There are several puzzle books out there and it’s difficult to decide which ones are worth your time. There’s the successful puzzle book series like Journal 29, but they can be challenging at times and not the best for beginners. I’ve seen a few lately that are designed to be more like an escape room where the book is more like a choose your own adventure rather than sequentially reading through the book. I took a chance on an independently published book called Escape from the Room: The Curse of Old Maid Milly. The game ended up being very entertaining and a lot closer to an escape room experience than I anticipated a book could get.
The story begins with a professor of the paranormal that has come to investigate a haunting. As he enters the room of Old Maid Milly, the door behind him locks and he now must escape the using the puzzles and clues left before him. The first page is a map of the room with page numbers labeled in various directions. For example, the bookcase is labeled with Page 4. The remaining single-digit pages are all various items and directions that you can look at in the room from the start. Like walking into a physical escape room for the first time, you’ll want to take in everything you see for future reference. If you see a page number on the image you may go to the page to get a better look. As you solve puzzles, they will direct you to the next page.
The game implements a satchel where you can collect items you find while rummaging through the room. You can’t pick up just anything however and the game is clear when you should put something in your bag. Occasionally a puzzle will require you to use one of the objects. They should be fairly common sense, such as using a wrench when you find a bolt for example. A couple times it was a little bit of a stretch, but you don’t have a lot of items in your bag so it’s not hard to eliminate a few options. I like this mechanism and I think it was used well. However, I was lazy and didn’t want to write anything down. I was able to remember most of the items that I could use at my disposal but sometimes I had to flip through the book to find the item. Of course, it would have been much easier if I just wrote it down. Thinking back, I could have easily used notepad on my phone since you’ll need your phone for hints anyway.
The puzzles come a wide variety but are mostly logic or enigma type puzzles. A majority of them are fairly easy but are still original and entertaining. I still got stuck on a few which is inevitable as everyone thinks differently and some puzzles will always be more challenging to some than others. I would say that this book would be great for that budding puzzle solver whether they be new to the genre or a young teenager. Even though the puzzles are easier than some other books, it will be enjoyable to an experienced puzzle solver as well. Sometimes I get annoyed with the puzzle books that force me to stare at a single puzzle for a day or a week. This book allowed me to casually solve a few puzzles after work without having to wrinkle my brain too hard. My brain is already melted after a long day, so I find the easier puzzles to still be engaging and relaxing.
If you get stuck and need a hint, this book utilizes a web page to aide you. Like flipping to the back of the book on older puzzle books, all the hints are listed on one page. There are two hints to each puzzle. The hints are numbered to their corresponding pages in list format. Because you must flip back and forth through the book, the chances of accidentally reading the hint for the very next puzzle or slim. However, I did accidentally read a hint or two that luckily I forgot by the time I found that puzzle. The first hint directs you where to focus and the second hint nearly spells out how to solve the puzzle for you. Finally, there is a solution list if you find yourself completely stuck. I never had to look at the solutions but a couple of times I did peak at hint 2.
The book has an interesting key to convert the answer to the puzzle into a two-digit page number. It allows the puzzle to be letters, words, cardinal directions (N, S, E, W), or basic directions (up, down, left, right). This makes the puzzles more diversified rather than always looking for a two-digit number. It’s always fun in a real escape room to have a directional lock so I loved that it was incorporated into this game as well.
Despite the picture on the cover this game is very family friendly. There is a ghost in the room with you, but the story is never scary. The main character is a professor at the London Institute of Paranormal Activity and he is investigating a supposed haunting at the late Old Maid Milly’s home. She was a cat lady and has several cat paraphernalia strewn about her room. The pictures are roughly sketched like what you might see in a children’s book. They are not amazing pieces of art but get the job done and add to the whimsical flair of the story. The story of Old Maid Milly is sad like most ghost stories, but you will reach a happy conclusion as you help her ghost move on.
The directions in the game are very clear. The author went to great lengths to make sure you understood what the puzzle was asking and where to focus your attention. There is a lot of story to the book as the professor explains his thoughts or remembers funny previous haunts that he studied. If the story is not relevant to solving the puzzle it will be in plain font. When something is relevant to the puzzle, it is darker font or bold. The puzzles and rooms are only on the right-hand side of the pages. The left-hand side has additional information you can use such as the hint website, other pages you need to solve the puzzle, a close-up view of the puzzle, and the key to convert the solution into numbers. This makes the book great for beginners (and me).
Overall this book surprised me with its carefully constructed puzzle formats and entertaining story. The beginning of the book explains that this game was based off a real escape room that the author created at their business in London. The author Nathen Newark has a clear talent for creating puzzles and obviously loves escapes rooms. The way that he was able to translate the experience into a book format is amazing. He also put a lot of care into making the game accessible to people with a range of different experiences which has its own challenges. A lot of books out there push to make harder and harder puzzles which isn’t too difficult when they just lack any explanation for how to solve them. The real talent is making a challenging puzzle that explains exactly what they are looking for. I think this game balances that better than most even if it is a little on the easy side. There is second book to the series as well called Escape from the Room: Murder in the Village that promises to be just as fun as this book. Never leave a book unescaped!
-J.C. Mystery Detective