Today, however, I’m returning to the ever-giving well of puzzly goodness provided by that unstoppable animated juggernaut, The Simpsons.
In an earlier blog post, I discussed the show’s hilarious ventures in the worlds of brain-teasers and crosswords, but I neglected one shining example of puzzleriffic fun in Season 20 episode “Gone Maggie Gone.” (Oddly enough, the same season that featured “Homer and Lisa Exchange Cross Words.”)
In an episode that playfully melds elements of Gone Baby Gone, Ratatouille, and The Goonies, while delightfully skewering National Treasure and The Da Vinci Code, Homer accidentally leaves Maggie on the doorstep of a convent. When the nuns take her in and Homer can’t retrieve her, Lisa infiltrates the convent, discovering a series of elaborate puzzles that may lead to both Maggie and a jewel hidden in Springfield.
The puzzles take center stage early in this episode, as Homer encounters his own version of the cabbage, wolf, and goat river-crossing puzzle — in this case, featuring Maggie, Santa’s Little Helper, and a colorful bottle of rat poison. (His attempt to solve this puzzle is how Maggie ends up in the convent in the first place.)
Lisa’s first clue is to “seek God with heart and soul,” which leads her to play “Heart and Soul” on the church organ. After a ridiculously overelaborate Rube Goldberg device opens up, the next clue tells her to seek the biggest man-made ring in Springfield.
After a red herring and a stop for some goofy exposition from amateur puzzle-solvers Comic Book Guy and Principal Skinner, Lisa deduces that the biggest ring in Springfield is, in fact, the word RING in the Hollywood-esque Springfield Sign in the hills, and the adventurous trio sets off.
Hidden on the giant letters of the Springfield Sign is the message “Great crimes kill holy sage,” which Lisa dutifully anagrams into the message “Regally, the rock gem is Lisa.” Naturally, she does so just in time for Mr. Burns (the requisite shadowy Freemason figure) to emerge and take everyone back to the convent.
When she arrives, the nuns tell her Maggie is in fact the gem they’ve been seeking, and they re-anagram the message to read, “It’s really Maggie, Sherlock.” A pretty impressive feat of wordplay, I’d say.
(Naturally, Marge enters the scene here and sets everyone to rights by taking Maggie home. Bart sits on the throne of the gem child just vacated by Maggie, and ends up transforming the world into a nightmarish hellscape, as you’d expect.)
With elements of logic puzzles, brain-teasers, and anagram goodness, this episode is a treat for puzzlers of all ages, plus it’s hysterical to boot. The Simpsons excels at not simply including puzzles in their stories, but making the puzzles the linchpin of the story, something to drive the characters to learn and grow and challenge themselves.
While this episode was a little goofier and a little less heartfelt than “Homer and Lisa Exchange Cross Words,” it remains a worthwhile entry in the Puzzles in Pop Culture library.