Mysterious Package Company

With the trends of Ebay and dark web mystery boxes swarming the internet, I think it’s best to pay for something that you know won’t rip you off and still give you that creepy or cryptic box you’re looking for.  If you’re aching for that mystery box, I don’t think you can go wrong with the Mysterious Package Company.  This is arguably the company that got me interested in packaged mysteries in the first place.  I couldn’t always afford them, but I always kept them in the back of my mind for someday.  When I first discovered them, I filled out the membership form and they asked for my blood type.  Why would they need my blood type?  Could they be vampires or some crazy cult?  What am I getting myself into?  There was also little to no information on the internet.  No spoilers or pictures of what could possibly be in the package.  Nowadays you can unfortunately, from people that broke their pledges.  Shame, shame.  It was bound to happen eventually though so I will review the two boxes I’ve received so far with only light spoilers.  If you want spoiler-free, you’ll have to just go buy a box without looking up anything about it. 

The Weeping Book came in a box that contained a wooden crate.  It would be awesome if they could just send the wooden crate but I’m sure that would get destroyed by the post office.  Your first decision is how the heck do I open this thing.  I have a small hammer and quickly got to work removing the four nails keeping the secrets held inside.  I like the crate, but it is made from a cheap composite wood so getting the lid off without cracking it is a challenge.  Worst case you could always glue it back together if you want to keep it.  Once inside, there was an old looking book wedged into the smaller box.  It was all very mysterious as promised and I dove into the contents as fast as I could.

Now the original premise behind these boxes is that you could send them to an unsuspected friend or family member.  Hopefully someone that won’t just throw it away or call the police when receiving scary looking packages.  Every experience is different and can include one to four separate mailings and packages.  The last package is always a brilliantly crafted item that ties the story together and acts as the climax and keepsake for the experience.  They would then receive a reveal letter explaining that it was all fake and everything was sent to you by *insert name here*.  Everyone laughs and hopefully no police were called.  The experiences range anywhere from $100 to $350, so if you had a friend willing to put up that amount of cash for you, you must have generous friends.  I’m still cheap so the two experiences I’ve tried so far were the $100 each.

The entire story for the Weeping Book is contained within the book as a journal.  The journal is well -written and seems like it could have been written by a young boy.  He accounts his recent move to England and everything starts going down hill from there.  The book feels old and looks as though it’s been crammed into this crate for a while.  The journal looks hand-written although it is missing the indentations that you might see in a real journal.  There are creepy images and cryptic letters sparsely sketched throughout.  There is also a witch medallion tied to the front of the book and its silhouette has been burned into the front of the cover.  The medallion itself is a light, cheap metal with a symbol and cryptic letters etched into it.  The story took me roughly one hour to read through and ended with vaguely typical to most horror stories.

Mysterious Package Company – Buried Puppet

The Buried Puppet came in a nearly identical crate with the same issue of opening the lid without cracking the wood.  Inside was some magazine pages to protect the contents which came from a horror movie review magazine.  This is one of the best product placements I’ve ever seen.  Also contained within were a composition notebook, a library card, and the broken pieces to an inhaler.  Of course, giving me a big happy smile was the buried puppet himself, Mr. Bellylaugh.

The puppet itself walks the line between being creepy and cute.  I won’t show any pictures because I think not knowing is half the fun.  He is a high-quality puppet made with nice sturdy material.  His clothing is a weaved cotton, face made of felt, and hair made of yarn.  They did an amazing job of making Mr. Bellylaugh look a bit aged and without actually making it dirty.  I would have immediately been turned away from it if it had dirt or stains all over it.  I knew I had to put my hand in the puppet, but the idea gave me anxiety as though spikes might clamp down around my wrist.  I guess I would be cool with having to chop my hand in case it got possessed to become Ash from the Evil Dead series.  My only complaint of Mr. Bellylaugh is that his mouth was made a little too stiff and so moving it is difficult with one hand.  I’ve had him for a couple of weeks now and so far nothing crazy has happened in my house.  Although I could have sworn I put him on the fireplace mantle and now he’s looking at me from the kitchen counter.  Nah, I probably moved him and forgot. 

