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Solutions for Act II Scene 1 - Last Resort

The obvious first step to this puzzle is to identify the words being clued. Luckily, in almost all cases the words should be uniquely described:

• FLORIST
• ACHILLES
• BINARY
• NORWAY
• BUBBLY
• YACHT
• ANCHOR
• HACEKS

It is to be expected that there is some sort of connection or common theme between these words, and at this point the solver might spot this either by looking at the words alone or by looking over the clues again for hints. The clues come across as slightly awkwardly worded, and with enough staring one might notice that the words comprising each clue are almost given in alphabetical order. In fact, only one word in each clue is not in its correct place alphabetically, as emphasised below:

• a calendar containing gifts, only used around Yuletide
• a person selling sunflowers, daisies, tulips...
• an ancient Greek hero - Iliad's initial line mentions this demigod
• a number system that uses zeroes/ones
• a country now partly forming Scandinavia, situated west
• champagne (informally), or fairly perky/spirited
• a boat stereotypically for luxury or pleasure sailing
• a dropped heavy object ensuring ships stay still
• carons - the Czech diacritical marks resembling wedges when written

Altogether the initial letters of these misplaced words spell out ADD OFFSET, a message presumably meant to be applied to the list of words being described.

If not already clear, it should now stand out that the nine described words also follow this "almost alphabetical" property, where the letters in a word occur in alphabetical order except for one. In ADVENT, for example, the letter V is misplaced, since an alphabetised (or "re-sorted", to tie into the puzzle title) ADVENT would look like ADENTV.

Unfortunately, taking the misplaced letter from each word does not make anything recognisable. It would seem instead we need to use the remaining piece of unused information - the ADD OFFSET message. The V in ADVENT has been moved three places left of where it should've been in the fully- alphabetised ADENTV. If we wanted to "add" this "offset" somehow, one logical interpretation is to imagine the letter three spaces to the left of V in the alphabet - namely, S. For those more inclined to think in numbers, you might imagine the V in ADVENT has been "offset by -3", and so you'd like to subtract three from V's alphanumeric value 22, to give 19, the number corresponding with S.

This information is summarised below:

WordMisplaced letterOffsetLetter plus offset
FLORISTI+3L
ACHILLESE+4I
BINARYA+3D
NORWAYA+4E
BUBBLYU-3R
YACHTY-4U
ANCHORN-2L
HACEKSH-3E

The new letters spell out the answer slide rule, which somewhat describes what rule we've applied to these misplaced letters to extract an answer. Slide rules are also used for careful calculation, a pursuit vaguely similar to careful alphabetisation - though as an outdated calculation tool, using one nowadays would likely only be as a last resort.

Design notes:
The ADD OFFSET message likely introduced a few problems for some solvers as it did some of our testers. OFFSET could unfortunately be interpreted in several different ways: as applying to either the letters in the word or the misplaced words in the clues, as signed or unsigned, and if signed, as applied to the sorted or unsorted words. There are likely even more interpretations of this phrase, but probably less supported by the puzzle constraints.

Letters near the ends of the alphabet like the Y in YACHT were used to help rule out some incorrect interpretations (it is less likely to have to add 4 to Y's position than subtract from it). It was also hoped that the clues seemed already constrained enough and that the clued words seemed more specific and important to the puzzle, dissuading trying to use the clues' words' offsets. There was a much grander plan for this puzzle to have a far longer message that more carefully spelled out the ADD OFFSET rule, but slim pickings for usable words and limited time meant the puzzle never got to be extended.