Puzzle Game Theme Ideas for Creators

Immersive puzzle games are on the rise and creative puzzle makers and story tellers are getting in on the action.  We’ve got subscription boxes, books, at home escape rooms, stand-alone boxes with real items you can touch and feel.  One thing that can get a little stagnant though are the themes.  Anybody that’s played a few of these games will start to realize that murder mysteries dominate the market.  I’m not saying to stop with the murder mysteries, because nothing makes a good story quite like a murder.  However, there are plenty of other themes and ideas that creators can work with.  By their nature, escape-room-based games have a wide variety of themes and so this list doesn’t necessarily apply to them.  Here is my list of themes that consumers would like to see more of. 

TREASURE MAPS

This theme is the most obvious on this list and has been used a few times already.  One thing that could be explored is diverging from the pirate treasure story line.  There is so much treasure throughout history and pirates didn’t have their grimy hands, or hooks, on all of them.  There’s the confederate gold from the US Civil War, Montezuma’s gold hidden from the conquistadors, Pancho Villa’s gold, although he’s kind of a land pirate.  There are treasures like Alexander’s lost library, the city of Atlantis or any other equally exciting lost civilization.  Stories of lost treasure are probably as old as human history itself.  It’s a known fact that language was invented so a caveman could ask another caveman where the shiny rocks are.  You won’t even have to invent your own, I guarantee there’s hundreds of stories that almost nobody else has ever heard of just waiting to be unburied.

HORROR

This theme has also been touched on by a few games but there is so much more to bring to the light.  We are already being swamped with horror inspired by the stories of H.P. Lovecraft.  The horror genre is so vast in content that we shouldn’t be limiting ourselves here.  We may have seen a cabin in the woods movie several times before, but have we ever been the ones locked in a cabin?  If your little sister got possessed by an evil demon, would you be able to unlock the clues and codes to figure out its name to do an exorcism.  If you were an evil devious puzzle maker in real-life, would you stop when you found yourself dead and haunting a castle.  I personally think everything is better with little pinch of horror in it.  I guess murder isn’t horror enough for me though.

CRYPTOZOOLOGY

Whether you believe in him or not, hunting for the big foot is something everyone loves and jokes about.  In the US alone we have the sasquatch, the Mothman, the Jersey Devil, wendigos, skinwalkers, thunderbirds, the goat man, the dog man, living dinosaurs, chupacabras, and rabbits with horns on their freaking heads called Jackalopes.  We have so many shows, movies, and books covering people’s encounters with these creatures and how they escaped.  People go out looking hunting for mythical beasts all the time either trying to debunk them or catch them on camera.  Combine this with a Scooby-Doo type of plot and you’ve got yourself a mystery to solve.

SPIES

Surprisingly this has not been covered nearly as much as you would expect.  You could create a game where the player is a spy trying to complete a mission and get out before time runs out.  You could have the players be spy hunters and uncovering a widespread network of notorious baddies trying to create chaos and mayhem.  Combine this with a historical element and you might create something truly unique.  Some of the best cryptography techniques were invented during wars.  I don’t know if Caesar invented the Caesar cipher, but maybe there was a Roman spy network.  The Revolutionary War was full of spy rings and encrypted messages on both sides.  Don’t get too crazy though, even the best cryptogram enthusiast might balk at trying to solve the Enigma Box from World War II by hand.  Unless someone out there wants to make a replica enigma box for a game. (OMG DO IT!!!!)

CONSPIRACY THEORIES

This one is the most untapped mystery that should happen.  Everyone loves a good conspiracy theory.  Everyone has a good conspiracy theory.  You would think there would be a bunch of games where you get the bottom of what really happened as Roswell and Area 51.  Did NASA really go to the moon or will we be caught in a massive web of lies that goes all the way to the top, the President of the United States.  Is the Bermuda Triangle really a triangle?  The Freemasons, Illuminati, Men in Black, and New World Order are all mysteriously missing from any mystery box I have ever seen.  Maybe there’s something to this and soon you will see my blog mysteriously vanish.

