The Practical Alchemist, like Mr. Manson’s other puzzle books, introduces a new genre of puzzle. Unlike The Rails I Tote, the 45 individual puzzles of The Practical Alchemist are all connected as part of a single overall puzzle. While not entirely an immersive puzzle experience, The Practical Alchemist is immensely challenging and a ton of fun.
From the Introduction:
“The challenge to you, as a literary Alchemist, is to successfully forge a chain of forty-five transformations from the beginning of the book to the end. There are any number of word chains illustrated in the book that lead from CAT in step one to GOLD on the last page, but there is only one chain that lets you turn your CAT to GOLD without repeating a word.”
“The words are transformed by means of the simple Operations listed below:
ANAGRAM: The letters in the word are rearranged (CAT to ACT, for instance).
ADD ONE: A letter is added to the word (ACT to FACT).
CHANGE ONE: A letter in the word is changed for another (FACT to FACE).
DROP ONE: A letter is subtracted from the word (FACE to ACE).”
Every page offers numerous options for word transformation, many of these options are furthered on the next page often leading the reader further astray. The result is a conceptual maze of word choices which one of these days I would love to map (see Maze Theory for more on conceptual mazes).
The only criticism I have of The Practical Alchemist is the inclusion of the answers in the back. This turns the book from a challenging puzzle to a afternoon lark for all but the most steadfast. Who, upon thinking they have part of a solution, doesn’t want to check and make sure? And every time the reader checks the solution page, the overall challenge and enjoyment of the book is lessened. I solved this problem in my copy by cutting it out. Not knowing if one is correct regarding the whole path but forging ahead regardless is the greatest pleasure of this masterful puzzle.
- Images and quoted text copyright 1988 by Christopher Manson
The Practical Alchemist is out of print but used copies can be purchased here: