This puzzle is part of the ‘Twelve Labours’ series, but can be solved independently. Previous instalments can be found here: Prologue | 01 | 02 | 03 | 04 | 05 | 06 | 07 | 08

The House of Hippolyta was one of those small boutique-type shops that often spring up in well-to-do parts of town, that could somehow afford to sell only a very narrow, specialist range of one specific type of product. Hercules had never understood how these shops could possibly do enough business to make a profit, but they always seemed to, so there was a clearly a market in Athens for...

“Belts with novelty buckles!” exclaimed Admete, the owner, gesturing around her at walls which could barely be seen beyond the hundreds upon hundreds of belts on display, each with its own unique (often colourful) buckle. Everywhere he looked, Hercules could see buckles shaped like animals, sports logos, numbers, household appliances, celebrities, body parts, street signs, TV characters, foodstuffs, flowers... – a huge variety. Admete continued: “The finest quality novelty belts from the top designers of today. I am only ever interested in the top lines, see – everything else is ‘below the belt’!”

Admete laughed at her joke more than was deserved and pointed to a sign mounted behind the till:

House of Hippolyta shop policy:

  1. If it isn’t top-line, we’re just not interested.

  2. If it doesn’t fit, it’s fine to bring it back.

  3. If you want to know which belt your mother bought, Hercules, you’re going to need to solve my cryptic crossword...

At the third item, Hercules did a double-take. Then he groaned. Admete laughed again. “I had a lot of fun making that. And I had a lot of fun making this...”

She slid a sheet of paper across the counter. Sure enough it contained a crossword grid and some clues.

“The clues are cryptic,” she explained, “but the crossword itself isn’t quite as straightforward as you might expect. Complete the grid and then work out how to derive from it the object which the buckle of your mother’s belt is shaped like.”

Hercules picked up a pen, took a deep breath and began...

TASK: Solve Admete’s twisted cryptic crossword. Identify the object which his mother’s new belt resembles.

enter image description here

1. Some pakora were less cooked (5)
4. Pet receiving little appreciation becomes irritable (5)
7. First woman included in the eleven (3)
8. Eurasian University corresponds with Finnish city (5)
9. Russian leader part-exchanges contribution (5)
10. “The Greatest” boxer is a large one (3)
11. Concerning weed? Move flowers (5)
12. Confused writer missing the point is a hard-worker (5)
13. Foodstuff – for example, gram (3)
14. Abstainer eats small Peep (5)
16. Secure once more about draw (5)
18. Whether you have it or give it you can still listen! (3)
19. Lemur found in cylindrical container (5)
20. First to rock up ruins old Cornish city (5)
21. Grandmother sneaks in, unannounced (3)
22. And you say the French forget to inspect within? (2,3)
24. Wombs cauterised on the inside (5)
26. To the rear of the hovercraft! (3)
27. He makes cloth! (5)
28. London rugby union team arrive five at a time (5)

1. Device for self-promotion by Italian footballers (7)
2. Crow spake badly of digital storage area (9)
3. Reconvene the retinue! (7)
4. Greek later becomes propagator (7)
5. It facilitates access to the uppermost reaches of the Premier League (3,6)
6. The Water Works show their usefulness! (7)
14. Firstly, take rabbit intestines, strip excess cartilage, then cut into three (7)
15. Oxbridge college offering three for the price of one? (7)
16. Topless centaur’s out for a stroll (7)
17. Fabled don may give an estimate – “about nine” (7)
23. Bitumen made from bad art (3)
25. Anger due to Billy Joel song?! (3)


The final answer is produced in a manner from the overall arrangement of letters in the completed grid. Interpret the remaining story hint correctly and the answer will soon be in hand without the need for any deep, complicated analysis...

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Note that while I have solved many a cryptic crossword over the years, this is the first time I have actually set one myself. I have tried to ensure the clues all meet the standards of a traditional cryptic crossword - any of you regulars, go easy on me with your feedback! Thanks :) $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Nov 18, 2019 at 16:34
  • $\begingroup$ 25d is amusing. $\endgroup$
    – Gareth McCaughan
    Nov 18, 2019 at 16:45
  • $\begingroup$ @GarethMcCaughan I'll be honest, that clue was the highlight of creating this puzzle for me! $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Nov 18, 2019 at 16:54
  • $\begingroup$ 13a seems to be a bit of an exception (but I am not sure I've correctly understood the rule it seems to be an exception to)... $\endgroup$
    – Gareth McCaughan
    Nov 18, 2019 at 17:05
  • $\begingroup$ @GarethMcCaughan I've added the enigmatic-puzzle tag, to help emphasise Admete's words in the story that "the crossword itself isn’t quite as straightforward as you might expect"... $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Nov 18, 2019 at 17:08

2 Answers 2


Final answer

See Deusovi's answer for the first step of filling in the grid. Now

mark all the letters that are top-line in the sense of appearing on the top row of a QWERTY keyboard. We get (choosing a suitable orientation for two of the words necessarily left ambiguous in Deusovi's answer):
enter image description here
or, rotating through 90 degrees and suppressing the distracting crossword grid itself,
enter image description here

so evidently the buckle resembled


  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "necessarily left ambiguous" - I'm not sure, they could be right ambiguous too. Isn't that the point? :-) $\endgroup$ Nov 19, 2019 at 21:39
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I think that if they are left-ambiguous then they are also right-ambiguous. Proof by symmetry. $\endgroup$
    – Gareth McCaughan
    Nov 19, 2019 at 21:43
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Well done Gareth for the final solve :) I have given you the checkmark rather than @Deusovi as I know from our chatroom discussion that you both solved the grid pretty much simultaneously and you have managed to get the final answer first. +1 for you both for the effort - thanks for sticking with it to the end, even though I know there were some wordings you both had qualms over! :) $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Nov 19, 2019 at 22:10
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It was a fun puzzle. I don't think either of us would have objected to either of us getting the checkmark. $\endgroup$
    – Gareth McCaughan
    Nov 19, 2019 at 22:23

Partial answer: Grid filled, not sure how to extract

The trick to filling the grid is that

some answers must be reversed before entry (as hinted by the second line of the policy, "if it doesn't fit, it's fine to bring it back").

The filled grid, and clue explanations:

enter image description here

What next?

The only unused information from the puzzle is the first line of the policy: "If it isn’t top-line, we’re just not interested."

There are three ambiguities in the solved grid, confirmed in chat to be disambiguated by the extraction.

Many letters in the left and right sides seem to match, but it was also confirmed in chat that this is not relevant.

  • $\begingroup$ Just a note to say that only two of the three ambiguities will be resolved by the extraction - the third has no impact on it (though by the wording of rule 2 I would just keep it in the usual left-to-right order by default, since 'it fits'...). Thanks! :) $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Nov 18, 2019 at 22:31
  • $\begingroup$ I don't get 25D. $\endgroup$ Nov 19, 2019 at 12:28
  • $\begingroup$ @OmegaKrypton the song title is also a cryptic clue $\endgroup$ Nov 19, 2019 at 16:56

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