The Rite of Spring and “Carte Blanche en Tore”

Friday was an excellent day both for chamber concerts and for cryptic crosswords. In the evening Dave and I went to hear the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra at Herbst Hall. The first half of the program was pleasant and charming but not terribly exciting — a Vivaldi concerto for guitar and viola d’amore, a set of variations on “Là ci darem” by Beethoven, and a new piece by Gabriela Lena Frank called Inca Dances — all of it played with spirit and delight but none of it very powerful stuff.

But then the second half was Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, reorchestrated for a chamber orchestra of 14 players. That turned out to be an astonishing and thrilling experience. The Rite of Spring is a piece I’ve known since studying it in college a quarter of a century ago, but this performance made it all very fresh again, as well as harsh and shocking and brutal and potentially riot-inciting. It was like hearing the piece again for the first time, and I heard a lot in the transparent textures and harmonies that I don’t remember noticing before.

Plus, for those who like their ballet scores accompanied by some choreography, you could watch the two percussionists doing their obviously well-rehearsed dance as they scurried around the back of the stage managing the drums and marimba and all the rest.

All in all, this may have been the most exciting concert I’ve been to in quite a few months.

Friday’s Listener puzzle, called “Carte Blanche en Tore”, is also my favorite in a while. It’s essentially what in America is called a diagramless puzzle. I love this kind of puzzle, love the process of finding how the words fit together like jigsaw puzzle pieces, though it’s also true that this sort of puzzle also tends to be pretty hard, as you have to solve a fair number of the clues before you can start figuring out how the answers fit together in the grid.

This one is made even trickier because words can go beyond the right and bottom edges of the grid and continue at the left and top (always in the same row or column), which makes the grid topologically equivalent to a torus (doughnut shape).

Around 1:00 in the morning I was thinking that I really should get to bed and continue it in the morning, when I found a way to interlock four entries in such a way that, if they were right, a particular as-yet-unsolved entry would have to include a particular two-letter combination. I looked at the clue and was able to solve it now with the help of the two letters. Now I had five entries interlocking, and with a little more experimenting I got it up to eight. Knowing I had broken into the grid at last, I stayed up to keep chipping away at it and finally finished the grid about 2:00 am. A very satisfying challenge.

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