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Listener No 4453: Army & Navy by Shackleton

Posted by Dave Hennings on 23 June 2017

Here we had this year’s Shackleton puzzle following on from last year’s 6 Across with its… um… Shackleton theme. By my reckoning, this was his ninth Listener, the first coinciding with my current period of solving. I think I’ve managed all of them without a mistake. However, [Spoiler alert. Ed] I’m pretty sure that run has come to an end.

At first glance, pretty much everything about this puzzle was strange. The grid was an irregular shape, albeit symmetrically barred, there was a detached space beneath it to be completed with Something by Someone, and the preamble took up as much space as the grid did. At second glance, the preamble was even more tortuous. Luckily, only the first seven words related to completion of the grid — “Each clue’s definition has a letter misprinted”. The rest of the preamble told us what needed to be done in the endgame with D (a description), H (a hint), and A (an action). So onwards and upwards…

After thirty minutes, I had solved a mere dozen clues with a few extra likely misprints such as duties for cuties at 1ac and in addition for in audition at 16ac. A couple of hours later, and only the top right corner was looking sparse. However, the corrections to misprints were D•••ND••CK which looked remarkably like it could be Dog and Duck, but I didn’t think Shackleton would compose a crossword based on pub names!

Those who know me will not be surprised that my favourite clue was 7dn Break toes ties with very wide racket frames (6) for DISOWN, followed closely by the cunning misprint in 26dn Meat-lover menus genus always served up chicken sandwiches before (6) for HYAENAS.

Eventually, the misprint corrections spelt out the Description Dot and Dick dash to the poles, the Hint North is west and Action Add eight flags. Unfortunately, this meant nothing to me, so I looked to see what else the preamble required. We had to identify two expeditions described by two consecutive rows in the diagram. I took those as ICED WALKS NORTH and IN PART HURRIED, having dismissed AMAZON SITE above them as it didn’t occupy the full row. However, it made me think that the theme was another Antarctic expedition emanating from somewhere in the Amazon… a self-imposed red herring!

IN PART HURRIED led to ARTHUR for the author’s first name, and I toyed with RAN in PART or BIT or ORT for his last name, obviously without success. I turned my attention to the symmetrically opposite row WHITELY INROAD which was an anagram of the “account’s title”. I’m sure that Tea would have given the answer, but I decided (somewhat masochistically) to solve it without.

I doodled the letters: WIERDLY, EARTHLY, IDLY, WEALTHY and HOLY were all there, but when I stumbled on HOLIDAY (after about forty minutes), the letters for WINTER were soon spotted and we had Winter Holiday by Arthur… Somebody. At this point, Google needed consulting for Arthur Ransome to reveal himself (well I got the RAN bit right). Apparently, that children’s novel involved ice skating, semaphore and Morse. (Shackleton obviously has a fascination for Morse: remember dit-dit-dit-dah dit-dit-dit-dah for Beethoven’s 5th in Sine Qua Non back in 2010?)

A bit of reading showed that Ransome’s great influence for this book was Fridtjof Nansen’s crossing of Greenland in 1888 and his Arctic expedition from 1893–1896 in the Fram. So we were in the Arctic now, compared to the Antarctic last year (6 Across), and the North Pole loomed large. With the help of the map in Winter Holiday, I could see that the children had it on the western edge of the lake and in the grid we had 23/25 as V/L for N/P. In other words, North is West. Moreover, opposite, we had L/V which presumably had to be transformed into F/N to represent Nansen. In order to Add eight flags I needed to flip and flop the letters, and with a bit of semaphore help give N/P vertically on the left of the grid and F/N on the right:

 
At this point, my mind was beginning to spin with all the thematic goings-on, but here was more spinning to come. Dot and Dick and their Dash had Morse code jumping out from the description, and the Fram seemed to be the name that was common to both stories. With the hint that North is West, I finally spotted SWALLONS becoming SWALLOWS, with AMAZONS three rows below. Also the title, Army & Navy, became Army & Wavy!

All that was left was the transformation of row 9 where the letters had to be “replaced using code options (six each)”. And this is where I ground to a halt! 6 dots and 6 dashes plus 2 spaces gave the contents of the 14 cells, but no amount of juggling of Morse enabled me to get the required code. What’s more, I just could not get FRAM out of my head, but that had 6 dots, 5 dashes and 3 spaces: ••• •• • .

In the end, my golfing holiday in Portugal got in the way, and I had to surrender. I don’t know whether AnswerBank would have helped, but there are limits to the advice that I am willing to seek. Congratulations to everyone who solved it.

No doubt I will be kicking myself when the solution is published, but meantime all I can do is gasp in admiration at yet another Shackleton masterpiece.
 

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