finally sank beneath the Antarctic ice. It was exactly a hundred years ago, wasn’t it, that the six men made their astounding 800-mile journey in frightful conditions across the open sea from Elephant Island to South Georgia in the tiny James Caird. Almost more amazing was that first recorded crossing of South Georgia by Shackleton, Worsley and Crean to the Grytviken Whaling Station – then the wonderful rescue of the 22 men who had been left behind. The photographs of that moment are iconic (though the famous photo by Frank Hurley was actually of the departure of the James Caird).

Can all of that be compressed into one little 13X13 grid? Friends were expecting some crossword celebration of the sovereign’s reaching the age of ninety, or some bard having a 400th anniversary. There’s ‘PRINCE’ and ‘ICONS’ (somewhat of a prediction, maybe) in Shackleton’s grid as that pop icon’s demise has been the focus of today’s media but seriously – how could Shackleton have chosen any other theme! And how magically he incorporated the entire epic into that tiny grid. (And, of course, remained a member of the Listener Setters’ Wine Connoisseurs’ Club with ‘Maybe rush through dour Irish game with pint (6)’ IR + RU + PT).

The preamble was mildly daunting with misprints leading to a total of four messages, two of them ‘6 across’ (what a superb device but how tough it must have been to have the second couple of messages subtly spelled out by the sixth letter across from each of those misprints, without any of them becoming glaringly obvious). Then there was a jumble – hated word – but in this case, how appropriate that the crushed and sunken Endurance appeared in a jumble at the ‘bottom’ of the grid, south of Elephant Isle. The word SUNK even sneaked into the crossword too with a clue I loved, ‘Strewed paper in front of king (4)’ with the SCREWED for STREWED misprint and the SUN + K.

We solved these stunning but very difficult clues and slowly teased out the four messages, recognizing early on that we were on very familiar ground (there are shelves of books about the Antarctic in our home). SEA VESSEL ABANDONED BY CREW/ LOT LED ACROSS TEMPESTUOUS SEA/ 3 CLIMB TOWARDS WHALING PORT took us right to the heart of the story but there was that amazing double use of those clues.

Of course we had wondered how to find a misprint in 6 across but that clue told us that LED across tempestuous (or anagrammed) SEA gave LOT (definition). LEASED gives LET so we have our E/A misprint and the C (aCross) that tells us that 3 Climb.

The ‘third’ (message) ‘describes some entries’. THREE CLIMB TOWARDS WHALING PORT, we were told and, sure enough, we found that VELOUTE, LAG-END and POINTE climbed in our grid towards GRYTVIKEN.

The James Caird

The James Caird

That fourth message, 3 DOWN (which was COASTS) WITH BOAT ARE NOT TO SCALE was perhaps the most significant of all. There out in that vast 800-mile ocean between the symmetrical coasts of SOUTH GEORGIA and ELEPHANT ISLE was the tiny James Caird with the VI on board, symmetrically placed between the VI of GrytVIken, and the XX[VI]II of the original complement.

Brilliant! This sort of compiling puts all the rest of us into the shade. It was rather like that ‘pass the parcel’ game we played when we were little. As each layer came off, another treat dropped out, then there was the real prize in the centre. Thank you to both Shackletons – two astonishing feats a century apart. I think this was the most enjoyable and accomplished Listener crossword I have ever solved.

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