These are just a few mystery ideas that I would like to see come up in the future.  Is there a theme I’ve missed or something you would like to see in a game?  Feel free to comment and let creators know.  And creators, keep doing all the awesome work that we love.  Never leave a mystery uncreative!

-J.C. Mystery Detective

The Shakespeare Codes

Just about everyone has heard about the controversy surrounding the question of who really wrote Shakespeare. Maybe you had a grumpy English teacher that casually passed it off as nonsense. There are literally hundreds of books on the subject and all claim to have found the answer. It was Francis Bacon, Queen Elizabeth, Edward De Vere, Ben Johnson, and the list goes on for nearly forty candidates. Looking into the subject however shows a shocking lack of evidence on both sides. But what are the codes everyone has mentioned and what could they mean? Today I’m focusing on three pieces of evidence that show that someone has placed hidden messages in some of the greatest English writing in history.

One of the most well-known Shakespeare code-breakers is Peter Amundson from Norway. He has found countless codes and ciphers throughout all the works. He was featured on on Timeline’s “Cracking the Shakespeare Code “about all his findings, he’s been on the show “The Curse of Oak Island” with his theories of buried treasure hinted at in the Tempest, and he has his own book. His best discoveries are found in the original folio of Shakespeare’s works, published in 1623, 7 years after Shakespeare’s death. Two of his actor friends assembled over 1000 pages under the three categories of Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies. On page 389 of Tragedies is a clear signature from the Rosicrucian brotherhood. There is the word Rosie surrounded by the word C-R-O-S-S in such a way that it forms a perfect 3-4-5 triangle. Hopefully you remember this from your high school geometry because this is legitimate. The Rosicrucian order thought of this geometry as sacred and also used it frequently in their designs and writings. The angles that are formed from this triangle are roughly 53 and 37 degrees. And wouldn’t you know, there are several other hints of codes on pages 37 and 53 of each of the sections. For example, the word Bacon only appears twice in all of Shakespeare’s works. And those two incidences are on pages 53 of Comedies and page 53 of Histories, despite the fact that the publisher had to skip pages 46 through 49 to make this happen. The reason Bacon is significant is because Sir Francis Bacon is one of the contenders for who really wrote Shakespeare.

Screenshot from the Timeline series “Cracking the Shakespeare Code” discovered by Peter Amundson.

Why leave so many hints though? Luckily for any Stratfordians out there (someone who believes that Shakespeare really did write Shakespeare), adding these little codes and messages into Shakespeare’s plays seven years after his death is little proof of original authorship. It does prove without a doubt that the Rosicrucian order had a heavy hand in modifying the plays. Their motivation for this might have been as simple as giving some of the best works in English history to the public. They were and still are big on enlightenment of the people. Peter Amundson goes a step further and suggests that it is all an elaborate treasure map. His work is compelling and fascinating and you can find out more on Timeline’s Youtube Channel.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tNL0XODSMwU

The next set of codes is from an obscure video I found on Youtube called “Shakespeare, Bacon Enigma (1996)”. It was posted by John Huntly who seems to mostly post little videos from what must be his home-town in England. Most of the videos seem older as if he’s just trying to preserve some history. The Shakespeare video seems to have been filmed for a Mr. Dean and was not a public broadcast. It is filmed in a way that makes it feel secretive and their reputations are on the line for even suggesting these theories. It is hosted by Mr. Richardson a former producer for the BBC and covers a series of codes found in the sonnets written by William Shakespeare and discovered by Thomas Bokenham. The method is a type of cipher common for the era of lining up the words into blocks so that they form a grid pattern. What they find in several sonnets are anagrams that typically form the words Francis, Bacon, Tudor, Author, Prince, etc. They are never exactly perfect but they are almost always symmetrical.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZdqd5El5Y4

It’s not the most impressive evidence, but it is interesting that it keeps popping up with the same similar letters in a grouping. If these codes were truly put there, then I think it proves that Sir Francis Bacon is probably the world’s greatest and most sophisticated graffiti artist ever known. The first publication of the sonnets was in 1609. Interesting because unlike the folio, this was made before William Shakespeare’s death on April 23, 1616. It was after one other’s death, however, who is the topic of our next set of codes.

