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Solutions for Act III Scene 3 - Transmutation

This puzzle seems to be asking the solver to find a way to convert one word to another. The title "Transmutation" heavily hints at this conversion rule being inspired by alchemy or chemical transformation, and with enough experimentation and working examples one can come to confirm this connection.

"Transmutation" usually describes the changing of one chemical element into another, so one logical approach might be to try changing chemical symbols embedded in these words into other chemical symbols. Another safe assumption is that the resulting string of letters should form another common word, leading to the conclusion that this puzzle's mechanic is a twist on word ladders, where instead of changing a letter to another letter per step, we are exchanging chemical symbols. These assumptions are quickly supported by the fact all words in this puzzle do indeed have chemical symbols embedded within them - a property not necessarily trivial to satisfy (as evidenced by for example the word "lead", which cannot be transmuted into anything because no one- or two-letter substring is a chemical symbol).

Putting this idea into action, one can see the first line "choose ↔ click" can be explained by the chain
"chooSe ↔ choOK ↔ cHoCk ↔ cLick". This chain turns out to be both the shortest possible, and unique for its length, and in fact all pairs of words have a unique, three-transmutation length chain connecting them. These chains are:

choosechookchockclick
codcredsiredspared
likesliliesbeliesbelief
sealssexessixessixth
seatingsearingsnaringsnarling
seeingbeingkingknag
    
clawcawcafelife
cribcrierosierover
crudercrudsfeudsfeudal
heartshearshexeshexene
sheercheercarercarb
smoreworewherewhey
snowwowwooswoody
stokestovestarvestartle
    
brutesflutesfluxesfixes
catocooagoagog
freesbeesbeefclef
iranirateagateagree
parkirkaukaura
sarisarinsteinsteam
snarerrearerreferrecur
    
centrecentspantspacts
deceiverdeceivesdeprivesdeprival
heathpathpapaspa
traytheypreyprep
    
bosonboonnoonnoun
cornbarnbargebinge
    
aloesalliespliesplates
baldybalkbaskflask
birthsbirosprospram
moiminimintsminty
    
cravedsavedsacredsnored
decadsdecayderbydauby
raptradscadscadre
retainingretailingrevilingrevising
scubacubacurbherb
waitwaftcraftcruft
wiltingwilingtailingtabling

Since these words in general don't seem particularly useful for message extraction, it seems one might have better luck focussing on the elements featured in each transmutation. In particular, it seems the elements appearing in each middle transmutation (the second of each line's three) feature much overlap within each stanza. This is especially evident in the fourth stanza, whose middle transmutations are respectively Ce↔Pa, Ce↔Pr, Th↔Pa, and Th↔Pr. Isolating the middle transmutations in each line gives:

LineMiddle transmutation
choose↔clickO↔C
cod↔sparedC↔Si
likes↔beliefLi↔Be
seals↔sixthSe↔Si
seating↔snarlingSe↔Sn
seeing↔knagBe↔K
  
claw↔lifeW↔Fe
crib↔overCr↔Os
cruder↔feudalCr↔Fe
hearts↔hexeneAr↔Xe
sheer↔carbHe↔Ar
smore↔wheyO↔He
snow↔woodyW↔Os
stoke↔startleO↔Ar
  
brutes↔fixesTe↔Xe
cato↔agogCo↔Ag
frees↔clefS↔F
iran↔agreeIr↔Ag
park↔auraIr↔Au
sari↔steamAr↔Te
snarer↔recurAr↔F
  
centre↔pactsCe↔Pa
deceiver↔deprivalCe↔Pr
heath↔spaTh↔Pa
tray↔prepTh↔Pr
  
boson↔nounB↔N
corn↔bingeN↔Ge
  
aloes↔platesAl↔P
baldy↔flaskAl↔As
births↔pramP↔Bi
moi↔mintyI↔Ts
  
craved↔snoredV↔Cr
decads↔daubyCa↔Rb
rapt↔cadreRa↔Ca
retaining↔revisingTa↔V
scuba↔herbRb↔Ba
wait↔cruftCr↔W
wilting↔tablingW↔Ta

The fact that within stanzas, many of these elements overlap and are also nearby on the periodic table strongly suggests drawing lines between these elements. Doing so gives the following images:

These look like the numbers 75, 89, 22, 8, 7, 91, 90. Mapping these numbers to their corresponding elements' chemical symbols gives Re Ac Ti O N Pa Th, or reaction path, a chemistry term also loosely describing the sort of paths traced and travelled via transmutation.


Design notes:
With the central conceit of this puzzle being a twist on the common word ladders game, it proved a bit tricky putting together a puzzle that didn't look like or step too much on the toes of another word ladder puzzle that featured in the same year's mezzacotta Competition. Taking more than one transformation per chain and using colours to distinguish groups were both ideas later replaced once the mezzacotta puzzle appeared.

While focussing on only the middle transmutation from each line required a bit of a leap in logic, hopefully the examples with heavier overlap helped emphasise this step. The alternative was to give pairs of words with only one transmutation between them, which seemed far less interesting and to be squandering a fun puzzle mechanic. Including three sets of arrows between each pair of words was considered, but they felt out of place without question marks or blanks between them, and this drew unwanted attention to the linking words instead of the element transmutations themselves.

The official recognition of the four newly-named elements nihonium, moscovium, tennessine, and oganesson in November 2016 proved very useful in creating nicer examples for some of the lines in this puzzle, in particular the inclusion of tennessine's Ts.

The answer is: reactionpath