Listener No. 4395: 6 Across by Shackleton
Posted by Dave Hennings on 13 May 2016
OK, so it’s Shackleton week and we know we’re in for a great puzzle. He is the current holder of the Ascot Gold Cup for best puzzle of 2015, Mixed Doubles with its 2×2 final grid. Time to put our heavy-duty solving heads on.
The preamble was daunting, but told us that the correct letters of misprints in every clue led to two messages. Six letters across from every misprint led to two more messages, but all that could really wait until the grid had been filled.
1ac Op, one of 3 in the hip area, is one contributing to much suffering (7) looked like IS + I in MUCH* or ISI in MUCH*, and ISCHIUM was soon slotted in, although Os for Op took me a bit of time to suss. 6ac just said See preamble (6).
10ac was ANGRY (Mad replacing Mud), 13 was FRAU (not Woman from Sienna but from Vienna) and 14 SURETE (French policy becoming French police>). 17ac Hold back on axing a part of Indian firm in Ohio (5) looked like it could be OATER, with Indian firm becoming Indian film, but I couldn’t work out the wordplay. This was scarcely odd because… it turned out to be NITER (Ohio spelling), a constituent of Indian fire which Chambers defines as “a firework used as a signal light, consisting of sulphur, realgar, and nitre.” Brilliant.
So the first three rows were looking pretty robust and, a short while later, the last three looked fairly good, with 38 MAUNDS, 40 SUNK and 43 CRESTED in place. Unfortunately, apart from 29 RODDED in the middle, that was it for the acrosses. However, I was fairly pleased with progress on this Shackleton puzzle.
The downs started with 1 Smoker’s put up by informal Spanish mate who’s 33 (7), which was a shame as I hadn’t solved 33… or was that the misprint and it should be 30, 31 or 32?! A few more clues went in easily, except for 11dn REGIME which only had five spaces. In fact, a quick check of other clues showed that there were five other 6-letter clues that only had 5-letter entry spaces. They all surrounded the central isolated square, and I took a guess that that’s roughly where “Some symmetrically-placed cells will contain two letters” as stated by the preamble, but which I had forgotten.
Then more trouble, when 12dn Possible stance for par shot to pin on centre of green (6) looked like it should be POINTE, but didn’t mesh with 14ac SURETE. Perhaps it would be entered upwards, but I was from sure so just lightly pencilled it in downwards.
The first pass through the clues was fairly slow and took just over an hour. Surprisingly, the solve didn’t seem to speed up very much, even as entries were slotted in. In fact, the grid didn’t near completion for another 2½ hours. The isolated squares and 6ac were still incomplete.
The best misprint was at 37ac The mania for playing woodwind ornamental motifs (8) where woodwind became woodbind.
And so we had S•a vessel abandoned by crew and Lot led across tempestuous sea spelt out by the corrections to across and down clues respectively. The down message was the clue to 6ac, with Lot being the misprint for Let and leading to LEASED and Sea vessel. The two messages spelt out by the letters 6 across from the misprints were 3 climb towards whaling port and 3 down with boat are not to scale.
And of course, there were the letters surrounding the central square which contained two letters and looked like JAMES CARRID. Alas, this didn’t help me, mainly because the R in the SE cell shouldn’t have been included, like its symmetrical E. Of course, this would have helped a large section of solvers who knew exactly what the JAMES CAIRD was!
So began a couple of hours of blind alleys for me. The obvious vessel that was abandoned by its crew was the Mary Celeste, but I couldn’t find anything in the grid that really helped with that.
Next came Moby Dick, although a lot of Wikiing failed to fully support the story given by the four messages. However, the fact that AHAB was lurking in the left of rows 6 and 7, plus ISHMAEL trying to emerge from the top row, didn’t stop me trying to make it fit.
The two bits of highlighting that I would be required to do were of 9 and 5 letters, representing an item (jumbled) and its complement (i.e. its crew). NACRE in the bottom row kept haunting me though, and I wondered if the theme could be The Black Pearl from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise with Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow. Hardly Listener material!
I even toyed with Life of Pi.
Eventually, I realised my mistake with the central letters. Instead of “James Carrid” (“showing results for james carried“!) I googled “James Carid” and got “including results for james caird“, the first of which was “Voyage of the James Caird”. After that, it was plain sailing (pardon the pun).
The grid represented the voyage of the lifeboat James Caird from the ENDURANCE [not ENDEAVOUR 😉 ] with Sir Ernest Shackleton and five other crew members (VI in total) to get help for the twenty-two left behind (an original complement of XXVIII). They made their way from ELEPHANT ISLE to SOUTH GEORGIA to the north, location of the whaling port GRYTVIKEN, pointed to by the three up clues VELOUTE, POINTE and LAGEND. We had been told that the boat and COASTS (3 down) were not to scale.
What a fantastic puzzle from the master, full of thematic elements and superbly implemented. What is he planning next?