I finished this week’s Listener puzzle, “Toga” by Nod, this morning. I really thought I was going to finish last night — around 9:00 I had only solved about half the clues, but that turned out to be enough for me to figure out the “advice” spelled out by the extra letters, how to apply it, and what to do with the result. By figuring out in advance what was supposed to be the final step in the puzzle, I obtained several letters in the grid that I hadn’t actually solved yet, and that quickly gave me a few more answers. I was quite sure that I’d have it all nailed before I went to bed. But I got sleepy and ended up crashing with one clue still unsolved, and two more for which I was pretty sure I had the right answer but hadn’t yet worked out how the wordplay was supposed to work.

I finally solved them this morning — I was right about the two answers and worked out the wordplay, and the third clue turned out to involve some proper nouns I didn’t know that aren’t in Chambers Dictionary; thank goodness for the Internet. All in all, an enjoyable and not overly brain-busting puzzle.


Thought While Reading Some Literary Criticism

Show me an artist who never repeated him- or herself and I’ll show you an artist who died very young. You can’t hang around long enough to complete more than two or three major works without starting to reuse some of your favorite techniques and devices.

The way out isn’t to dismiss artists who have given you great pleasure but whose patterns you’ve started to catch on to, it’s to stop judging your old friends for having allowed you to know them too well.

Sir John in Absentia

Michael Zwiebach has a list of “Top Ten Shakespeare Operas” over at San Francisco Classical Voice, but he leaves out a favorite of mine: Vaughn Williams’s Sir John in Love. Verdi’s Falstaff is a completely wonderful opera, don’t get me wrong. But Verdi and Boito transformed it so well into a polished opera buffa in the Italian style that if you didn’t look at the program notes you might never guess that it takes place in England.

Sir John in Love is less well constructed, I think, but at the same time its music conveys a love of the English countryside and the feel of country society in Elizabethan England that I don’t hear in Falstaff. That pastoral quality is what makes The Merry Wives of Windsor special among Shakespeare’s plays — in terms of dramatic construction, it’s one of Shakespeare’s weaker plays, but Merry Wives is the only play that Shakespeare set in his own time and place, and in which he was writing openly and directly about a society and a social order that he knew at first hand. So the play has its own unique if rough-hewn quality, and the words and music in Sir John capture that atmosphere wonderfully well. You can practically smell the fresh-cut hay and the sawdust and the spilled beer in the music.

Of course, any top ten list is a very personal selection, and everyone gets to have different favorites. I just wanted to make a case for one of mine.

But You Liberals Will Probably Try to Twist This Around and Make It About Race

A friend on the WELL passed along this paragraph from an essay in today’s Washington Times (“Hope and change in a magic tea pot” by Wesley Pruden, page A4; the piece isn’t in the online edition):

But this time, the Republicans and other conservatives did not flinch, their spines stiffened by courage taken from the tea pot. Washington hasn’t seen a panic like this since Beauregard sent the Federal army scrambling back to Washington from Manassas battlefield in the summer of ’61. This was the change we’ve been hoping for.