From Stanley’s love of crosswords on The Office to the clever conundrums constantly conjured by the Riddler in various iterations of Batman, puzzles have played roles both big and small in numerous TV shows and films.
This time around, we’re delving into the rich history of another famous TV puzzler, tinkerer, and all-around problem solver, Angus MacGyver.
Oh yes, make no mistake; while plenty of bullets were flying and criminal enterprises unraveling over the course of the show, MacGyver remained a puzzle solver through and through, displaying at least once an episode an almost-magical ability to solve brain teasers, mechanical puzzles, and other challenges.
True, the average puzzle-solving experience doesn’t usually include building an airplane out of bamboo or making a cannon from a garbage can and discarded cleansers, but a lot of the same skills apply, like abstract thinking and an affinity for combining contextual clues with a storehouse of personal knowledge and trivia.
At heart, I think we can all agree that when he wasn’t globetrotting, battling shadowy conspiracies, debunking UFOs, or encountering yet another ex-girlfriend in peril, MacGyver was probably doing the Sunday New York Times Crossword and solving Rubik’s Cubes with his feet.
And so, with that in mind, let’s take a look at a season-six episode of MacGyver titled “Eye of Osiris.”
In this Raiders of the Lost Ark homage/ripoff, MacGyver is recruited to help out at an archaeological dig seeking evidence of Alexander the Great’s tomb. (MacGyver has one third of a medallion that will supposedly lead to the tomb; the researchers have the other two pieces.)
As expected, there are criminal forces at work, and two (count them!) former foes of MacGyver’s are lurking in the shadows. The puzzling — well, poetry-decoding / riddle-solving, really — begins when MacGyver deduces the location of the tomb after the crooks steal the medallion.
(MacGyver, naturally, manages to reproduce the medallion from an imprint of the original in a box of sand.)
He and the scientists head for the tomb, only to be sealed inside with the criminals by an ancient booby trap. (Ain’t that always the way?)
Here, MacGyver confronts the first of the puzzles awaiting him inside the tomb, as the episode basically becomes a monsterless Dungeons & Dragons-style dungeon romp.
A statue of Anubis is in the room, along with a few dozen urns of different shapes and sizes. Naturally, Mac realizes they have to find the right urn, and it becomes a classic mechanical balance-the-weight puzzle.
When they do so correctly, a door opens, and they head into a grand crypt for Alexander the Great, with another elaborate mechanical puzzle (based on the Tree of Life, and requiring fire, water, and all kinds of elemental shenaniganry).
Any viewer who has been paying even the slightest attention can solve the puzzles faster than the heroes or villains, and soon enough, we earn our reward:
Yup, a sapphire the size of a small watermelon or a fat house cat, supposedly created when a meteorite crashed to Earth nearby.
Naturally, disturbing the sapphire activates another trap — closing walls this time — and more riddle-solving allows MacGyver and the scientists to escape the room before a giant stone smashes through the wall and chases them down a corridor. (Sound familiar?)
One last puzzle awaits our heroes before they escape, sapphireless but alive. (The various traps managed to thwart the villains for the heroes, as you’d expect.)
Once again, a solid knowledge of trivia and puzzling has saved the day!
Hope you enjoyed this little trip down memory lane. Until next time, keep calm, puzzle on, and I’ll catch you again soon.
P.S. It’s worth noting that I first saw this episode years and years ago while home sick from school. In the years before the Internet became the storehouse of all information, trivial and otherwise, I could find little to no proof that this episode existed as I remembered it.
Until a few years ago when I tracked the episode down on Netflix, I was half-convinced I’d conjured it in some sort of fever dream. *laughs*