“Coincidence” by Sabre

Oh, hell. On Friday, I downloaded the just-published solution to the final Listener puzzle of last year (“Coincidence” by Sabre) and noticed that I’d made a small error.

It was a brutally difficult puzzle — easily the hardest of the year, it seemed to me — involving a lot of letter substitutions, and although I made it to the end, answering all the clues and figuring out the two hidden messages (which were quite difficult to work out even once you’d figured out what they had to say), I failed to thoroughly double-check my “bookkeeping” and so missed one place where one of the two letters I had as being involved in the substitution didn’t match one of the two letters involved in spelling out the messages. Particularly stupid because I’d noticed something odd about that portion of the grid and didn’t spend enough time looking at it to realize what was wrong. Argh argh argh.

Americans have a time disadvantage with the Listener puzzle, though. You have two weeks from the time the puzzle appears to the deadline for entries. Entries are accepted only by mail, however, not by email, so if you’re in England you have about a week and a half to solve the puzzle and have it arrive by the deadline, but if you’re in America you have maybe three or four days. The puzzle appears on Friday, so I try to get my entry in the mail on the following Monday if possible. And this was a very difficult puzzle, as I said, and then Friday and Monday were both filled with family stuff for the holidays, so I didn’t finish until early Monday morning and I hurried it into the mail, and I never really had a chance to put the solution aside, sleep on it, and double-check it in the morning with a calm, clear head.

On the other hand, even a late entry counts toward the yearly statistics as long as it is sent before the solution has been published, even though it can’t win the weekly prize. So perhaps this is a lesson that if I smell anything wrong, I should hang on to my entry another day or two till I figure out what’s amiss, even if it means giving up a shot at the weekly prize.

I don’t usually check my solutions, so I have no idea whether my entries were all correct for the year other than this one. It’ll be a sad thing if it turns out that I missed a complete for the year due to one small error on the final puzzle. I’ll find out when the yearly stats are issued. But I’ve made errors on exactly three puzzles in each of the last three years, so the chances are probably not all that great of this being my only mistake all year.

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Opening Paragraph of the Day

From Topix:

Palo Alto, CA January 16, 2015 – According to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal, wealthy families are increasingly setting up private trust companies to manage their assets, rather than using traditional trust companies. “Private trust companies offer families more flexibility and more control,” said Michael Gilfix, a Palo Alto estate planning attorney with Gilfix & La Poll Associates LLP. Still, Gilfix points out, there can be downsides. Traditionally, people with autism are thought to be loners who do not desire social connection.

Classical at the Freight

Dave and I went to hear the San Francisco Chamber Symphony last night in an all-Mozart concert at Freight & Salvage. SFCO’s concerts are always a lot of fun. They started with the second piano quartet, then a sonata for bassoon and cello that Mozart allegedly wrote when still a teenager (it’s fairly short, charming but slight, and very likely spurious), and finally the first of the Prussian string quartets.

The sonata in the middle was played by cello (taking the bassoon part) and viola (taking the cello part), which worked well, though the piece itself is pretty ordinary. Mozart’s string quartets have never grabbed me much (unlike Haydn’s, which I’m crazy about), but the first Prussian was given a lovely, elegant performance, very enjoyable.

My favorite piece of the evening, though, was the piano quartet that started the concert, which seemed to me to have more striking melodies, and to develop them with more invention and liveliness, than the string quartet did, even though the string quartet is plainly a much more sophisticated and polished composition.

There was much silliness, too, with music director Ben Simon dressed absurdly as Mozart and answering questions from the audience in the “Ask Wolfie” section during the intermission break. Not a serious evening at all, just good fun and good music.

The Pointless Passive

I just came across a new (to me, anyway) irritating misuse of language. Until such time as I discover an earlier name for it, I’m calling it the Pointless Passive.

Here is the sentence (slightly modified to protect the guilty) that set my teeth on edge:

The association requires candidates to have attained a certain level of professional experience before being permitted to apply for membership.

The passive being permitted lets you omit the subject of the verb, and yet the subject, the association, is already right there in the freaking sentence, so what’s the point? Change being permitted to permitting them.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to have a cup of coffee before work is returned to.

The Forbidden Kingdom

Dave and I watched the Jackie Chan–Jet Li movie The Forbidden Kingdom again last night. We had watched it a few years ago and we wanted to see it again, because I recently found a copy of Monkey — the Arthur Waley translation and abridgement of the Chinese classic Journey to the West, which has been on my books-to-look-out-for list for years — at Moe’s. I haven’t even started to read it yet, but it reminded us of this movie, which contains all kinds of references to Journey to the West and other Chinese lore as well as to some classic martial arts movies; some of the references are tongue in cheek and others are more poetic. So we thought it would be fun to watch it again.

Fun movie! Beautiful visuals! Great fight sequences! The story is rather clichéd but lively, sometimes genuinely funny, and well acted. Jackie Chan does more of his drunken fighting while playing Lu Yan (AKA Lü Dongbin, one of the Eight Chinese Immortals, who traditionally has a weakness for drink). Jet Li doing kung fu in the character of the Monkey King is totally irresistible.

Ring Out the Old Year

Yesterday was kind of an odd mixed bag of a day to end the year on. In the morning I finished a lyric for The Golden Slipper that I had started several years ago — the middle of that aria is where I was interrupted first to work on The Manga Flute and then on the two versions of The Bat Bites Back (first just the dialogue for the Opera San Jose production of Fledermaus and then adding lyrics to create a full English version for the Lamplighters production). I think the lyric for Golden Slipper will be a hoot — I’m definitely back in the commedia dell’arte mode of writing with this one. But it’s also a bit of a struggle to pick up the threads after so long. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to get The Golden Slipper back from “on hold” status to “work in progress” status. Fortunately, I’d made a fairly detailed outline before I was interrupted by the other projects.

(Looking for a brand new, very funny, family-friendly opera to present? This is a new libretto based on the ancient Chinese version of the fairy tale and using the score of Rossini’s Cinderella. It’d make an awesome holiday show for the right company.)

In the afternoon, I read an article about using Facebook better that suggested checking now and then for “other” messages, ones not from FB friends, because FB doesn’t alert you about them. I had not noticed this at all! When I checked, I discovered a message from a fan of my shows from back in May, and a message from a couple weeks ago from an old friend from my college days looking to reconnect after more than 30 years. Yikes! I replied to both, and chatted with the old friend for a bit.

Dave and I rang in the New Year by watching Dumbo and then going to bed about 11:30, where we read for a while longer (I’m nearly done with Karen Armstrong’s The Bible: A Biography, which is terrific and full of interesting history) till we heard fireworks going off outside somewhere.

Happy New Year, and best wishes for a 2015 that beats the tar out of 2014.