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Listener No 4683, Diversions: A Setter’s Blog by Dysart

Posted by Listen With Others on 21 Nov 2021

I set this puzzle four years ago, before my puzzles on Vitruvian Man and Lamb to the Slaughter. The former took precedence because it was intended to coincide with an anniversary date; the latter because I was worried that another setter would beat me to it with the theme (I’d already had one Listener submission rejected at the last minute because of thematic duplication). My memory of its genesis and construction was a bit vague, but delving into the files on my computer has revealed a lot. I had already set an EV puzzle involving the conversion of the names of some Greek Gods to their Roman equivalents, but I wanted a puzzle with a more comprehensive set of Gods. One obvious set was the Olympians. Authoritative sources don’t completely agree on the composition of the set or the spellings, though all agree that there are 12 in the set. Encyclopaedia Britannica‘s list of 12 includes Hades and Hestia in preference to Demeter and Dionysus. The former pair eventually made it into the puzzle as an element of wordplay (HADES), and as a jumbled answer (HESTIA).

Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable lists the dii majores under the heading, Gods. The more accurately transliterated Apollon is used in preference to Apollo, and Athena appears as Athene. Hestia is included in the major twelve, and Dionysus is listed below the main list.

The Greek Myths by Robert Graves features the twelve gods I used in my final grid, though it gives the earlier Greek form, Athene, rather than the later Athena. Graves explains how Hestia (one of the original 12) gave way to Dionysus, thus the gender balance was tipped in favour of males. [1]

Six of the original twelve were children of Cronus and Rhea (Demeter, Hades, Hera, Hestia, Poseidon and Zeus). The other six were children of Zeus.

I entertained various ideas for the depiction of the theme. At one point I considered anagrams of the names. All but two could be anagrammed, the two exceptions being Hephaestus and Dionysus. The weakness of this was that the theme might emerge too early; after getting two or three thematic entries the rest would be easy to get. Later I thought of an endgame in which the names would be revealed by changing some letters in the grid. Initially the deities were scattered haphazardly in the grid, and MOUNT OLYMPUS did not feature. Eventually I included a jumble of MOUNT OLYMPUS on the top row, though it was some time before I got a grid with most of the gods. Later I thought it would be far better to have MOUNT OLYMPUS on the bottom row and the gods above that, becoming progressively shorter, with ZEUS and HERA in the top two rows, thus forming the appearance of a mountain. This is where things got very tricky despite the latitude I had in the sequence of entries that could be modified to reveal the names, and in the entries on the bottom row. If the bottom row had one or two entries of at least five letters and one or two unchecked cells there were over sixty possibilities (though many with obscure words). The longest possible entry was UPON MY SOUL, which I liked but it created problems in the top row. I started with symmetrical grids and normal entries, but this proved impossible. I then switched to an asymmetrical grid, but that resulted in a low average entry length (the best I could achieve was 5.3, below the recommended minimum of 5.5). I was intending to have a hidden message from a clue gimmick in the across clues, e.g. REARRANGE LETTERS IN THE LAST ROW, but at some point I saw the letters S/R/U/OTTO in one of the trial grids. This gave me the idea that the downs could be jumbled, thus eliminating the need for a clue gimmick, and facilitating a symmetrical grid. The device I had chosen to reveal the gods would result in non-word entries anyway, so jumbles would not detract further from the final grid. I know some solvers dislike jumbled entries, but I eased things with generous checking – twelve of the down entries are fully checked. Jumbling wasn’t strictly thematic, but the gods of Greek mythology were a pretty anarchic and egotistical lot, creating a fair amount of chaos, so jumbling wasn’t altogether unjustified.

To complete the theme I wanted to incorporate features associated with the deities in the clues. This was fairly easy in most cases, and in some cases there are two or more thematic associations in the clues.­ The Listener website [] includes the associations in the detailed notes on the puzzle. Some of the enjoyment in setting the clues was looking for opportunities to work in thematic associations without detriment to the surface. Normally I eschew anagram clues when entries are jumbled, but I made an exception in two cases for thematic reasons (REMOUNTS and VAT DYE). After devising the theme, writing the clues is the best part of the whole setting process for me. Even after a puzzle has been test-solved I may spend more time trying to polish the clues. I think I was told once that Dimitry (John Grimshaw, former Listener editor) advised putting a puzzle aside after its initial completion, then looking at it again six months later with fresh eyes. It’s very good advice.

Various titles occurred to me, but in the end the superficially misleading Diversions seemed best as the conjunction of di and versions reflected the different pantheons and the jumbling.

In view of the potential problems from the jumbled answers I asked several people to test-solve the puzzle. It’s always useful to get different perspectives anyway. My thanks to all the testers involved.

Once it was considered by the editors, the main problem was the length, resulting from a longish preamble and 48 clues, with most of the down clues taking up two or more lines. The editors managed to trim the preamble and several of the clues. The Listener editors normally try to preserve the basis of the original clue, avoiding complete rewrites as far as possible, something I very much appreciate. In this case there was the added complication of preserving the thematic references. I was able to add my bit by completely rewriting a few more clues to make them one-liners.

Some solvers commented in online forums that it might have been better to erase the non-thematic letters. It was a fair point, and I did consider it early on, though one undesirable effect of this would be that solvers could submit a correct solution without getting all the answers correct. My original intention was that the area should be shaded green with a curvy outline to resemble a mountain, as below, thus drawing attention away from the non-thematic letters. The first test solve encouraged this, but the final preamble I submitted was less specific to make it more concise.


[1]. Dionysus, whose mother was mortal, was more like a demigod. After achieving renown from a series of military conquests he was given a place among the twelve Olympians, Hestia, goddess of the hearth, resigning in his favour “to escape the jealous wranglings of her family” (The Greek Myths, Book 1 by Robert Graves). Who can blame her?


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