To new friends and old

Why are there so few rules or instructions? It’s all part of the plan

The fifth puzzle was unlocked over at the Great American History Puzzle website this afternoon!  But if you’re reading this blog…I’m guessing you already knew that.  That’s five down, and six to go.  Almost halfway to the end of the quest.

Thanks for all your blog comments–the compliments are very nice, but even the desperate pleas for hints and the death threats make me feel like we’re doing something right.  The Puzzle Team and I read them all, and we get almost as excited as the player does when someone finally cracks a tricky puzzle.

If I may wax philosophical for a moment: I’ve always been a big fan of puzzles that don’t look like puzzles.  Not the kind where you can immediately pick up a pencil and dive in, but the kind where you need to deduce the rules for yourself–through analysis, through trial and error, maybe even through psychoanalyzing the puzzle’s designer.  Puzzles three and four, which have caused much frustration for many solvers, are of that genre.  In both cases, there is an indisputable answer hiding in plain sight…but, as you’ve discovered, it’s hiding very well.  I’m afraid this lack of rules is by design: both are obviously codes, of a kind, and in life as well as in art, the most successful codes are always the ones that don’t even look like codes.

I enjoy puzzles with clear-cut rules and instructions as well, and the second half of the Great American History Puzzle will feature several puzzles like that (with twists of their own, of course).  But when you see a crossword (hi, Puzzle #5!) you immediately have a clear idea in your head of how to solve it.  This is a treasure hunt, and I think a treasure hunt needs mystery.  A crossword isn’t a mystery; it’s a routine.  A mysterious newspaper fragment presented without context or comment?  Now that’s a mystery.

Enjoy the mystery.  Embrace it.  It’ll make the relief of eventually solving a puzzle so sweet that you’ll almost be able to taste it.

Our little puzzle has been featured in various corners of the Interwebs over the last few days, so I also wanted to welcome those just starting out on the contest.  Since most of you newcomers are probably using the digital copy of the October Smithsonian, let me reiterate something I’ve said in this space before: look closely.  The limitations of pixel resolution make the first puzzle a little harder to solve online than it was in the print edition.  If you think you have the right first password but the website disagrees, you’re probably very close…but not quite there.




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