Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Answer: Finding the connections?

 How is this like that? 


Seems to me that noticing how ideas, people, places, and words all link together is a fundamental to creative thought.  

Last week's Challenge was an example of this kind of connective thinking, one that I hope leads you to learning how to find your own fascinating connections.   

Backstory:  I was walking along a trail that follows the edge of an oceanside bluff in a place that has wind and weather that always comes from the same direction.  In this case, the winds always come out of the west, flows over the bluff, and then blows constantly on the trees and shrubs at the top of the cliff.  As you'd expect, this causes some pretty serious deformations in the way the trees grow.  The tree shown above was especially bent and pruned by the wind, as are most of the trees along this part of the coastline.  

That walk led to today's Search Challenge: 

1. If I want to learn more about such bent and deformed trees, what's the specialized search term that I'd want to use?  (Hint: There is a very specific term to describe such trees--that's what you seek.)  

Where do you start with such a Challenge?  In my case, I suspected that there would be a specialized term about such trees--and as we know, if you have a precise term for something you'd like to find, it makes your search (and your corresponding learning) that much simpler.   

My first search was: 

     [ tree bent over by wind ] 

and after scrubbing through the results (and NOT finding anything useful--just lots of information about how to straighten up bent trees), I tried a more direct route: 

     [ word for tree bent over by wind ] 

and--lo and behold--the first result was exactly what I was looking for.  

Of course, once I learned this, I did a few followup queries to make sure that I understood what krummholz really meant.  As the Wikipedia excerpt suggests, it has a connotation of being a tree at a subarctic or subalpine place.  But as I looked around, it's clear that the term is used more broadly to include all kinds of trees that are bent over, pruned, edited, or otherwise shape-shifted by wind and weather.  

2. What is the name of a musical instrument that sounds a lot like this specialized term?  (Hint: The word for the instrument shares a language of origin and the first 6 letters with the tree-term.  This is one of those "you'll know it when you see it" kinds of Challenges.)  

Now that we know the term krummholz, I did this : 

     [ krummholz musical instrument ] 

I'm not quite sure what I expected, but the spelling suggestion of "krummhorn" is great!  

When you look up krummhorn, it's quickly clear what the connection is: 

A krummhorn (also spelled crumhorn) is a bent wooden instrument.  "Krumm" is the German term for "bent," so it is literally a "bent horn."  Interestingly, from the Wikipedia entry we also learn that this term is still a part of English as heard in the term "crumpet" (a curved cake) and "crumpled" meaning a bent piece of material, as in "he crumpled the piece of paper..."  

"So", my wondering mind thinks, "is the crumhorn made from a bent piece of wood?  If so, how would they drill a curving hole?"  

A quick query solves that question:  

     [ how to make a krummhorn ] 

which leads to a fantastic video of the production of a krummhorn.  Answer:  The wood is initially a straight cylinder, which is drilled through, and then steamed and bent into the final curved shape.  It's worth watching this video to see how the krummhorn comes to be: 

What's remarkable is how quickly the tube is bent from straight to curved--just a few seconds!  

Regular Reader Mathlady had a slightly different approach to the Challenge--her query was [ krummh musical instrument ] which gave her this result: 

Notice that in this case the Google spelling corrector kicked in on the partial word "krummh"--when Google asks (in the red text above) "Did you mean:" that's a spelling correction.  Fortunately, the word krumm is a legitimate German word (meaning "bent"), and all of the results feature "krumm" (as in "krumm horn") the instrument we seek!  

My last query was to YouTube for krummhorn, which led me to this wonderful video showing what a krummhorn is, how it works, and how it sounds in a trio consort of krummhorns.  Worth a watch: 

SearchResearch Lessons 

1.  Pay attention to suggestions and spelling corrections!  When searching, as in horseshoes and hand grenades, close is often good enough.  If you watch the Google spelling corrections and the suggested searches, you can often recognize a better version of what you're searching for--keep a weather eye open to the nearby alternatives!  

2. Once you have an answer, play around a bit and learn some of the surrounding context.  We could have framed this Challenge as simply "what's the bendy tree called?" but then we wouldn't have noticed the connection to these wonderful Medieval instruments (or learned the German word for "curved").  There's no end of fascinating things to learn, and interest-driven learning is the best.  

Stay curious, my friends!  

Search on! 


  1. Hello Dr. Russell.

    Thanks for the Challenge and the Answer.

    While reading you, I thought what the translation is in Spanish?

    Went to Wikipedia in Spanish. It's the same word. However, I found new data.

    In Spanish there is a section called applications. And, the article mentions different uses of bent wood. Maybe not Krummhorn. Yes the Alphorn (traditional instrument from Switzerland.) I'll SRS more about that instrument to get confirmation.

    Then went to English version and read about : A variation of krummholz formation is a flag tree or banner tree.

    1. I just read this about trees.

      In rural lexicon in Haworth, willow trees are called withing. This based on an ancient word. Source: Susie Dent's Word Perfect.

      Also yesterday read :
      Author "...Suggests restricting the German term "Krummholz" to the genetically controlled shrub-like species; the timberline species shaped by climatic influences should be called cripple-trees..."

    2. I read that too--but I think the author is doing a bit of wishful thinking. Articles like that don't determine a word's use--such things are determined by actual usage by people who use the word in their writings. Methinks that "krummholz" has escape from the narrow, technical definition and has begun a life as a broader-brush term.

    3. Than you, Dr. Russell. I just read the abstract. And, I agree with you. People is the one that determine the usage of words. It's like our al rato or ahorita. As examples.

  2. where were you for the photo? (the oceanside bluff)
    bing search, NZ

    1. That's a good guess, but it's on the coastline of Northern California.

    2. I meant where exactly - Sea Ranch?, Gualala, Mendocino County - it just seemed to be a rather picturesque shot
      and yet nothing came up after a fairly extensive image search… with the rentals
      in the background, it would seem to be a fairly photographed spot??
      the dwelling architecture seems like it would be fairy site specific too.

      you could have your own mini-krummholz for the office, when you are not with a real example
      facsimile wildlife not included: ;-]
      lot #0061, for example

    3. seems tranquil – although I didn't have you pegged as a Zen guy… or Gnomist, for that matter
      wonder if it works when the wind is up?

  3. In Newfoundland, these trees are called tuckamore - "evergreen trees that bend low and cling to the coast as they try to escape the strong ocean winds. Over time they become deformed so that they grow almost sideways, and their roots become gnarled as they spread across the barren land. Any unprotected branches wither and die without the rest of the tuckamore (or snow) protecting it. The resulting vegetation is almost impenetrable."

    1. Fascinating. How did you find this? Is it only used in Newfoundland?