At first sight this one was none too auspicious for the ‘Horse with stripes (5)’ team. Those words ‘Labour’, ‘suffer’, ‘affected’, and ‘mutilations’ sounded ominous. ‘Eight
across entries suffer from 25′. Well, we soon identified the eight by simply counting lights in the grid. Subtracting those from the stated word lengths produced the fact that the mutilations concerned five three-letter words, two four-letter words and one five.
We are learning to be more careful with our preliminary reading of the preamble. We could establish that eight extra words in down clues were going to define the shortened words. Elint is clearly a wise old setter masquerading under a new pseudonym, as he had meanly split his remaining fourteen down-clue hints into ‘the initial letters … taken alternately in clue order’. Ouff! No easy way into that!
This word play was difficult! Desultory solving filled Friday evening and half of Saturday and we had half the grid almost completed with no light appearing over the eastern hills. ICONIC, TROG, TARTY, GAUP, AGLOW, AGGRO, GNOMIC, EN FETE, ESTEEM, ELTCHI – no problem, but they took us nowhere. PROCRUSTEAN gave us our first breakthrough, as we then realized that the eight special clues did actually define the full-length word ‘Brutally ensuring compliance’. It was a short step from there to separating the word into PROTEAN and CRUS. ‘Variable’ stood out in 8d, as the definition of PROTEAN but we jumped to the conclusion that we were dealing in CRUS of our local type – first class wines. That didn’t sound like labour at all!
It was hours later that we spotted the CAMEMBERTS with some sort of wine-club MEMBER amongst the CATS but it took CLIMBABLE with its LIMB tangled in the CABLE to shift us off the French food thing and into appendages. We had to be looking for an arm and a leg, maybe a toe? It was a long, hard foot slog that finally led us to the PIN in SCOTCH PINES, the LEG in CYCLOPLEGIC, the FIN in CONFINES and the GAM in ALLOGAMY. As for TARMACKING – it seemed right, and intersected with OPAL, CAKEHOLE, DIVOT, ERNIE and SEG but I am still wondering what the Victorian was doing in the clue.
I frequently ask which comes first, the understanding of the misprint or extra word message or its implementation. As usual, we worked backwards. We found EARHART and BLOOMER by filling gaps in our words. AMELIA tied in neatly with that, and thus we had our remaining extra words: ‘mean’, for example, in 21d (Root mean square leaving thicko cross, scratching head). I have opted for IMPLANT as my solution to that but haven’t any idea why (Help, Denis?)
Amelia, of course, led to the appendix and ‘Struggling labour’ – back to where we started – rather legless again after the crus and camembert. We hunted all through Chambers, to complete the task of highlighting an eight-letter word (how neat in the context!) but, of course, no spiders or octopodi crept out. However, this crossword was so cleverly symmetrical that all that was needed was to link the two parts to produce a likely word, ASHTANGA – and it gave just the definition we needed [Sans, eight-limbed, referring to the eight stages of classical yoga]. No cherry trees to chop or wrens to batter to death, so I got my pencils out and did a bit of yoga.
Rewarding and very fair – thank you, Elint.