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In Transit by Agricola

Posted by shirleycurran on 14 Sep 2018

We have just been to the James Cook exhibition in the British Library and before we even read the preamble of Agricola’s crossword, we had made a guess at the theme – ‘In Transit’ indeed! As we read the preamble about a journey led by A (Captain James Cook) on B (HMS Endeavour) and two cells where groups of letters must be replaced by symbols (Venus and the SUN) we smiled delightedly. We saw Banks, Transit, South to Cape! and Maori people in the early clues and we were convinced. Before even starting to solve, we were expecting to find maybe Whitby, New Zealand and Tahiti somehow in the grid.

Of course I read through the clues to check that Agricola had included a fair dash of alcohol (hopefully some limes too, to combat the scurvy) and I got as far as 5d before finding that appropriate ration of rum that Cook would have distributed to his crew. ‘Real rum I sense (6, two words)’. Sadly the rum was just an anagram indicator for IN ESSE but it will suffice. Cheers, Agricola.

But it wasn’t all smiles. Playfair code-squares come just above jumbles and ‘not real words’ in my list of odious tricks and there it was, filling as much space in the pre-ramble as the genuine instructions. We immediately decided the code phrase had to be HMS ENDAVOUR (omitting the repeated E) and clearly that is not in Chambers or any reputable dictionary, so we were being given the encoding of a couple of clues that we still had to solve (LAYING and UNTRUE). The first four and last four letters of A must be JA ME….CO OK and, intriguingly, encoding that gave us KD SN FV AP. We could even back solve to produce LAYING and UNTRUE, so, for once, the Playfair was a touch less odious.

Ah, but of course there was still a crossword to solve and we had to find those stages on the journey. Yorkshire is very proud of their Whitby man and he and his ship were being included by way of the Playfair. Could Whitby and Tahiti somehow be squeezing into the grid. The clues were generous with those two 15-letter clues yielding quickly, ‘South to Cape! (repeated cry), Banks at first interjected, reasonable for a scientific venture (15)’ We put SO + C then IO IO round B(anks) + LOGICAL giving SOCIOBIOLOGICAL. 44ac was even more generous, ‘Black boxes first held grocer’s nuts (15)’ FIRST HELD GROCERS* giving FLIGHT RECORDERS.

Of course PARVENUS produced VENUS, and TSUNAMIS and SUNFAST gave us the SUN (which was going to stay in its cell while VENUS transited it) and I know that those observations took place in Tahiti in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I had a bit of a problem with the geography of the grid and had to look up a map of Cook’s journey to understand why UK, Cape of Good HOPE, New Zealand and Cape HORN were appearing where they did in Agricola’s grid but I then realized that it was a fair depiction of that journey as long as I sailed from right to left.  Nice one, thank you,  Agricola.


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