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I am for sure confounded, just spent at least an hour trying to solve, after having gotten all the rules (I think...).  Am I missing something obvious or is it a lot of trial and error?  I swear I'm not obsessed with solving this lol (I am)

It's a challenging puzzle, especially at the start! There's a path through it without using trial and error, but it's very disguised at times, and my threshold for what counts as trial and error might be higher than yours. There are several intended steps where you're expected to find that a move will result in a contradiction after one or two more forced steps, but it shouldn't require any deeper lookahead than that.