The story is written in a composition journal and again looks hand-written.  This story is also about a young boy, but it is written by the character as a young adult.  For this reason, I thought the story was much better than Weeping Book.  As a confession, the writer was able to present the story in a more entertaining way rather than a slow blow-by-blow journal.  The writer is also witty if not a little crazy.  There are also sketches throughout this book that are simple but so animated.  They look like the initial sketches to a comic book before its ready for ink and coloring.  There are additional articles to read on a website for the library where the story takes place.  This was also executed perfectly and brought the story off the pages and into the real world.  Once again there was roughly one hour of content in the story.

Each box contains a single puzzle which is a cipher.  The cipher for the Weeping Book is obvious although difficult to figure out.  I’ve seen that type before, but it has an extra layer to it that will really wrinkle your brain trying to figure it out.  Be warned though because I searched for a hint and accidentally spoiled it for myself.  Once you figure it out, there’s no turning back.  The cipher for the Buried Puppet was much easier but a little better hidden than the Weeping Book.  I didn’t even notice it the first time going through the journal, although after knowing what to look for I found it with ease. 

Because these boxes are designed to be realistic and not look remotely like a game, it can be difficult to know when you’ve discovered everything.  I still have no clue if there might be an additional secret or two in each box.  There is nothing telling you the solutions beyond asking for help from others on the internet.  If the internet hasn’t found it though, there’s nothing else to show you the solutions.  I believe there is nothing beyond the initial story and solving the cipher, but I could be wrong.

If you’re a fan of horror and mysteries, this company is something you will want to check out.  They’ve had trouble with their quality control the last year or so, but I believe they are working hard to turn that around and put out good stories.  They can be expensive, but if you have the funds I think it’s worth the money.  If you’re a generous friend or family member, I am super curious about what someone’s reaction would be if they had no clue about this company.  I would love to hear all about it, especially if something funny happens.  They’ve also recently updated their website to include spoilers and non-spoiler descriptions of boxes before you pull the trigger on your purchase.  Some of us just can’t buy something so expensive without knowing that we will get our value.  If you receive a mysterious package at the door, OPEN IT!  I’m sorry if it turns out to be something not from the Mysterious Package Company though.  Never leave a mysterious package unopened!

-J.C. Mystery Detective

Sleuth Kings Review

It was the end of a painfully long day when the light bulb flickered at my desk.  I wasn’t sure if it needed to be changed or if the electricity bill was past due.  Business wasn’t going well and if it continued like this any longer, I might have to pack up my business.  A knock at the opaque glass door where my name was painted startled me.  That’s when she walked in.  She was beautiful despite her red puffy eyes.  “Excuse me.  Are you the private investigator?” she asked.  End scene.  Whatever happened to the old detective stories?  Or a private investigator set in the classic noir style with lots of fedoras?  Well the practice is still alive and well with Sullivan King and the monthly subscription box Sleuth Kings.

Once a month you will receive a case file to help Sullivan King solve a mystery.  Usually a murder mystery but the stories vary.  Each file consists of roughly three pages of story and four clues that are in the form of puzzles.  Once you solve the mystery the story is concluded in a separate envelope titled Epilogue.  What really makes this box pop though is that you get to talk with Sullivan King himself during the investigation via email.  Sullivan and you will work through the clues together until the mystery is solved and the day is saved.  Except for whoever was murdered in the first place. 

The email works by sending a message to Sullivan on the web page for that month’s mystery.  It’s all automated, but I like to write Sullivan messages as though I were really on the case with him.  I usually start with, “Hey Sully, what have you got for me on this case?”.  Once you send the initial message, all you have to do is reply to the emails without changing the email title so the computer knows where you are in the story.  If you need to talk about clue 1, you simply include “clue 1” in the body of the email and Sullivan will comment and help you out with that clue.  Once you have the solution, include “solution” in the body of the email and Sullivan will let you know what he found out.  The system works really well as long as you follow the directions on how to communicate.  The directions are told to you several times so you can’t miss them. 

The puzzles for the box range in style, puzzle type, and complexity.  The box starts with the four clues, but as you progress you will usually run into two or more puzzles that Sullivan will send you or that you’ll find by going to a website.  Some of the puzzles I understood right away and some of them I don’t think I would have ever solved.  There was one in the last box that I asked for all the hints and finally the solution and I still have no idea how they came to that conclusion.  It’s difficult to make brand new puzzles every month and sometimes I don’t think their puzzles work out as smoothly as they should.  For the most part though, the puzzles are always original and clever.  They are themed with the story and usually make sense with the story, in the sense that if everyone involved in a crime always wrote down encrypted clues to help you solve it. 