Shake-speares Sonnets title page.

The absolute best proof of codes are found on the title page and dedication poem of the original publication of William Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Discovered by Alan Greene, the title page of the Sonnets has some oddly placed dots and overall doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. If you literally connect the dots on the page, they create several, perfect right triangles. Furthermore, mathematically they form four points to create a perfect circle on the page. There are a ton of theories about this which you can read up on, but the best one comes from Alexander Waugh. His claim is that these two pages combined with the odd memorial plaque to Shakespeare under his bust in Stratford, the location of Shakespeare’s burial site is given.

Sonnets dedication poem, 1609.

Now a few things before we move on. Shakespeare was literally not dead at this point being 1609 when the Sonnets were published. This means that this theory entirely relies on someone else having been the author. Since the Tempest was written somewhere between 1610 and 1611, there must also be another author if it wasn’t William Shakespeare himself. Somebody had died however and he is the biggest contender to be the author. That person was Edward De Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.

Shakespeare Memorial Plaque in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford

Alexander Waugh starts off by showing that the first line of the memorial plaque, (Pylius with his judgement, Socrates with his genius, and Virgil Maro with his art) was probably referring to Beaumont, Chaucer, and Spenser with historical evidence to back that up. Interestingly, those three are buried next to each other in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey in that same configuration. From there he goes on to show that the dedication poem in the Sonnets pamphlet can be laid out in a grid with 19 columns. He then shows a message that says Edward De Vere Lies Here, South Cross Ile St Peter’s at the Westminster. The fun part is that The Westminster is perfectly shaped like a mini representation of the Westminster Abbey layout. He concludes by showing that the title page can be interpreted as a map of Westminster Abbey with the exact location of Edward De Vere’s grave. Now neither Edward De Vere nor Shakespeare was officially buried at this location, but a statue of Shakespeare was erected in this location in 1740. His work is absolutely incredible and rock solid. All of the anagrams are perfect and he never changes his strict rules for what counts as a code. The chances of him being wrong are astronomical and you must watch the proof in its entirety. The most condensed version is a lecture available on Youtube called “Shakespeare was a fake(…and I can prove it)|Brunel University London”. He also has his own Youtube channel with many more discussions on the subject that expands beyond codes and proof with historical evidence.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XGn6eJkQlig

After seeing all of these put together,the work of Shakespeare is riddled with ciphers and codes without any doubt. It made me think of the crazy people that come out with all kinds of prophecies and hidden messages from the Bible. However, the King James version of the bible was being written in the same time period. So, I will be investigating and can’t wait to see how many times Francis Bacon managed to get his name in the Bible.

I’m not sure what all of these codes in Shakespeare could possibly mean. The Sonnets seem to require heavy scrutiny given the amount of codes that can be found in the them. Although the most solid evidence of code is not in the works of Shakespeare itself, but in the dedications and poems surrounding it. None of these clearly state that Shakespeare himself didn’t write the plays. Just a few Rosicrucian signatures sprinkled throughout. So I think William Shakespeare from Stratford on Avon is still possibly one of the writers. It would be a shame if he really did these great works only to have the Rosicrucians hijack his work because they owned the publishing companies. There is much more to the theories that show evidence or lack-of of both sides of the argument. The answer to whether Shakespeare really wrote Shakespeare is still a hot topic for debate.

Yours Truly,
-R.C. Mystery Detective

Was the Zodiac Killer a Genius?

