Maze: Solve the World’s Most Challenging Puzzle

Maze: Solve the World’s Most Challenging Puzzle by Christopher Manson is an illustrated puzzle book where the pages of the book represent different rooms in a maze.  When it was published by in 1985, there was a reward offered to the first person to solve the riddles of the maze.  The reward was $10,000 and despite many enthusiastic attempts the riddle was never fully solved.  The reward was eventually split between ten puzzle solvers who came close or had partially solved answers.  There are still people trying to break through any lingering mysteries in this enigmatic book.

Maze is a simple enough concept where each of the pages is a room in this imaginary world.  Each room is unique and offers one to several paths that you can take.  If you see a door with a number above it, you may enter that door by turning to the corresponding page.  There are many twists and turns and loops.  You cannot always go back the way came and you might find yourself stuck occasionally with nowhere else to go.  If you’re not careful, you’ll be abandoned in an abyss with no light and no way out.    

The story is narrated by your guide, a mysterious figure who only refers to himself as Cerberus, the guardian dog of the underworld.  He is guiding a group of individuals who are impatient with his riddles and hints and only want to be told how to solve the maze rather than accepting the challenge.  In each room the guide comments on the objects, animals or people in the room, the reaction of his guests, and cryptic hints about who he might be and what this place is.  You get the idea that he might be the devil guiding lost souls through a type of limbo allowing them to make the decisions that will lead to their ultimate outcome.  There are a number of ancient Greek, biblical, and literary references in the story and the imagery.

Woodblock illustration from Maze: Solve the World’s Most Challenging Puzzle by Christopher Manson.

The illustrations are gorgeous woodblock prints that the author created himself.  They remind me of the “I Spy” type of games where you search for various objects in a cluttered room.  Although there is no direction for what might be important and what is there to add to the confusion.  Even the cover page has a doorway with a red herring above it as if to tease you immediately.  The images are mysterious and foreboding.  I have the feeling that this is not a place that you would like to end up as there are odd characters and dangerous landscapes to traverse.  It is reminiscent of Dante’s Inferno as he travels through hell, although not nearly as dark.

There are three main goals that you must accomplish in order the defeat the maze.  The first is to find the quickest route to the center of the maze and then back out.  The second task is to find the riddle hidden in room 45 or the center of the maze.  The last task is to solve the riddle contained along the shortest path.  The is also a lesson to be learned for those willing to listen.  Personally, I only focused on getting through the shortest path.  I tried to make an elaborate map to help me but even that was a bit daunting.  There is a trick to the shortest path though and it’s not as clear as I would have liked.  Putting together the riddles from the images seemed impossible to me and I barely attempted it before cheating. 

Maze was wildly successful when it was released and has been an inspiration for many other projects.  Myst was the top selling video game from its release in 1993 until it was surpassed by The Sims in 2002.  The creators of Myst claimed that most of their inspiration came from The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne.  Christopher Manson also claimed this to be his inspiration for Maze.  Myst is very similar as you go from room to room and try to pick out clues and hidden messages to help you along the path.  There was clearly a major influence involved even if it was only a natural evolution in puzzle game history.  There is also claims that House of Leaves was influenced by Maze, however I believe that was more influenced by Theseus and King Minos’ labyrinth of Greek mythology.  Maze was originally going to be called Labyrinth, however, Jim Henson’s movie by the same name was released a few months before and the name was changed. 

Maze retails for $12.99 and I believe is the quintessential puzzle book for all puzzle lovers out there.  It has amazing art that will have you flipping through the book from time to time to discover new secrets that you missed before.  Given enough time and assuming you don’t have a photographic memory, you can easily replay this from time to time.  Christopher Manson has another puzzle book called The Practical Alchemist: Showing the Way an Ordinary House-Cat May Be Transformed into True Gold, by Means of Divers Methods and Practices, Heer Mo.  I just had to write the whole title because it demonstrates his humor.  The last two words make me think there might be an anagram in the title itself but I haven’t checked it yet.  So when you feel the need to get lost in an amazing book, pick up Maze and solve the world’s most challenging puzzle.  Never leave a maze unsolved!

