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Army and Navy by Shackleton

Posted by shirleycurran on 23 June 2017

It is always a great pleasure to see that name Shackleton at the head of a crossword (or indeed anywhere – the original Shackleton of that astonishing journey in the James Caird is one of the greatest heroes of all time for me – and indeed for the compiler Shackleton who created that Ascot Gold Cup winning crossword ‘Six Across’ on the theme last year.)

It was soon clear from that very lengthy preamble that another expedition or even two expeditions were to be the subject of this puzzle. We were staying with crossword enthusiast friends in a village on the Atlantic coast of Ireland so I printed off copies of the puzzle for all of us on the one available machine in the Internet cafe and we all began to solve.

Of course I began by re-checking Shackleton’s entry right to the Listener Setters’ Tipplers’ Gang and I didn’t need to read far, “Got real porter maybe to carry son on foot (5)” gave the corrected ‘not real’ with ALE around S after F, so FALSE. So we started with ALE. Then he was in a Chinese pub with “Oldie’s stiff one, it’s served in Chinese pub (5)”, which gave LICHI. A bit of a dipsomaniac mixing the rice wine or whatever with the ale: not surprising that soon after we find, “Old mate turning up very hung over (6)”, which gave us EXSERT from EX with TRES turning up and we found that the word was some kind of projection. No, Shackleton hadn’t finished. The very last down clue had “Turned red ignoring mum’s whiny yarn (4)”. We found SHIRAZ ‘turned’ there and ignored the SH to give us ZARI which is some kind of shiny gold thread in embroidery, I am told by Auntie Google. So cheers, Shackleton – see you at the pre-Listener-dinner pub gathering next year.

By the time I had spotted those and managed to make myself a grid on Crossword Compiler (yes, it was amazingly symmetrical in view of all the thematic material it contained) the others were already deciphering the message: DOT AND DICK DASH TO THE POLE: NORTH IS WEST: ADD EIGHT FLAGS.

Dot and Dick! Years of juvenile reading, plus the fact that I originate from not too far from Windermere immediately led us to the theme (the Lake District – Windermere where, Ransome was unhappy in school and where, like those Swallows and Amazons on their ‘lake’ a sort of cross between Coniston Water and Lake Windermere, we spent holidays on a houseboat in Brathay Bay and learned to row heavy, old-fashioned dinghies). Of course, knowing of Shackleton’s interest in themes about polar exploration (see last year’s Six Across) told us that we were looking at Arthur Ransome’s fourth in the Swallows and Amazons series,  Winter Holiday, which uses the Nansen Polar expedition in the Fram as a model for the Walkers’ uncle’s houseboat, that they christen the Fram and from where Dorothy and Dick set off for their disastrous journey to the north end of the lake. (North is West, of course!)

It is exactly fifty years since Arthur Ransome died isn’t it? We thoroughly enjoyed the Swallows and Amazons film that came out last year (my great-niece was auditioned at her school for the role of Tatty – she didn’t get the role but did amuse us all by telling us that it was ‘Tatty’ and not the ‘Titty’ we remember.)

Completing the grid and deciphering the preamble, step by step, was magic (as Shackleton’s crosswords always are). A row had to cryptically indicate the author’s first and last names. ARTHUR appeared in row 10 surrounded by HURRIED (= RAN) and IN PART (= SOME). The row symmetrically opposite gave us WHITELY INROAD, an anagram of WINTER HOLIDAY, so we completed the gaps below the grid.

We were told that NORTH IS WEST, and with a smile changed S W ALLONS to SWALLOWS and highlighted that and the AMAZONS who had sailed into view three rows below. We had to add a line to the title and performed a similar manoeuvre to the title changing Army and Navy to ‘Army and Wavy’ which clearly led us to the semaphore which is a theme central to Ransome’s account. That, of course told us what to do with the VL and LV that were projecting at the two ends of the lake, and we laterally and vertically converted those into little semaphore flags spelling out NP (for North Pole) and FN (for Fridtjof Nansen) ADD EIGHT FLAGS, we were told – so we did. What an astonishing amount of thematic material Shackleton was cramming into this grid! And it hadn’t finished.

We still had to replace letters in the row that spelled ICED WALKS NORTH with ‘a name common to both expeditions’ using code options (six each) from the description (DOT AND DICK DASH TO THE POLE). It was at once clear to us that we were going to fit the FRAM in Morse code – the other code the Swallows and Amazons used – into those fourteen cells (..-. .-. .- –) but we had to back solve to work out how ANDDICK  and THEPOLE could lead us to the dots and dashes that spelled out FRAM. We have followed with interest all the agony that this has caused solvers on the Answerbank and TSTMNBM (the site that must not be mentioned – oops – sorry) but surely they know Shackleton and our editors well enough to know that they are not going to make a counting error; the answer was simple and dazzling. The six letters ANDICK told us what to convert to dots and TOHEPLE converted to dashes and spelled out FRAM in Morse code with three spaces. Stunning, as usual, thanks, Shackleton.

Hare paddling

Oh the poor little hares! I think they are not spectacular swimmers and one was swamped, anyway, by the Morse code and the other was desperately hare-paddling or frozen stiff up in the north-west corner of the lake.



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