Everyone likes a puzzle, but…

Otter in a log.

“You’ll never guess what I found carved inside this log!”

I’ve been known to plot overly complicated puzzles for my roleplaying group. I’ve been known to plot stories with intricate interrelationships between characters and groups of characters. I worry, while writing some stories, that I have put in too many characters, or too many subplots, or hidden clues too subtly for the reader to follow.

But nothing I have every concocted is one-billionth as elaborate or labyrinthine as the puzzles supposedly concocted by various historical figures in order to hide treasures, warn future generations of impending doom, explain to allies how to defeat evil forces, and so forth as chronicled in the typical suspense/thriller/historical mystery: A strange epitaph carved onto an old tombstone leads to a cryptic phrase engraved on the wall of an old building, which points to the hiding place of an old family Bible, which has more cryptic phrases hidden in invisible ink on certain pages, which leads to the map that can only be seen by finding six antique objects and arranging them in a specific formation, which shows the location of a hidden crypt, which is accessed by recognizing an obscure symbol on a brick, which leads to another hidden map, which points the way to another part of the old family Bible where another cryptic clue is hidden in almost random looking dots on the edge of a page, which shows the location of a hidden room under an old church…

It’s insane! When working on stories that I have to set aside for a time until the muse is ready to pick it up again, I have often left myself notes about things I planned to do later in the story, or the meaning a a specific weird comment a character made, and I couldn’t figure out what I meant. And I’m not trying to encode it!

So how, in heaven’s name, are we to believe that when someone is crazy enough to arrange to have secret rooms built, and pay for marble facades into which to carve some cryptic clue which they intend to be difficult to decipher, that someone tens or hundreds of years later could possibly decipher it?

Yes, I know that people really do decipher encrypted messages in real life. But the best deciphering methods work because you have some idea about who sent the message, or who it is for, and the kinds of information it may contain. That’s completely different than the plots of these mystical/historical puzzle shows.

Not that I don’t love a well-done instance of such.

I realize that the reason the writers of thing things let the story get so ludicrously elaborate is precisely because it is for a story. If it’s a movie, they need to keep the audience guessing for a couple of hours. If it’s a novel they need to keep us turning the page for a hundred thousand words or so. If it’s a television series or a series of stories, they have to keep us hooked for even longer.

And while I quite enjoy a few such stories, I must say that honestly, the crazy puzzle isn’t the part that brings me back again and again. If it works, what hooks me are the characters, and the situations the characters find themselves in. The intricate plot that pushes the character from one situation to another is just an excuse to see the characters I enjoy risking their lives or more for things they believe in.

I just sometimes wish I didn’t find myself rolling my eyes and groaning in disbelief at some of those plot devices.

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About fontfolly

I've loved reading for as long as I can remember. I write fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and nonfiction. For more than 20 years I edited and published an anthropomorphic sci-fi/space opera literary fanzine. I attend and work on the staff for several anthropormorphics, anime, and science fiction conventions. I live near Seattle with my wonderful husband, still completely amazed that he puts up with me at all.

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