Derek Harrison's Crossword Message Board

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Listener No. 4415: Right and Left by Ploy

I really enjoyed solving this puzzle. I liked the double clues and appreciated the way that the surface readings weren’t damaged by the words moving. I confess that French and Saunders came to mind before Flanders and Swann, though it wasn’t long before I clicked. I am familiar with some of their work but don’t recall this particular song. Great fun, thanks, Ploy.

I was having a beer not long after finishing the puzzle when I noticed that the honeysuckles on our balconies spiral in the opposite direction to the one in the grid, and that set me off doing some research. I came across a book titled ‘Left Hand, Right Hand (The Origins of Asymmetry in Brains, Bodies, Atoms and Cultures) which actually addresses Flanders and Swann’s song and claims that part of the lyrics are wrong. The problem, it says, stems from engineers and botanists describing things differently. Apparently, the spiral on the engineer’s right-hand-threaded screw is designed so that the screw can be tightened by a right-handed man with a clockwise movement, because the right forearm muscles are stronger working clockwise. However, a clockwise spiral on a plant to some botanists is what you would get if you held one end of it and turned the other end clockwise, which would produce a left-hand thread in engineering terms. The book claims that the lyric ‘The fragrant honeysuckle spirals clockwise to the sun' is correct in some botanists’ terminology, but that the later lyric ‘Said the right-hand-thread honeysuckle to the left-hand-thread bindweed’ is not, as they would be the reverse in engineering terms. It doesn’t help that the botanical websites I looked at describe a spiral from the vines perspective as it heads towards the sun (as I would have done), and not as the book says. Anyway, however you choose to describe plant spirals the part about the thread in the lyrics is wrong and the honeysuckle and the bindweed grow in opposite directions to those shown in the grid. (A bonus of themed-puzzles is being taken on a journey of discovery as I was here. Thanks for the bonus, Ploy.)


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