-J.C. Mystery Detective

Journal 29 vs. Trip 1907

A couple years ago, Journal 29 launched into the world and blew everyone away with a unique interactive experience.  Journal 29 was an innovative and entirely unique puzzle book that incorporates the use of a smart phone and the internet.  Traditionally with puzzle books, you would have all the answers published in the back of the book.  Unfortunately, this meant that you had one chance to guess the puzzle since peeking to check if you were correct meant you see the answer.  With Journal 29 you input the answer into the chapter’s website and if you’re wrong, you are denied access to the next chapter and must guess again.  Journal 29 has since released a sequel to the book and has inspired several other puzzle books that follow roughly the same format.  The first of these was Trip 1907 which was another great addition to the puzzle book world.  So let’s break down some similarities and differences between these two interactive puzzle books.

The major similarities between the two books is how the game is played.  Both are linear and each puzzle must be solved before you can move on to the next page.  The puzzles can be described as enigma puzzles where you digest any information, pictures, and hints that you see in the book or online.  The challenge is to figure out exactly what the puzzle is asking for.  Sometimes they are very vague and only seem to have a picture.  Sometimes you’ll have to think outside the book or use the internet to look up additional information.  Once you think you know the answer you can type it into the website and will immediately inform you that you got it wrong or it will advance you to the next page. Also, if there’s a puzzle that requires cutting, you can flip to the back of the book where they provide a few duplicates so that you don’t have to destroy your book. 

Journal 29

Things I loved: The theme for Journal 29 revolves around an archeological team at a dig site that seem to have uncovered something out of this world.  The theme is really for visual purposes as a story is nearly non-existent for this book.  This book was the first of its kind so trying it for the first time is an awesome experience.  The book was really challenging with 63 puzzles that are all completely different from any other puzzle in the book.  I had to force myself to finish a puzzle or two a night in order to get through the whole thing.  Overall, I estimate it took me 10 hours to solve all chapters.  I think it sat on my end table for a good month or two as I would pick it up occasionally when I felt like digging into a puzzle. The puzzles also require that you write down the answer or key for each chapter as you might get asked to combine previous keys to unlock a puzzle.  This might be a clever way to prevent people from cheating although I don’t know why you would ever want to cheat yourself out of solving a puzzle you paid for. 

Things that could use improvement:  Being the first of its kind means that there will be some growing pains involved.  One thing that all these games struggle with is an effective way to give you hints.  For Journal 29 they rely on a forum on their website.  You just go to the discussion for the specific chapter and read previous questions and hints.  This works okay but it’s hard to control the information you see.  They delete any solutions given in the forum, but you can’t control how much of a hint you’re going to get.  The puzzles are challenging most of the time you can’t figure out exactly what they are asking for.  Most enigma puzzles should have a riddle or something hidden in plain site that makes you slap your head because it was so obvious.  Journal 29 lacks this for many of the puzzles and it can leave you frustrated as you keep guessing what they are asking for. 

Trip 1907

Things I loved:  The theme for Trip 1907 is a man’s voyage on a ship with a heavy influence from H.P. Lovecraft horror.  There’s actually a story for this book as you read through the man’s journal entries as he is also solving the puzzles.  Utilizing the common theme of H.P. Lovecraft and sanity, they came up with a clever hint system.  You start your trip with 100 sanity points and each chapter has two hints.  The first hint costs 4 sanity points and the second costs 6.  Don’t worry though, solving a puzzle let’s you gain back 2 points so there’s a chance of getting through this game without going completely insane.  There doesn’t seem to be any consequence though for going all the way to 0 if you really need those hints. 

Things that could use improvement:  The one glaring thing is that this book 100% relies on the internet.  That’s true of Journal 29 as well, but in Journal 29 most of the puzzle is in the book use the internet to input the answers.  In Trip 1907, almost none of the story is in the book and you need to view the page on the website for additional information to solve the puzzle.  This means that it’s kind of a waste of space on your bookshelf if the website ever shuts down.  I thought they could have at least had the story in the book although this left room for all the interesting drawings.  Some of the pages have photocopies of credit card receipt information.  They used this for background filler to make the pages look cool but it takes away from the experience a little bit.  Even though the hint system was clever, the first hint is almost always obvious.  It was lame to waste 4 points for them to just show obvious hints. 

