Puzzle Box


Myst was the first game that ever forced me to cheat.

In the past, I’d used Invisiclues to get some nudges in the right direction while playing Zork or Leather Goddesses of Phobos, but I’d never straight-up cheated at a game before I got to that damn tree in Myst. I stared at it for hours but never did figure out why it was making those noises. Utterly stuck, ashamed of my weakness, I looked up the answer on the internet. Once I found the answer – that you had to time your progression from the shed to the tree perfectly or else you would miss your chance to board the elevator – I felt completely absolved of any guilt. Nobody, I felt with unshakeable certainty, would possibly come up with that answer all by themselves.

I was wrong about that. Plenty of people figured out the tree puzzle with barely a blink, but found themselves stymied by the tune you needed to play in order to power up the space ship, something that took me mere moments to complete. And that was when I realized what great equalizers videogame puzzles can be.

Not everyone is going to have the twitchiness necessary to become masters of first person shooters or shmups, not everyone is going to have the strategic mindset required for a good RTS, and not everyone is going to have the staying power to hit the level cap in an MMO. But everyone can be good at puzzles. No matter what kind of puzzle you’re looking at, be it shoving crates into just the right pattern or sliding tiles to unlock a door, as many people will find it impossible as will find it insultingly simple.

Puzzles are the one game mechanic that don’t favor a particular demographic. Whether you’ve been playing games your entire life or have never touched them at all, whether you have half a dozen Masters’ degrees in your desk or are still in grade school, there’s a puzzle out there that’s tailor-made for the way you think.

Which is why everyone loves puzzles. You might not realize it, but if you’ve ever gotten satisfaction out of perfectly packing your suitcase or finding a shortcut to work, then you enjoy a good puzzle. Puzzles are more than crosswords and jigsaws, they’re anything that requires a little creative thinking and reasoning – be that mastering a coffee maker whose instructions are only in Cantonese, or navigating a couch around that landing on the stairs. Puzzles are everywhere, if you just know where to look.

This week’s issue, Puzzle Box, examines the many ways – both good and bad – that puzzles have been integrated into videogames. Blaine Kyllo takes a look at the latest iteration of PopCap’s puzzle behemoth, Bejeweled, Jonas Kyratzes wishes more games offered obstacles instead of puzzles, Katie Williams explains why she prefers a trip through hell to a door-guarding puzzle, and Jason Tocci lets us tag along with him as he tries to master MIT’s annual Mystery Hunt.

Share and enjoy,

Susan Arendt

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