Word Ladders

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    First conceived by the Reverend Charles Dodgson, better known as the writer Lewis Carroll, a word ladder consists of the product of applying a simple rule to two words that each contain the same number of letters: change one word into the other by changing only one letter at a time to produce a legitimate word in the language in which you play the game. Here I want to suggest a slight modification of the rules to make the game more challenging and rewarding.

    Given two words, create a word ladder in the standard way, then use each word only once in a sentence. Then assemble the sentences in the same order in which the words appear in the word ladder, devising the sentences in such a way that when assembled in accordance with that rule they tell a story. Here are three examples:

I: Put the bird on the nest;

    We have: bird, bind, find, fend, rend, rent, rest, nest.

    The bird was frantic. It was in a terrible bind, because it did not have a comfortable shelter. It had to find a well-protected place and then gather up twigs, straw, and leaves. It wove those components together into a bowl strong enough to fend off the wind. By putting the twigs, straw, and leaves together in a complex weave it ensured that the wind would not rend its new home. Suddenly a thunderbolt rent the heavens. At last the little featherball could rest. As the rain came down this tiny heir of the mighty dinosaurs sat down on its new nest.

II: Turn lead into gold;

    We have: lead, read, road, load, loan, lean, mean, moan, moon, mood, mold, gold.

    In a world where magic really works an alchemist had a block of lead. He consulted the notes he had acquired from a friend and read of a process he wanted to try. He knew that following the procedure would be like traveling a long road, but he chose to do it anyway. First he had to load his kiln with wood for the fire he would need. Then he went to a neighboring alchemist to see about arranging a loan of some equipment and chemicals that he needed. He eliminated all unnecessary steps and tried to make the process as lean as possible in order to save on ingredients and labor. But he didn't want to eliminate too much, because that might mean failure for his experiment. Still there was so much work that he had to do without resting that he let out a little moan of dismay. The sun went down, the moon came up, and he worked far into the night. As he fed the kiln and stirred the mix of chemicals, the alchemist felt a mood of subdued excitement. At last he could remove the mold from the kiln and crack it to free its contents. And when he brushed away the fragments and dust he found a big nugget of gold.

III: Send a ship to the moon;

    We have: ship, shop, shot, slot, slow, blow, blot, boot, moot, moon.

    They wanted to send a ship into space. To achieve that end, they built a rocket-propelled craft in a high-technology shop, using the most advanced materials available. At the launch hard, super-hot flame shot from the rocket engines and lifted the craft into the sky. Under the guidance of sophisticated instruments the rocket inserted itself into a narrow slot in the sky. The engines had given the craft a tremendous speed, because the engineers knew that as it rose away from Earth gravity would make it slow down. Several times the crew had to make their small rocket engines blow fire in order to execute midcourse corrections to their trajectory. For several hours their trajectory passed through Earth's shadow, making the planet seem to blot out the sun. Then the crew had to prepare for landing, which meant that they had to boot up their computers with appropriate programs. They landed safely and rendered all criticisms of their plans moot. Then they put on their helmets and, protected by their spacesuits, they stepped out onto the surface of the moon.


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