Both these books are solid entries into the puzzle book world and have started a revolution in changing the way puzzle books are played.  They both retail for around $15 which makes them very economical for the amount of puzzles and solve times. If you’re a fan of puzzle books, you should definitely pick up one of these.  I personally recommend you start with the one that began it all and dig into Journal 29.  Once you see what everyone has been raving about then you can continue with any of the other entries.  Each book has a soft finish cover and is filled with beautiful and horrifying illustrations that are intriguing.  They would also make excellent coffee table books for your guests to wonder at and judge you for your weird tastes.  Never leave a puzzle book unsolved!

-J.C. Mystery Detective

Omniverse Book 1 – Prologue Interview

Before, there was either puzzle books or games or novels.  Now in a dystopian future we can have all three in a new project that is live on Kickstarter.  The Omniverse Book 1 – Prologue was created by Leona Rose and is a brilliant new concept.  Like the TARDIS from Doctor Who, this novel is much bigger on the inside than it is the outside.  Leona was gracious enough to answer a few questions I had.

J.C.-Hello and thank you for taking the time today to answer some questions. Are you the creator or one of the creators for Omniverse Book 1 – Prologue and did you create it by yourself or with a team? 

Leona- Hi there. I’m Leona, creator of what is to be The Omniverse Saga. It’s a solo project for which I am writing the story and designing the games. If funding on the current Kickstarter campaign goes well I’ll be teaming up with an illustrator for additional art, but it’s a solo project for the moment.

J.C.- Will the story be like a choose your own adventure type of book with multiple endings or is there one clear ending once complete? Will the decisions you make or the pages you’ve visited affect the story in any way? 

Leona- It’s not a choose-your-own-adventure as you know it. It’s a unique new format and the adventure depends on where you start. That’s what’s really unique about Omniverse! The implications of that are that if you start locked in one level you will need to defeat a boss in a different way to if you started in a different level, and to break out of a room you will need to solve different puzzles and acquire different objects than if you were trying to break in to that same room. It works like a Tangram. Each page reveals a bit of story or puzzle or both, and depending on which way you assemble them you get a different image, or in this case a different outlook on the game that’s being played. Just like in real life, there are a thousand different ways to experience the information you get on your life journey, and what you do with it shapes your view of the world.

J.C- I’m imagining something like an old style role playing game (RPG) or maybe a single player Dungeons and Dragons in a new format. I’m especially excited about the concept of facing off against bosses in a book. How would you describe the type of gameplay? 

Leona- So, I’ll level up with you here. I have never played Dungeons and Dragons in my life! I know – shock horror and I’m sure I’m missing out terribly. I’d liken Omniverse more to an open-world game like GTA or Myst for example. It works just like that – only your surroundings are described to you by the narrator, as a DM would in DnD. You play the role of the protagonist – moving about taking actions, etc, but part of the game is working out your character’s credentials – your role. I definitely didn’t want to design a game with random dice rolling mechanic for defeating bosses. It just doesn’t work for me. You’d just be sat throwing your dice until the right number rolled up! So defeating bosses may require you procure some obscure object with which to arm yourself, or then again it might not – you’ll find out when you come across one. That said there is definitely room in the adventure for other dice mechanics as you’ll find out.

J.C.- The open idea of the gameplay and story of being able to pick it up at any point is intriguing and I’m eager to see how it plays out. Something I can keep on my bed stand and jump into when I feel like diving into the Omniverse. Will there be some sort of guide provided to those who might feel a little lost when starting? 

