Elementary Solutions by A FEW
Solutions to climate problems, as in the puzzle series, are represented in four puzzles based on AIR, FIRE, EARTH, WATER. Examples of a fifth element (see Chambers), WOOD, are highlighted.
ENVIRONMENTAL SOLUTIONS – Setters’ blog
This was, of course, a collaborative puzzle, involving the four setters who contributed the individual puzzles for the four Elementary puzzles (Air, Fire, Earth, Water) on the overarching theme of global warming. The whole series was very much collaborative, working as a group of setters on a shared passion. Brock shares a little on the origins of the series, before we each write our “bloglets” to correspond to the four “gridlets” of this finale puzzle.
As I write this, it is a year to the day that I sent Steve Bartlett an email about the Continental thematic series of puzzles that was running in the EV at that time – “I have been enjoying the current thematic series in EV… I hope that you will run more thematic series in the future. I’d intended to say just that, but it occurs to me that I would be interested to contribute if there were an appropriate subject. For instance, would you consider a series of climate or environmental based puzzles (a bit late to do so for COP26), for which I have many thematic ideas?” Steve replied “if you can get four setters interested in your proposal and would like to pitch something to me, we could look at incorporating it in a month next year” and pointed me to Phi/Kcit as one of the possible four in particular in the context of “a series of puzzles which combine somehow to provide material for a final puzzle.”
Hence Kcit and Brock kicked around some ideas, and came up with the proposal “The theme is the CLIMATE CRISIS, but with 4-5 puzzles based around the Classical Elements. Four individual setters would take one each of FIRE, AIR, EARTH and WATER and develop the theme. The 5th puzzle would ideally bring all 4 previous elements together, perhaps via the 4 corners and/or could use the Chinese 5th Element (see Ch[ambers]), WOOD.”
As the title suggests, the general idea was that the gridlets were each solutions related to the problems highlighted in the main puzzles in the series. However, the puzzle also had to be stand-alone as solvers either might not have completed the previous ones in the series or forgotten them. It had been decided that we would each have 12 entries per quadrant allowing the added twist of having solvers determine which set of clues belonged to which quadrant. This also worked well with leaving out answer lengths which take up clue space. With 48 clues and preambles for the individual gridlets, space was a significant consideration at every step, with clues and preambles being written as succinctly as we could to start with, and then subject to additional pruning at every stage of the process.
Having been invited to contribute a complete puzzle on one Classical Element – Air – it was intriguing to be asked to contribute one quarter of a combined puzzle, neatly wrapping up the Four Elements and also introducing a fifth: the Chinese Element of Wood. It having been decided that the key word should “rotate” around the intersection of the four 6 x 6 “gridlets”, I then chose the SE corner; since that gave me a six-letter word starting with O – and which neatly became OXYGEN. At the bottom of my gridlet I had the answer “cooperage”, which then had “COO” (or CO2) removed before entry (and, try as I might, I could not make a real word from the rump!). It was suggested to me that I could incorporate misprints into the down clues, which would then spell out “PLANTS” – as a hint at the mechanism for removing CO2 and providing the world with Oxygen.
In addition to the worldwide efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to limit global warming, a number of methods are used specifically to help prevent the occurrence of uncontrolled wildfires. One such technique is “agroforestry” – introducing grazing animals (goats, sheep, pigs…) to forest areas to eat scrub and other materials from the forest floor. This reduces the amount of ground-based fuel and creates natural breaks which help prevent wildfires from spreading uncontrollably.
With the quadrant having 12 entries, and AGROFORESTRY itself having 12 letters, it seemed sensible to have solvers discover the theme by a clue-based gimmick yielding one letter per clue. Not being able to come up with a truly thematically-relevant gimmick, I decided on “corrections to misprints”, with the correct letters yielding the term AGROFORESTRY. But this changed slightly when one of my fellow-setters (Brock) observed that the middle four letters almost spell FIRE – the theme of my quadrant and the problem that agroforestry helps to solve – so that having that sixth correction initially yield an “I”, to be subsequently changed to an “O” to give AGROFORESTRY, creates a nice link between the problem and the solution.
I also wanted to replicate in the grid the basic process of agroforestry in helping to prevent wildfires, which is that animals eat (and thus remove) the ground-based “fuel” source. After some deliberation I decided to have GOATS eating SCRUB – i.e., the initially-filled grid would include SCRUB as one entry, to be replaced by GOATS in the final grid (if possible, leaving real crossing words). The fact that the letters of GOATS all appear in AGROFORESTRY enabled me to use the preamble to lead solvers to the required replacement word.
The various constraints meant that constructing the grid was both an individual and a collaborative process, but thankfully a suitable grid eventually emerged, including having real words remain after replacing SCRUB with GOATS. The remaining challenge was to write a set of clues that required as little print-space as possible. After considerable effort, the space constraints were met, but my section of the puzzle still ended up as the longest of the four.
As I had various ideas for global-warming related puzzles for each of the four elements, I had left it up to the other setters to choose their element first, leaving me with Earth. As counterpoint to the peat extraction “environmental vandalism” of the main puzzle, I liked the idea of leaving fossil fuels in the ground and installing a heat-pump as a ground-based loop, especially as it could work with related gimmicks as well as inverse actions in real life. Hence the extra letters in clues were unused rather than forming a message, and HE/AT/PU/MP installed as a loop rather than C extracted from the grid, forming real words rather than a “damaged” grid. Most of the draft clues that cross-referenced the original puzzle were stripped out along the way due to space constraints, etc, but it was pleasing that “Peat not specified a lot” made it through unscathed.
It was a challenge to produce a gridlet within the constraints of the internal thematic material and that spanning across to adjacent grids. It was also the toughest challenge of the four to solve, for which indications of the answers that should have spaces left initially was added only after two stages of test solving.
The word ‘brief’ was very much the brief here. A tiny grid, and limited space for a preamble even if there was a meta-preamble to take care of shared features.
Having seen the waters rise in A Dramatic Instruction, I thought it wise to have them fall here. And WATERS, I noticed, was a 6-letter word. Fitted along the bottom of the 6×6 grid, it would be the final position of my receding floods, falling from clued answers, but leaving real words. Multiple redesigns of the grid accompanied various options for the types of wood crossing from one grid to the other, but the basic idea wasn’t affected. There was a single-sentence preamble, so all I then had to do was to curb my inclination to write long clues.
WOOD (A FEW)
What of WOOD? The idea that W/O/O/D could form the central cells with one letter in each of the separate quarters crystallised out of the early discussions between Kcit and Brock after this was broadened to include all four setters. It would have been a constraint too far to have had a whole word-search full of examples of wood, but one crossing from each quadrant to the other seemed feasible. Interaction between all four setters was required, involving our own word searches through various lists and each of the gridlets iterating to accommodate words for wood spanning into adjacent quadrants. There was some discussion on what exactly constituted wood; only within the context of wood as a traditional Chinese element rather than a modern scientific definition, would all of the trees chosen pass muster. Part grids with SYCAMORE, CYPRESS and many other trees were discarded along the way. The closest of these more ambitious grids to producing a solution was based on that shown below, but it just would not quite work out within the constraints of the NW puzzle, even after some tweaking of SW and NE.
We would like to thank the editors for giving us the opportunity to work together on this fun project relating to a serious topic, and the test solvers, bloggers and solvers for feedback at the various stages.
A full review of this puzzle can be seen over on fifteensquared.