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‘In Transit’ by Agricola

Posted by Encota on 14 September 2018

SCAN0517 copy

This week’s puzzle was all about Captain Cook’s trip to Tahiti (and beyond), ostensibly to observe the transit of Venus (i.e. Venus crossing the face of the Sun, from the observer’s point of view) in 1769.  1 across set the scene:

“South to Cape!” (repeated cry), Banks at first interjected, reasonable for a scientific venture (15)

The puzzle included two Capes – HOPE and HORN – which were both rounded to the South on the voyage.  Though for me Banks immediately makes me think of the author Iain (M) Banks, this Banks was Joseph Banks, who was on board HMS ENDEAVOUR, along with Captain JAMES COOK & Co.  Thus this clue worked well as an intro to the puzzle and a clue that parsed as So.+C+IO+B+IO+LOGICAL – at least that was my interpretation!

Some other niceties:

I always like ‘group of’ as used in 20d, when the ‘of’ appears to pretend to be a linkword but one working in the direction disliked by editors (almost) everywhere.  You know the forms: ‘Definition of Wordplay’ is fine, ‘Wordplay of Definition’ is not.  But in 20d’s
Go too far with group of one dominating (7)
it can be confusing until, like in G8, you realise that ‘group of’ can be replaced with the letter G.  So the clue structure here is Wordplay Definition, with no linkwords, parsed as OVERDO (go too far) + G (group of).

And clue 2d’s ‘of’?  It is, of course ‘à‘, as in Thomas à Becket.  Supported by the lack of any requirement for the accent to be used in crosswords.  The clue was:
Marine officer in charge east of Norway (5)
It looks to be the adjectival meaning of OCEAN, i.e. Marine, but at first sight the charade-based wordplay doesn’t seem to deliver all the correct letters.  Until you parse it as OC+E+À+N, that is!

I noticed that the 8th row of the completed grid did contain VA?N.  Might Agricola be going for the Ford Transit Van* pun, with Venus (the symbol) ending up ‘in’ the VAN as VA(Venus_symbol=♀)N?  That would be ‘In Transit, as the Title suggests, wouldn’t it?  I did spend a few moments wondering if the movement of Venus around the Sun might end in this cell.

However, the F wouldn’t appear in the right place in the Playfair-encoded 13d, so a simple ‘horizontal’ transit must be what Agricola requires!

I think.

Cheers all,

Tim / Encota

*Aside: is it only me that, whenever seeing Van, is reminded of the R4 comedian Arthur Smith’s version of Kipling’s ‘If”?  Um, yes, probably!

IF, By Arthur Smith 
If you can roll along at a decent pace 
And you find that your rear 
Contains lots of space 
If you have windows at the front 
Yet none at the side 
And offer a smooth unflashy ride 
If you have a red and white flag 
On your bonnet 
And can never imagine doing a ton 
Then yours is the road and everything on it 
And, which is more, you’ll be a van, my son.

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