Listener No. 4395, 6 Across: A Setter’s Blog by Shackleton
Posted by Listen With Others on 15 May 2016
Ernest Shackleton has always been a great hero of mine, and his odyssey from the Weddell Sea ice floe to Elephant Island, across the Southern ocean to South Georgia, and across the uncharted mountains of South Georgia to the Norwegian whaling community is one of the greatest true adventure stories of all time. My setter’s pseudonym reflects this admiration (although it is just one of several rationales for my moniker) and it is my goal as a setter to provide a great solving adventure, but also ultimately to bring everyone safely ‘home’ to a correct solution.
Probably it has always been in my mind to compose a puzzle on this theme, but I have to thank Shirley Curran for explicitly prompting and encouraging me, and for acting as a sounding board during the setting process (and in general for all her generous support, and her great contributions to the crossword world).
In setting the puzzle, I wanted to represent all the various stages of the journey, and the ‘VI’ idea (showing the 6 amongst the full crew on the wrecked Endurance, on Elephant Island, in the James Caird, and in Grytviken from where the initial rescue efforts were launched) came quite early. The title, indicating the journey of the six across the Southern ocean, soon followed; as did the idea to use the characters ‘6 across’ from the misprints to spell out additional messages. However the messages with their double meaning took some time to evolve.
The various items (COASTS, JAMES CAIRD, GRITVIKEN, XXVIII, SOUTH GEORGIA, ELEPHANT ISLE, LEASED and the broken ENDURANCE) provided quite significant constraints on the design of the grid and the fill. But it still left me with a bit of flexibility in the south-east corner where I was able to put PRINCE at 33dn. The importance of this was that I could then refer to 33 in the clue to 1dn thus giving the first character ‘3’ of the final message. But it turned out to be quite prescient given the news about the performer Prince the day before the puzzle appeared.
I received a lot of very enthusiastic feedback on the puzzle both via John Green, and on the message boards. So many thanks to everyone who commented. Some credited me with more thematic treatment than I had intended. One generous solver noted the spidery SOS made by the outlines reading from SW to NE. And Mr. E thanked me for including his name centre top. Some solvers felt that using ‘6 across’ to indicate the letters six characters across was misleading — it certainly wasn’t meant to be — I just wanted to get as much mileage out of ‘6 across’ as possible. Several people mentioned being led astray by red herrings — Moby Dick (AHAB can be seen in the grid), The Mary Celeste (ELESTE can be seen in the grid), and The Tempest (on the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death) all got mentioned. In fact, these were quite unintentional — there are no herrings of any description in the Southern Ocean.
The solution notes at listenercrossword.com are actually much better and more detailed than the ones I submitted, so many thanks to the amazing Listener editors.