Inevitably with every puzzle box or book, you’re going to get stuck.  If you do all you need to do is email Sullivan King and he can help you out.  For each puzzle you will receive one hint and the solution.  The hint will explain to you roughly how you might solve the puzzle.  Usually the hint will make the solution obvious and you’ll just have to do the leg work to complete it.  Once you ask for the solution, Sullivan will solve it for you and discuss what to look at next.  If you want a lighter hint, the last of the printed pages is Sullivan’s initial take on each clue.  You can skip this page if you’re a pro and want to solve everything on your own.  This system is smooth until you get into the final puzzles that aren’t one of the initial clues.  A couple times I had to go through the motions of asking Sullivan to solve several puzzles that I already completed just so he can catch up to me and ask if I need a hint on the new puzzle. 

The stories are fairly simple making this more of a puzzle box.  You will hardly ever have to solve the mystery with deduction as the clues you gather will spell out “who dun it” for the most part.  There is an ongoing back story where Sullivan is looking for his missing father.  After you conclude the case, Sullivan continues to email you with updates on his search with additional puzzles and websites that continue the story.  You can even catch up to the story at any time without having to buy all the previous boxes. 

Similar boxes will sometimes include little trinkets or objects that are related to the story.  It’s rare in this box but they will include the occasional item if it’s needed to solve a puzzle.  I recently found a treasure and was rewarded with a tiny plastic treasure box and a penny, so that was exciting.  This box is more focused on the puzzles however and will take you around 2-3 hours to solve everything.  The trinkets in other boxes are highly over-rated and the Sleuth Kings give your money’s worth in good content. 

If you love puzzles and playing detective, this is the box for you.  Although the story doesn’t involve much deduction except when solving the puzzles, you’ll still get your monthly detective fix.  The unique email system makes this box a must try for me.  It seems like it could be a simple script but it adds so much excitement, especially as you’re waiting to see what Sullivan King found with your results.  They recently started a Rookie Detective subscription that is cheaper and should only take an hour to solve.  Or you can jump into Master Detective which has taken me 2-3 hours to solve.  You can even send them your address to get a free post card puzzle.  Good luck though because I have never solved that thing.  With that said, never leave a postcard puzzle unsolved!  Allright, I’ll give it another shot.

-J.C. Mystery Detective

S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst

Imagine if you were rummaging through a library and discovered an old book.  This book seemed rather plane at first, but inside were not only the text of the story but also a hand-written discussion between two people trying to solve a mystery.  Stuffed between the pages were several items that only added to enigma. This is exactly what you will get with the book titled S. or Ship of Theseus by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst.

So let’s be honest.  Doug Dorst probably did a vast majority of the work.  But it was an idea that J.J. Abrams had and Doug Dorst helped him turn into a reality.  S. is really the overall experience as the book is titled Ship of Theseus by V.M. Straka.  This copy of the book in English was translated by F.X. Caldeira who we will find out knew the mysterious V.M. Straka.  Two readers communicate and discuss the mysteries of the story by writing to each other in the margins of the book.  The book is filled with various documents, postcards, maps, and a compass decoder ring.  There is a lot more to the story than what appears on the surface.

The Ship of Theseus, or the text story of the book, is unfortunately weak.  The idea behind this book would have been much better executed if the story was worth reading.  We follow a man who has lost his identity.  He ends up on a ship where everyone’s mouth has been sewn shut and the destinations of the ports seem to transcend time.  He frequently meets up with freedom fighters against their country’s tyrannical leader or corporate leader or something.  He becomes an assassin and starts blindly carrying out missions as he tries to discover his purpose in life.  The two characters in the margins lead us to believe that this is all metaphorical representation of what the author, V.M. Straka, was going through as it mirrors his mysterious life.  Even the translator notes the parallels between them.  I struggled through this book thinking it will all be worth it with a satisfying ending.  It was a difficult read and it just abruptly ends with no real resolution.  I never actually watch it, but I imagine it was something like the Sopranos. 

Almost nothing is known about V.M. Straka, the author of The Ship of Theseus.  There are several theories about who he or she may have been.  Straka has written 18 books prior to the Ship of Theseus which would be the last.  Straka either died or retired after this book was released even though it was originally unfinished and missing the 10th chapter.  Straka’s books are so provocative that they have “toppled governments” and “shamed ruthless industrialists”.  Straka was probably a spy or a freedom fighter, but his enemies thought of him as a terrorist.  This book has so much character and so much to build from that it was a real shame to me that it didn’t play out like it could have. 

