Madmen and Heroes Review

Madmen and Heroes is a subscription box company that offers two different kinds of experiences.  The Resystance is a historical themed box that teaches you about specific historical events.  The Craaaft is a supernatural themed box that teaches you about paranormal beliefs from around the world.  Each box starts with an explanation about the content and what you must do to complete the game.  There are a series of clues and puzzles that you must solve in order to complete your quest. 

I enjoyed the themes from this company.  I was able to try two Resystance boxes, the Underground Railroad and Women’s Suffrage.  I also tried one of the Craaaft boxes which was Preta Problem, a Buddhist themed box.  I genuinely learned some historical facts and lore.  There’s no better way to learn than from a fun game or story.  Unfortunately, I think the theming is about the only good virtue about the boxes. 

There is a limited story with each box.  It usually only consists of a rough idea of what’s going on historically or what your goals are.  The Preta Problem for example had nearly two pages of writing explaining what Pretas are and how you need to find each one in the temple to help them.  The information was repeated a lot and could be edited down to less than a page with clearer writing.  The Resystance makes it seem like there’s a time travel meta story going on, but they never really build on that.  The premise is similar to that of Escape the Crate, but that company builds on the meta story every box.  So far, the Resystance is just visiting places.  I have no idea what we are resisting or what’s going on. 

The puzzles are usually a mess. A good puzzle is one that provides you all the information you need but still provides a challenge.  Most of the puzzles in this box do not explain what they want you to do.  It sort of explains what you are looking for and then there’s random clues sprinkled throughout.  There’s just no clear direction for what to look for.  The hint page on the website is pretty good though.  They provide roughly 3 hints, a ‘how to solve’, and the solution for each puzzle.  Without looking at this page though, you might not even realize something is a clue.  The answers compilate to a single password which completes the story with an epilogue.  Getting this password can be tricky figuring out if there are spaces or capitalized letters or the order to put them in.  For me, I just didn’t find the puzzles to be enjoyable. 

The quality of the images and prints are really low.  Most of it looks like they downloaded from a small internet image and had it blown up a few sizes.  Most of the images are grainy and pixelated.  The puzzle elements are usually just tacked on like a clipart.  They are made on good quality paper too which is a striking contrast.  I’m not sure why they spend time printing poor images on quality paper. 

Each box comes with a few trinkets.  The Resystance boxes come with random things that seem useless in the game and in life.  This is typical though for these types of games and this one doesn’t stand out as being the worst offender.  The Craaaft actually has some really fun goodies.  For the Preta Problem I got a long strand of Buddhist prayer flags and a necklace of prayer beads.  They didn’t play into the game at all, but it went with the theme and I like them.   

Each box is $30 a month.  For that price, they do not come close to the quality and content that other companies provide.  At most I would consider these boxes to have a $20 value.  It’s not like they are in a big rush either considering they have a 12-month rotation for their boxes.  This means every June they send out the same June box as the previous year.  They have plenty of time to clean up their content and offer a finished product.

I really wanted to like these boxes because of the themes.  It was a great concept that was never completed.  Maybe I will give them another shot in the future if they fix their quality and revamp each box with a story and better images.  I think hiring a graphic designer would be a good move.  Never leave a mystery unsolved!

-J.C. Mystery Detective

Puzzle Books by R.W. Galland

Lots of new puzzle books are coming out that use new and innovative ways to enhance the puzzle solving experience.  Many are using smart phones or websites.  What can you do when you head out to go camping or loose that precious wifi signal though?  For that reason, sometimes it’s better to go old school.  You won’t need to look for the USB connection for the puzzle books by R.W. Galland.  You will need to power up that brain though.

So far I have worked my way through ‘Puzzles in Wonderland’, ‘The Knights of the Round Table Puzzle Quest’, and ‘The Leonardo Da Vinci Puzzle Codex’.  Each book works the same way.  Almost 200 pages of puzzles and all of the answers are in the back.  Sweet and simple.  Each book is split into three sections.  The easy puzzles, the medium puzzles, and the hard puzzles.  Each section is roughly the same length.  The puzzles in these books tend to require explanations so you won’t spoil it for yourself by flipping to the back and accidentally looking at the next problem’s solution.

The puzzles range from beginner level to pretty complex.  The books favor riddles and word problems which make up roughly eighty percent of the puzzles.  In each book there are no repeats, but from book to book I noticed several of the riddles were duplicates.  The word problems are heavily math based so be wary if you failed math or if numbers make your head spin.  The remaining puzzles are actually pretty different between the different books.  The Alice book has image puzzles where you need to find the differences between two mirrored images.  These are difficult but a fun and classic image puzzle.  The Leonardo book had a ridiculously easy puzzle where you have to match missing blocks to some of Da Vinci’s paintings.  Almost as easy as learning not to put the square block in the round hole.  The King Arthur book had a maze type puzzle where you had to collect all the water and leaf symbols while following rules.  It also had a battle type of puzzle that I still don’t really understand that was heavily math based. 

The puzzles are perfectly melded with the narrative that takes place.  For ‘Puzzles in Wonderland’ we follow Alice through her whimsical adventures in Wonderland.  For ‘The Knight’s of the Round Table Puzzle Quest’ we follow the King Arthur myths from childhood to death.  For ‘The Leonardo Da Vinci Puzzle Codex’ we follow one of Leonardo’s apprentices and are presented the puzzles as Leonardo would to his students.  I learned a lot from the King Arthur and Leonardo Da Vinci books.  These books tell the stories through a series of riddles and puzzles.

The art in each book is taken from its original source material.  Some of the art has been modified to turn it into a puzzle.  This was mostly used in ‘Puzzles in Wonderland’ and ‘Leonardo Da Vinci’s Puzzle Codex’.  If you love Da Vinci’s artwork, many of his sketches were used to make the puzzles.  His paintings were chopped up though to make the lame matching puzzle, so don’t expect to get a good print of the Mona Lisa.  The original artwork from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is colored and enhanced in this book.  The puzzles simply mirror the artwork and make small changes which keeps the original looking good.  I’m not completely sure where the artwork from the King Arthur book is from.  I would guess several sources from artwork, books and stories over the centuries. 

My personal favorite was the ‘Puzzles in Wonderland’ book.  As you may know, Lewis Carroll was the author of ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’.  He was also a mathematician and huge nerd of puzzles, just like us!  He actually published countless puzzles in magazines, books, and leaflets.  This book features several puzzles that he created or that he loved.  Even the writing matches the fun poetic and riddling speech that Lewis Carroll uses in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  It’s basically the perfect theme for a puzzle book and collects several Lewis Carroll originals.

So if you’re looking for a way to cut down on that blue light before you go bed, picking up these puzzle books is a great way to do it.  They are beautifully illustrated and have a great range of puzzles.  You could simply read through the books and check on the answers for some relaxing entertainment. You can also challenge yourself and try to solve the puzzles on your own.  Start with the theme that intrigues you the most and go from there.  The latest two books remaining from the series that I haven’t tried is ‘The Nikola Tesla Puzzle Collection’ and ‘Pride and Prejudice and Puzzles’.  I’ll definitely be finishing my collection in the future and picking those up.  Never leave a puzzle unsolved!

J.C. Mystery Detective

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