The Zodiac Killer terrorized the San Francisco Bay area during the 60’s and 70’s. Five murders were attributed to him although he has claimed many more. What really set him apart was his mysterious letters and ciphers that he sent to the local newspapers to taunt the police and the public. The first cipher was cracked by a couple of puzzle enthusiasts while the others remain unsolved. These cryptic messages have forever changed how we perceive the serial killer especially in fictional stories. Serial killers leave clues and codes for the police to follow and only the smartest detective is up to that task. Is it really that hard to make an unbreakable cipher though?

Even if someone has the key to break a cipher, it’s still a rather tedious task especially without a computer. Without knowing the key, it takes a patient person to look for patterns in the letters and words. From there you can solve each letter one by one as you recognize certain words and phrases. The couple that solved the first Zodiac cipher, called the 408 cipher due to there being 408 letters, did just this by correctly assuming that the Zodiac would use “I” in the first sentence and the word “kill”. Even then it took them about 20 hours to completely solve.

Zodiac 408 Cipher Sent to Three Different Newspapers

What they learned is that the Zodiac used a homophonic substitution cipher which suggests that he had at least studied cryptography. Homophonic substitution ciphers use more than one character for one or more letters for the message. The idea behind this is to hide certain patterns and trends in the encrypted message. E, T, A, O, I, and N are the most common letters used in the English language. By using more than one character to represent each of these, it can make frequency analysis useless. For the letter E alone, he had six characters.

It is believed that these messages were not truly meant to be decrypted. After his first message was solved, and relatively quickly, he probably felt that he needed to increase the difficulty of his cipher. Several factors can aid to really increase the difficulty and with minimal effort. His most famous cipher is the short 13 letter cipher that supposedly contains his name. By making the cipher so short and using a different key than previously, a lot of assumptions would have to be made and many mistakes or incorrect guesses have confused things. Did he actually give his name? Did he use his full name or middle name? The number of letters is roughly the average of most English names in the United States which leaves a lot of room for false matches. My name wouldn’t work no matter what I tried. So, rest assured I’m definitely not the Zodiac.

Zodiac Name Cipher

Other factors can make it more and more difficult to solve. Using symbols makes it more challenging especially when you don’t have a name in your head to associate with it. Not using spaces between words or punctuation for sentences really forces you to focus on common patterns in words. Misspellings can really mess with your confidence that what your solving is working. From what we see in the first cipher, all these tactics were employed.

So now we move on to the 340 cipher which was the last cipher sent to the press by the Zodiac. Many people claimed to have solved it but their decrypted messages is usually garbage. Even with powerful software designed to find the smallest patterns in codes and ciphers have failed to pick up any clues. For over fifty years it has gone unsolved, and in my opinion will never be solved. We cannot know if he even played fair in creating a cipher. He could have changed the key every line. He could have used a combination of ciphers on top of one another. He could have used a Vigenere cipher where the key word is also 408 characters long. He could have made a message out of complete gibberish.

Unsolved Zodiac 340 Cipher

One problem with making ciphers and codes is that you can quickly make it too difficult for other people to solve. The issue with this, is typically you want other people to solve it. During war you need to make your codes and cipher difficult enough so that the enemy cannot understand it but follow simple enough rules so that your ally can quickly get the message. So, intelligent and well-planned ciphers that are meant to be solved are where true skill and craft come into play. If you want to make something impossible to solve, all you have to do is make an impossible set of rules that follow no real logic, or make something so short that multiple solutions muddle the result.

To answer the question proposed in the title, I do not believe the Zodiac Killer was a genius. I believe he was egotistical, and it served his purposes to make it seem like he was smarter than the police. He clearly studied cryptography and purposefully used tactics that make it difficult or impossible to solve.

If you want to read more on the Zodiac ciphers, check out http://zodiackillerciphers.com and watch the videos presented by the American Cryptogram Association.

-J.C. Mystery Detective