Skip to main content
Public Access

Solution to Pretty Good Chemistry


by Kevin Wald
Art by Joe Cabrera
Tech by Mike Seplowitz

The puzzle opens with an empty periodic table (lanthanides and actinides omitted) in which, at the positions of 21 elements, are what appear to be structural formulas. As indicated at seven other element positions, in these structural formulas nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, sulfur, and cobalt are shown, but carbons are shown as unlabeled vertices, and hydrogens are omitted entirely. (Note that this is similar to the conventions for skeletal formulas, but those only omit hydrogens attached to carbons.) The formulas also contain B’s, which appear to be borons, but (as the flavortext hints) these are places where the formulas can “form a connection” (two B’s are superimposed and deleted, leaving an empty vertex). Combining the formulas in sets of two or three, without rotations, we can obtain forms of all the B vitamins (whose enumerations are given in the flavortext — the “vital, and pretty good” there also hints at B vitamins). This diagram contains the assembled B vitamins, with the B’s shown.

Each of the 21 cryptic clues must have one of those 21 elements inserted before solving. Their solutions (which are in alphabetical order) are as follows:

59 minutes after the hour that’s 84.58 degrees too cold to melt gallium if the ring expands (* **) 1 OF 1° F with the ° expanded
Help when eating chromium or biting (*****) ACRID A(CR)ID
Alto at the Ptolemy Cluster getting indium to produce chord consisting of la, do, mi, and sol notes (*****, abbr.) AMIN7 A + M(IN)7
Speak of money one pays to be released after an unfortunate encounter with a copper bundle (****) BALE BAIL homophone
Bismuth spinning or writing implement (****) BIRO BI + reversed OR
Calcium tag depicts old Irish sport (****) CAID CA + ID
Tin holds one son of Adam (****) CAIN CA(I)N
Chlorine irritated vain know-it-all on Cheers (******) CLAVIN CL + VAIN anagram
Caledonian ignoring the symbol on a Krypton native’s chest or bed (***) COT SCOT - S
Longueuil company dealing with haptics and dubnium with beef (*-***) D-BOX DB + OX
Eat iodine without cowgirl? (****) DINE IODINE - IO
Note where people in a gold rush work with the third horseman (******) FAMINE FA + MINE
Baked loaf resembling what the Lone Ranger’s Silver once was (****) [Start the big 21-part circle here.] FOAL LOAF anagram
Mac & I ground up a mineral that’s called phlogopite if it contains enough magnesium (****) MICA MAC + I anagram
Singer Simone’s semi-nice sodium (****) NINA NICE + NA
UK entertainments from the son of Penelopeia and the Greek counterpart of Mercury upset sot (******) PANTOS PAN + reversed SOT
Author of Heidi, Secret Agent left iridium (*****) SPYRI SPY + reversed IR
Asian part of the iron horse’s track is mentioned (****) THAI TIE homophone
Band in which Keith Emerson played (at that time) “What Xenon Forms Below 161.4 K” (*** ****) THE NICE THEN + ICE
Nick and Nora’s dog flees astatine prong (****) TINE ASTATINE - ASTA
Nickname (with “the”) for a newspaper from the state whose official mineral has reduced fluorine distribution, in part (****) TRIB hidden in disTRIBution

If one letter or number is omitted from each of these answers, they can be assembled into the names of the B vitamins, and the number of parts is always the same as the number of parts in the structural formula for the B vitamin; we can thus match up each answer with a structural formula part (reading the structural formulas left to right, as stated) with the place in the periodic table that part appears in:

B Vitamin Assembled answers Assembled formulas, left to right (by place in periodic table)
Thiamine THAI + FAMINE Magnesium + Fluorine
Riboflavin TRIB + 1 OF + CLAVIN Xenon + Indium + Krypton
Niacin NINA + CAIN Iron + Gold
Pantothenic Acid PANTOS + THE NICE + ACRID Iridium + Bismuth + Copper
Pyridoxine SPYRI + D-BOX + DINE Sodium + Gallium + Tin
Biotin BIRO + TINE Calcium + Iodine
Folic Acid FOAL + MICA + CAID Chlorine + Astatine + Dubnium
Cobalamin COT + BAIL + AMIN7 Chromium + Mercury + Silver

Using the two elements associated with each answer (the one in its clue, and the one for its corresponding formula part), we can form a giant loop. This gives us an ordering, starting (as stated) at FOAL:

Answer Element from clue Element for formula part Extra letter or number
THE NICEXenonBismuthE
1 OFGalliumIndium1

The extra letters and numbers spell out ACTRESS NAMED AFTER A B-17, which clues the answer SWOOSIE KURTZ (who was named after “The Swoose,” a B-17D Flying Fortress bomber her father flew in WWII).