The theme surrounds the idea of identity.  The ship of Theseus is an ancient philosophical question.  If Theseus had a ship and eventually had to replace a wood plank, followed by a sail, then some rope, then an anchor.  Over time more and more of the ship will be replaced with a new item.  At what point is the ship no longer the original ship?  If a single board or nail remains from the original, is it still the ship of Theseus?  What if nothing remains from the original?  What if you took all the original parts that were removed and assembled them to create another ship?  Which ship is the true ship of Theseus or do they both have that identity now?  I think this was a great concept to build the experience of S. from.  The characters from the main story as well as our vandal friends both struggle with identity as the story progresses.  The philosophy of the ship of Theseus is also brought up in stories like Star Trek.  If Scottie beams you to another location, but the atoms used to create the new you were not physically you before, are you still the original?  Technically the cells in your body are replaced slowly anyway and so there will be several times in your life where nothing that made you physically will be the same as before.  Every seven years supposedly.  Just let all this sink in and have an existential crisis. 

The inserts and the overall aesthetic of the book is fantastic.  The book itself feels aged and well-used.  There is a map made on a napkin and a newspaper on the crisp “newspaper paper”.  The ink from the two characters in the margins looks real but isn’t indented like a pen writing would be.  Even if the story fell short a little for me, I will still keep it forever just for the beauty of it.  Nobody would see this thing and not be immediately intrigued to pick it up and bury themselves in it.   

It appears as though the translator, F.X. Caldeira, has been writing codes into the footnotes of each chapter.  There are 10 chapters and each chapter ends in a footnote.  Each chapter has a different way of encoded the secret message but there are definitely secrets to be found.  They appear to be the translator’s way of secretly communicated to the author V.M. Straka.  This was the main reason I wanted to read this book.  The idea of a “normal” book that contained secrets and codes sounded awesome.  My only gripe with this is that the two characters writing in the margins have solved just about all of them or at least tell you how to solve them.  They aren’t speaking directly to you, just trying to solve the mystery themselves.   I know there is a lot more secrets to this book such as what to do with the compass encoder.  The rest of it seems like a crazy amount of work to solve though.  I’m sure someone has solved some if not all the books mysteries on the internet somewhere.  However, the difficulty level is somewhere in the realm of finding the secret messages in the Shakespeare plays.  It’s definitely there, but how much work are you willing to put in to solve it?

The conversations between the characters that are handwriting in the book are vaguely interesting.  Most of the guides to reading this book will tell you to skip these the first time you read the book.  I think this is good advice if you want to be reading this book for a month or two.  I read it all at once and it was a bit of a nightmare.  First of all, it doesn’t really make sense for two people to communicate this way.  How would they know when the other has written something in the book?  Plus, they go back and forth hundreds of times.  They would have literally been in the same library staring at each other as they both took turns writing in it.  That aside, it’s not always in chronological order and it gets really confusing.  My biggest problem is that I’m not sure there was a resolution to their story in the book.  I have no idea if they solved their issues or solved the mystery of V.K. Straka like they were aiming for.  Maybe that’s where I’m supposed to come in and solve the book, but like I said it would take months or more. 

J.J. Abrams is the master of mystery.  He has a way to start a story that is bursting with intrigue and secrets.  His problem is that he is more of an idea person.  Lost was amazing for the first few seasons, but then it dragged and dragged, and nobody seemed to know how to end it.  The Cloverfield series got people hooked with the viral marketing every single time, just to get an okay movie every single time.  He made or sponsored a mystery box that I’m glad I didn’t get.  The idea was amazing where you had to solve a puzzle to get into a wooden box that contained an exclusive deck of cards.  But the puzzle was just an anagram and the exclusive cards were boring at best.  He has amazing ideas, but he really needs someone else to write his endings.  For this book, that writer was not Doug Dorst. 

Ultimately, I think this was an attempt to make something as mysterious and addictive as House of Leaves.  It looks beautiful and if you’re into this sort of book it’s worth picking it up for sure.  Just don’t expect to be moved by a fantastic story or groundbreaking codes as it slightly failed for me in that regard.  It’s mediocre as both a book and a puzzle.  I think if the ending to the story was better then I would have liked it a lot more.  I understand the story and that the last chapter was probably written by the translator, but it was just underwhelming.  Never leave a book mystery unsolved!

-J.C. Mystery Detective