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Tunnel Vision (2)

Posted by shirleycurran on 30 Apr 2023

When I ask for a setter’s blog, I tend to suggest that solvers would like to know where the idea came from. In this case it was solvers who, on solving my Tunnel Vision (about the Very Hungry Caterpillar eating its way through apples, lollipops and all sorts of absurd things, then turning into a butterfly a year ago) said to me, “With that title, and knowing your Brunel obsession, we assumed it was going to be about the sunrise shining through Box Tunnel on Brunel’s Great Western Railway on his birthday, April 9th.” How could I resist?

Yes, Brunel provides a wealth of themes and his first real success, the Great Western railway, gave me the idea for my Billiard Table crossword ‘The Name of the Game’ in 2000. My heart goes out to the engineering genius who had been thwarted in his plans for the Clifton Suspension Bridge and whose Great Eastern (his Great Babe) was only finally to be launched shortly before his death in 1859. We have the Illustrated London News, bound copies for 1861 festering on the bookshelves and there is a wonderful engraving of the Great Eastern ‘Canadian troops boarding the Great Eastern, on the Mersey, shortly before her departure for Quebec’.

He lived only to see the launching and maiden voyage of his Great Babe but he did see Box Tunnel from start to finish.

One of the Brunel books on the shelves discusses the perfection, artistically, that went into the design of the tunnel entries (also, of course, the dreadful conditions for the navvies digging those three miles) and tells how, with the railway frenzy that followed the success of the Great Western, Brunel became disillusioned and shifted his interest to sea-going creations.

In any case, there is little evidence that the story of the sun shining the length of the tunnel on that day (or the 8th of April) had anything to do with Brunel’s design. Our editors pointed out that research seems to suggest that the event actually occurs nearer to his sister’s birthday (April 6th). Wiki tells us of the substantial research of a librarian C.P. Atkins (yes, I did squeeze him into the grid as a little Easter egg, and finding that has caused some discussion on ‘the site that must not be mentioned’)

‘The sun rises in near alignment to the entrance to Box Tunnel, Bath, UK on 9 April 2017?’

GWR franchise rebutted the theory that the rising sun passed through the tunnel on Isambard Brunel’s 9 April birthday, finding in 2017 that the sunrise did not shine fully through the tunnel. Librarian C.P. Atkins calculated in 1985 that full illumination through Box Tunnel would occur on 7 April in non-Leap years and on 6 April in Leap years.[10] The Society of Genealogists in 2016 suggested the sun shone through the tunnel on 6 April, the birthday of Brunel’s sister, Emma Joan Brunel, three years out of four during the 1830s[cita

However, it did make a lovely crossword theme. Ifor kindly tests and vastly improves my submssions with his tweaks, and when I sent this one to him, he tactfully pointed out that it had been done before in the Inquisitor series – uuh – by Ifor (apologies Ifor!) Many thanks to him and the other two kind friends who tested this and, as always, ironed out problems and suggested improvements.

Like all Listener setters, I am always delighted by the pruning performed by the editors – clues become more succinct and infinitely cleverer with the touch of the master’s hand. Thanks to Shane and Roger.


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