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Listener No 4453, Army & Navy: A Setter’s Blog by Shackleton

Posted by Listen With Others on 25 Jun 2017

When I embarked on setting this puzzle, I made it a goal that solvers should be able to solve the puzzle without having to consult the book at all (other than, optionally, for confirmation). So, it was a bit disappointing, then, that some solvers found an unsatisfying back way in by doing a lot of research on the book, guessing that FRAM must be the name to encode, and then wondering why they had to substitute this into a random line in the grid and why there were only 6 dots and 5 dashes. The parenthetical ‘6 each’, of course, referred to the code options, 6 for DOT (coming from ANDDICK) and 6 for DASH (coming from TOTHEPOLE). With these options, it is straightforward to encode the ICEDWALKSNORTH line to give FRAM in Morse code. No research needed here! In my original submission, the preamble explicitly stated that ‘D gives options (six each) for a code’. To shorten my overlong preamble, the editors suggested changes (to which I agreed), and this seems to have caused some to miss the code, though enough solvers understood and appreciated the PDM to convince me that the wording was accurate and fair.

Another controversial part of the preamble was the parenthetical ‘by adding a line above the grid…’ Here, the editors were concerned that solvers might not understand that the title should be submitted. I think that this point of view is reasonable – and, after all, if you add a line to the title to make the pun ‘Army and Wavy’, you are following the instruction accurately even if ‘above the grid’ seems superfluous, so it cannot be marked wrong. Perhaps ‘by adding a stroke above the grid’ would have been preferable.

This puzzle was a homage to Arthur Ransome, commemorating the 50th anniversary of his death. I know that he is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I think that the dozen or so books in the Swallows and Amazons series are great adventure yarns that must have inspired generations of sailors, mountaineers, fell-walkers, and ornithologists. Winter Holiday ranks as one of the best, and introduces the reader to Dorothea (Dot) and Dick (the D’s), who are initially outsiders to the established Swallows and Amazons. The book is full of codes and so is an obvious candidate for a Listener theme. The book and puzzle also pay homage to Fridtjof Nansen’s remarkable Fram expedition. Nansen and his co-expeditionary Johansen made their own dash to the pole, but had to turn back when it became clear that their supplies would not last. Their retreat was the stuff of legends, involving a precarious journey via ice-floes to reach Franz Josef land where they wintered, and then eventually and fortuitously stumbled across a British expedition, three years after they’d originally set off in the Fram. Incidentally, the Fram was also used in Amundsen’s successful South pole expedition, a fact beautifully exploited in Encota’s entertaining spoof blog.

The code described by ‘Dot and Dick dash to the pole’ was the inspiration for this puzzle, but it took me a while to work out the rest. Originally, I thought about giving an instruction about the semaphore in Morse code, but Morse code is too verbose to give a meaningful sentence within the confines of a grid. So, instead, I concentrated on encoding FRAM and was, of course, ecstatic to find ICED WALKS NORTH. This combined nicely with my IN PART HURRIED which was another line of thought that I was following. The different lengths of the two pieces of text suggested an irregular shaped grid, and I had been keen anyway to make the grid an approximation of the lake depicted in the book’s map.

Another line of thought was the semaphore. Originally, I was thinking that I might be able to do some meaningful semaphore arm shapes with the bars of the grid, or with upper case Greek letters, but those ideas didn’t seem very compelling. I wanted to bring the North Pole and Nansen into it, and their initials were suitable for semaphore treatment, so I positioned the North Pole according to the map, and Nansen at the other end of the grid (not having reached the pole!).

I had three final problems. (1) the title, (2) how to indicate to the solver that north was west so that they would not have to read through Winter Holiday to solve the puzzle (in fact the puzzle was designed to be solved without referring to it at all), and (3) how to confirm that the flags related to semaphore. As is often the case, these problems helped to solve each other. The phrase ‘North is West’ allowed me to give the instruction about the North Pole, and also to give a disguised title which, when transformed, gave an accurate description of semaphore. As a bonus, I was also able to disguise the confirmatory SWALLOWS.

25 June 2017.

5 Responses to “Listener No 4453, Army & Navy: A Setter’s Blog by Shackleton”

  1. John Nicholson said

    It just goes to show how important the preamble wording is. Impossible to say after the event of course, but I do feel that ‘D gives options (six each) for a code’ would have relayed to me better what was required than ‘using code options (six each) from D’. I read the latter as saying that we were to use six of each.

    Great stuff again though, master!

  2. Nick said

    Can you say how long this took to compile? I didn’t have clue on any of it, but reading the solution ’tis brilliant bit of work.


  3. Encota said

    Thanks for the mention – pleased my spoof made you smile!

  4. Oh dear… I didn’t take it as a spoof at all!

  5. anastasia said


    Listener No 4453, Army & Navy: A Setter’s Blog by Shackleton « Listen With Others

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