Leona- Oh yeah of course. It’s really simple to play. I like a rules-light game myself so I’ve designed something I’d wanna play. The main rules are simple. You can move, and you can pick up and use stuff. That’s all. And it’s perfect for dipping in and out of, between commutes, when you’ve got 5 minutes to spare, and it has the world’s simplest save game mechanism…The humble bookmark.
So, to move forward just go to the page indicated at the top. Or, turn to face left or right by going to the pages indicated on the left and right. But you must only ever move to a page that is linked to your current page.  As you move you’ll pick up objects by simply writing them down in your inventory. Each object has a 4-digit number which allows you to use, combine or break things apart. You just need to add or subtract their object numbers. You see. Super simple.

J.C.- The puzzles I’m seeing look similar to the style of Journal 29 or Trip 1907. Of course The Omniverse is on a totally different level being much larger and with a non-linear storyline. How would you describe the types of puzzles that we might see in the book? Will they be critical to continuing the story or direct you to certain pages when complete? 

Leona- That’s exactly right. People like things to be a little familiar. So I’m adding on a new gaming experience.  In the game you move about left, right, forward, back – and as you move you come across puzzles that are fully built into the ambience of the narrative. Puzzles can be standalone or meta-puzzles and there’s not necessarily a given order in which they must be complete so that’s cool. Each of the puzzles plays a role and helps you complete a task or mission which the story may suggest to you. You basically have to find your way through a giant maze solving puzzles and completing missions. Each mission allows you to unlock different pages and chapters of your journey. These are the different levels of the game… Like in GTA, or when you’re in an escape room. In Omniverse you’ve got 8 levels to get through so it’s might take a while! There’s a whole range of puzzles in Omniverse. Ranging from real easy to not real easy at all. I’ve been very careful to have lots of variety in there. Some word, some math, some logic, some observation. I particularly like the one-word word search which you can see in the preview pages. Fiendishly simple. And here’s a hint. You’ll use the object you find to complete a gruesome task and unlock a new chapter. To be honest, I feel that the narrative is a huge bonus in Omniverse. When playing Journal 29 for example, I felt like I was just doing a compilation of random puzzles, which I found a little frustrating.  Whereas in Omniverse the puzzles actually mean something. You’ve strategized. You’ve made a found objects, made a makeshift contraption and know how you’re going to use it. I’ve really worked hard on contextualizing each puzzle and each action that your character takes. For me Omniverse is interactive fiction with a heavy bias on puzzles.

J.C.- This project looks pretty ambitious although you mentioned in your updates on Kickstarter that it’s nearly complete. How long did it take to make such an epic book? 

Leona- That’s why the writing hasn’t been the longest or the hardest part. It’s been designing the core principles and mechanics of the game, then compiling the puzzles and integrating them into the ambience. That’s what’s really taken up the time! I’ve working full-time on Omniverse for the last few months and it’s going to be finished shortly after funding ends. 

J.C.- What would you say was your inspiration for starting this project? What made you decide to make such a unique game? What keeps you motivated? 

Leona- I’m a problem-solver and inventor at heart and I’ve always loved a point and click adventure, an escape room and anything else like that. I spent hours and hours playing classic games like Monkey island, Leisure Suit Larry, Dreamweb…from the 90s on my Amiga 500 (which I expanded to 1MB!!), and as I feel that getting away from a screen and doing something 100% offline is good for the soul I came up with this.  I’m also a bit of a loner and I shy away from social media. So when I launched my Kickstarter campaign with no idea of how to use the platform and a Twitter account of 0 followers, I was more than a little in above my head!  I’ve been really overwhelmed to see that complete strangers are starting to get behind my project. And there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing the pledges roll in. So I’m super-motivated about getting more of my projects out there and in the hands of people that can appreciate them.  I’m only just learning that I should be braver and unleash more of my ideas and projects on the big wide world. I have a whole load of other games and stuff that I’m going to be launching in the near future, so keep an eye out for them too. I can’t wait!

On that note, I’d really appreciated if you guys could go check out Omniverse on Twitter @_Omniverse and like the Facebook page! I can’t do this without you. Thanks.

J.C.- Thank you so much for your time. I am now way more excited about Omniverse if that’s possible and I’m excitingly waiting to see the finished product!  Please take a look at the Kickstarter page and help give the world the Omniverse!

Omniverse Book 1 – Prologue live on Kickstarter!