The first versions of the widely used groundwater flow model MODFLOW (McDonald and Harbaugh 1988) had a sure but inflexible way of handling unconfined finite-difference aquifer cells where the water table dropped below the bottom of the cell—these "dry cells" were turned inactive for the remainder of the simulation. Problems with this formulation were easily seen, including the potential for inadvertent loss of simulated recharge in the model (Doherty 2001; Painter et al. 2008), and rippling of dry cells through the solution that unacceptably changed the groundwater flow system (Juckem et al. 2006). Moreover, solving problems of the natural world often required the ability to reactivate dry cells when the water table rose above the cell bottom. This seemingly simple desire resulted in a two-decade attempt to include the simulation flexibility while avoiding numerical instability.