When I originally invented Elemental back in July 2007, I gave it somewhat different rules to the current version of the game. The differences are as follows:
The original version lacks the rule that no more than three manipulations can be performed in a row.
Instead, the following rule applies. Whenever you shift a pile to an adjacent empty space, that pile becomes "locked" which means it cannot be shifted again, and the space from which you shifted it also becomes "locked" which means no pile may be shifted into it. In other words, you cannot shift the same pile twice in a row, and you can't shift a pile and then shift another pile into the space the first one came from.
Whenever you discard some cards or create a new spare, the entire tableau becomes unlocked again.
Other moves, such as placing spares on the tableau and transferring top cards within extremities, are not in any way affected by whether piles and spaces are locked or not.
The game is considered to be won when all but four cards have been eliminated. You do not have to eliminate the final four.
The use of counters to keep track of which piles and spaces are locked was recommended. But even with counters, the reason I abandoned this version of the game was because I found it too burdensome to keep track of this information.
If you invent your own variation of Elemental which, in your opinion, improves it, I will probably be happy to publish it here.