Where are the elegant puzzles?

Elegant image

TL;DR – What Audrey said

What generation are we up to with escape games now? Fourth? Fifth? Nth? The answer is of course “shut up”. But regardless of meaningless taxonomies, I feel like escape room puzzles, and in particular their answers, should be ‘better’, more elegant.

I’m not talking about use of technology here; padlocks vs. electronics vs. stage-craft is another issue entirely. I’m talking about puzzles that you work through and then get that little mental (and sometimes physical) smile when you arrive at the answer and say “ha, of course it is”; rather than the sense of bemusement that goes with “try DEMON?” And those smiles happen all the time in other puzzly things like Puzzled Pint, DASH, and various other puzzle hunts. Let me give you an example:

In November 2017’s Puzzled Pint, The Television Room puzzle asks you “how to prevent problems in the future?” The puzzle is all about TV and films, that go wrong when you interfere with them. So to avoid those problems you should just ‘stick to cable’, which is the answer. Brilliant. It’s logical. It’s thematic. And it’s even more clever/constrained as it also has to work with the subsequent metapuzzle.

Some owners are probably thinking now “but we’re constrained by the letters on the wheels!”. If you are, please stop reading as you’re a lost cause (next you’ll be lamenting that having a timer in the room “would cost about £100!”). Others are probably thinking that they do this, because their room is pirate-themed and they have answers like ‘jolly’ and ‘sails’. But this is the equivalent of having a rope on the wall and calling it décor. The elegance comes from tying everything together (with or without a rug). The theme fits the room, the puzzle fits the theme, the answer fits the puzzle. Answers vaguely tied to rooms are taking shortcuts. That’s ugly not elegant.

There’s no competition between escape rooms and other puzzle-hobbies. In fact they all play nicely together, encouraging one to try the other for the most part. But I think the more ‘traditional’ puzzle designers would be entitled to look down their nose at people who think ‘291’ or ‘CXJY’ is an appropriate destination for an intellectual journey. It’s one part of escape room design that needs to evolve.

Maybe then I’ll get the chance to say ‘eleganswers’ .

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