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Listener 4076: Labour by Elint

Posted by Gareth Rees on 26 March 2010

In some Listener puzzles it takes the penny a long time to drop, in others … well, the first clue I solved was 38a CAMEMBERTS. According to the rubric, this had to be “mutilated” to fit into a four-cell entry, and I said to myself, “I suppose I have to remove MEMBER to leave CATS: perhaps all eight mutilated entries are missing a limb?” And so it proved, though unravelling Elint’s intricate wordplay took a lot of time.

The excellent &lit clue for CAMEMBERTS should give a flavour of this intricacy: “Cheeses authentically made, originally, 250 miles west of Brest, roughly? No, east.” After considerable thought, and recourse to an atlas, I figured that it’s the initial letters of C[heeses] A[authentically] M[ade], “250” ⇒ E, “miles” ⇒ M, all placed to the left (“west”) of an anagram of BREST. And Camembert was originally made in the town of that name in Normandy, which is roughly 250 miles east of Brest in Brittany.

I was misled for a while by 9a, “In French, sept étoiles: this could translate to The Pleiades”, which looked very much like the hidden word SEPTET (especially since I already had the P from the crossing word OPAL). But this would be too easy for Elint: in fact it’s a composite anagram (ETOILES HEPTAD = TO THE PLEIADES).

I took a very long time to figure out 29d. “The Gunners like a pro ref” had to fit T_RTY, with “ref” the extra word. I could see that “like a pro” ⇒ TARTY, but it was only some time later that I saw “The” ⇒ T “Gunners” ⇒ artillery ⇒ ARTY.

The eight answers to be mutilated (and the extra words in the down clues that defined the resulting entries) were:

1a SCOTCH PINES − PIN = SCOTCHES (24d squashes)
6a CONFINE − FIN = CONE (13d figure)
12a TARMACKING − ARM = TACKING (4d fixing)
16a CLIMBABLE − LIMB = CABLE (27d wire)
31a ALLOGAMY − GAM = ALLOY (3d mixture)
35a PROCRUSTEAN − CRUS = PROTEAN (8d variable)
38a CAMEMBERTS − MEMBER = CATS (20d animals)
39a CYCLOPLEGIC − LEG = CYCLOPIC (35d giant)

The unclued keyword at 25a (from which the mutilated entries were suffering) proved to be AMELIA, “a rare birth defect marked by the absence of one or more limbs” (and not found in the OED!). The initial letters of the other twelve extra words in the down clues spelled BELAOROHMAERRT, which “taken alternately” yielded two pioneering women, [Amelia] BLOOMER and [Amelia] EARHART.

The final instruction was to “highlight in the completed grid a word (eight letters) which, etymologically speaking, might have described the puzzle before the mutilations caused by [amelia] occurred.” Since the unmutilated puzzle would have had eight limbs, I was expecting something like octopoid, but instead, the leading diagonal contained:

ashtanga, n. [< Sanskrit aṣṭāṅga eightfold (< aṣṭa- eight + āṅga limb, member)] Originally: a form of yoga based on eight principles and incorporating meditation, physical activity, and spiritual practices. In later use chiefly: spec. a system of physical exercise associated with this. [OED]

I’m not completely sure about the title. “Labour” has the sense “bodily exercise”, so it could serve as a loose definition of the highlighted word.


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