Puzzle titles with a sequence number have become uncommon. The Listener used to feature such things as Justyn Print – N by Zander – I’m pretty certain that the last one of those I saw had N in double figures. (I’ve just checked here, and Zander’s last – and 129th – Listener puzzle was Justyn Print – IX. But he did reach XV for both Sixes and Sevens and Head Hunting.) What they represented was the same puzzle gimmick – in the Justyn Print case fake book titles, such as Six of the Best by Ben Dover – being used in several puzzles, over a period of years. That doesn’t happen now, and a greater emphasis is placed on novelty. There may well be some who would want to see a limited return to the occasional puzzle that repeats a successful idea – though given that there is nothing new under the sun, you do get that anyway (2013 Listener solvers will already have encountered one of the gimmicks below, for example).
But that isn’t happening here. Well, yes, it is. Let me explain.
Between 22 May 1986 and 9 January 1993 I produced a sequence of 12 puzzles for The Listener, each one with a different thematic element based on one of the classical Herculean Labours. It was rather foolhardy (I certainly published the first one before I had an idea what I’d do for the fourth, let alone the later ones), deliriously extended, and even outlasted the magazine itself (IX: The Girdle of Hippolyta on 20 December 1990 was, I think, the penultimate Listener crossword actually in a UK magazine of that name). Fortunately it was decided that the last 25% of the series could resume in The Times when The Listener Crossword resurfaced there. The rather mixed genesis of the puzzle sequence has left some elements of copyright in a vexed state, so I’m unable to bring you the originals.
Each theme was different, but I wanted to combine all the ideas in a single puzzle. This was deemed a step too far for The Listener in its new home in The Times, but The Magpie was happy to take it on (and let me reiterate my thanks to them for permission to use it here). I scrupulously ensured that each Labour here exhibited the theme from its original solo puzzle, but it is no longer clear even to me why some of the Labours have the theme they do! If you’re keen to know more, just ask and I’ll look out the original versions.
Necessarily this is a BIG puzzle, with lots of instructions. So here goes…
Eleven pairs and one threesome of lights recall the Labours, and necessarily brief instructions are given with each set.
The fourteen surplus, or otherwise special, letters that occur in the Labours can be used to spell two related names as follows (in Labour order, and clue order within Labour): 4, 8, 9 (both girdles, then both girdled letters), 10 (heads used), 12. (These names were to be written under the grid by entrants.)
Nineteen normal clues lead to normal answers, which will fix the places of the thematic lights.
I The Nemean Lion – the relevant astrological sign is inserted suitably
Ponders about ten plus nine initially – they help to fix the lights
Church canon having to throw out endlessly blue material is described thus
II The Lernean Hydra – one head becomes two, though the resulting light is still defined
Brief essay written by those people even with no plan
Writing tool is rejected, beginning to lapse and flag
III The Erymanthian Boar – double clues from which the light is to be deduced after docking them from the beast
Evil spirit – one wreaking harm in parish where vicar dodged black look
Culture vulture: ‘Composer almost fashionable – fashionable crowd drawn to unknown old fool’
IV The Ceryneian Hind – wordplay refers to an extra letter not appearing in the light
More than one strain is turning up in bands of tissue
Cut back regular payment for associate
V The Stymphalian Birds – who are scared away from the grid
Use the last stone
Aim seeds in bottom of rut, possibly
VI The Augean Stables – three unclued lights representing what some sources deem an appropriate river being diverted through an obvious edifice
VII Cretan Bull
What’ll lead old, most elaborate Greek alphabet?
Get a run from good leg spinning
VIII The Horses of Diomedes – answers to clues, when jumbled with an extra letter, form the horses which are the lights
Brownish-coloured herb turned over, not black
Dealer getting millions, working with German
IX The Girdle of Hippolyta – in GIRDLE, GR is the girdle of I, ID of R, etc; girdles are removed to form the lights (also words). Clues refer to full words; girdles are to be deduced from cross-checking
Flat braid – nurse’s a fool to display it
Just over half of wealth is about a penny for tramps
X The Oxen of Geryon – W-ADE/F-AKE/M-IND have three interchangeable heads and bodies. Clues are triple, leading to similar triplets, and hence nine potential lights
Disregard man abandoning affairs similar to love – rejected love hurt
Disorder in Times Square to inspire onset of further anger – it’s one long trip
XI The Golden Apples of the Hesperides – clues lead to words associated with British placenames which, in jumbled form, are the lights
Sheep having almost sheared spine
Do time, say, for prominent blaze
XII Cerberus – a pair of letters is transposed from one solution of the double clue to the other to form the lights, which are also words
Good weather is turning a notch cold before a sticky patch?
1 One thing signifying ‘getting high’? (6)
5 Mother provided an old dolly (6)
9 It gets a chap down? (A chap, true, is upset) (9)
13 Article about US city bloke (4)
16 Organising bosses’ take over? (6)
17 Celtic hooligans half-ruined goals? (4)
21 Fairly hot ring to cook again? (4)
25 Cake and ale fine, but shunned by college (5)
29 One has most of water-source going round? (4)
30 Nun we encountered in Australian novel (6)
34 My nose was like Rudolph’s – ring a bell? (4)
35 Water about one bed for carnation (7)
36 Capturing something devolves on ‘Ercules? (9)
4 Condition, ultimately, by which man is deformed? (6)
10 Leader of thugs has automatic drawn (4)
16 Makes unwelcome inroads demolishing redoubts (8)
20 Solar phenomenon hits abruptly in the eye (7)
27 Urge to go round a Northumbrian valley (6)
29 What rake does, when Capability’s first in action? (5)
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