Monday, December 5, 2011

The Diffney Quiz - Offbeat Holiday Traditions

As many of you probably know, my dad is sadly no longer with us. He passed away sudddenly in 2005. And as all of you probably know, when the Christmas season hits, most people's minds turn to loved ones, lost or otherwise.

When I was about fifteen, my dad came home from work one evening with the Diffney quiz. Do not ask me what made him go into Diffney (he was a marine engineer, so he tended to buy very functional clothes rather than stylish ones. They tended to get covered in engine oil and dust very, very fast).

My dad loved crosswords, brainteasers and puzzles. His evening ritual was to sit with the Daily Mirror Quizword and work his way through the general knowledge clues. The Diffney quiz might as well have been designed for him.

Anyway, the entire family became addicted to it. Not just my parents and me, but the extended family. My mother posted a copy to one of her sisters, and the other sister saw it when they were having coffee together.

Slowly, it took over our December.

Right up to the February deadline, we were calling and texting back and forth from Dublin to Wexford to Scotland to Nottingham, with clues and suggestions and debates. Once you've done it once, you learn a few tricks - there is usually a clue about Diffney itself, for instance, and at least one Dublin placename and its postcode (Dublin has one-digit postcodes, the rest of Ireland doesn't, which makes internet shopping all kinds of fun). There is usually a film or two, a song lyric as well as some song titles.

Like a crossword, you eventually get into the mind of the compiler. Over the years, we have all got better and better at the Diffney quiz. It is no longer the absurd challenge it was that first year (and of course, we all secretly believe it's getting easier, in the same way exams were harder when we sat them, young people today have it so easy, etc. /end old person rant).

But the Diffney quiz is addictive. It has an odd siren song - most people can answer a lot of the questions in one sitting, easily. But the ones that you can't get nag at you and gradually take over your life so you are a mere husk of your former self.

Over the years, I've shared it with friends and family, and most people who enjoy puzzles get quite sucked in. Sometimes you get texts at 2 a.m. that merely say 'Amazon River - 3976 miles long!!!!!!' or, if you know someone really sadistic (or sensitive about spoiling your fun) 'I got number 23. Call if you want the answer.'

I got the 2011 Diffney quiz on Friday when I was starting my Christmas shopping. Two copies go in the post, one is left blank for photocopying, one will get filled in bit by bit over the next few weeks.

It's not quite the same without Dad, becayse he was the most enthusiastic Diffney quiz lover of us all. But it is nice, every year, to watch a little of Dad come out in all of us as we trade clues and answers, jealously guard our hunches, argue for our own suggestions and shamefully resort to Google when we're desperate.

For me, Christmas starts with the Diffney quiz.

Any odd holiday traditions in your family?


  1. It's great that you've kept that tradition going.

    We always get our Christmas tree with my parents. We meet for breakfast/lunch, then go wandering the shops and garden centres in Powerscourt and Woodies before picking out our trees.

    Jen and I also have our own tradition of lining up our Christmas movies to watch in the run-up to Christmas. We vary the order every year, but the only thing that never changes is that we save Santa Claus The Movie for Christmas Eve.

  2. Awh bless what a lovely tribute to your dad. I'm hopeless at crosswords, though I'm sure if I worked at them I'd begin to crack the codes. I've never heard of the Diffney Quiz either.
    We must decorate the tree soon, we're behind with the cards...

  3. I love this post, Ellen. I am sorry about your Dad, but what lovely memories you have of him and the good times together. I've never heard of the Diffney quiz, but it sounds like so much fun.

  4. What a lovely post. :) I'm sure he'd be delighted you still do the quiz.

  5. Great. Thanks Ellen. I had not idea what the Diffney Quiz was so I googled it. Its one of THOSE quizzes. There goes any PhD progress I might have made this month.......

  6. I have a couple kids I know would enjoy the Diffney Quiz. Both my parents are now gone, and I've thought of them a lot this month. It will be the first Christmas of my life without my mom.

  7. The Diffney quiz is even a bit of a fringe thing in Ireland, I think Diffney is only based in Dublin so it's not even nationwide. And I've never mentioned it to anyone who already knew what it was :)

    Click the link at your peril. Sorry, Rosemary. . .

    Karen, the first Christmas without someone is tough, but I found got easier. The combination of new traditions (so we're not painfully conscious of his absence) combined with the old ones (so we're not throwing away everything we shared) always helps.

    If you pass on the link, I hope they enjoy it!

  8. I had never heard of the Diffney quiz before I read this on Monday.
    I only have eight answers left to get now!

    The quiz is a lovely Christmas tradition and a nice link to all the Christmases your dad was with you.

  9. I'd never heard of it either, so obviously it's quite regional. That does rate as a very odd Christmas tradition, Ellen!

  10. I think it's great you've carried on this tradition.
    My dad used to make us all listen to Dylan Thomas read A Child's Christmas in Wales every year. I plan to make my kids listen to it, too.


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