To Solve This Murder Mystery, You Need to Break the Game

[Image courtesy of Game Informer.]

Our readership isn’t a predominantly video game-savvy audience. We have lots of app users and lots of pencil-and-paper solvers in the PuzzleNation membership, but fewer gamers.

So you may wonder why I periodically write about video games when it’s a niche interest for the majority of our readers. That’s an entirely fair question.

As a puzzle enthusiast, I’m constantly seeking out new ways to build puzzles and solve them. Brain teasers, word problems, riddles, and mechanical puzzles all fit under the umbrella of “puzzles,” but they’re all very different solving experiences. Similarly, there’s a huge difference between a pencil-and-paper puzzle and an escape room, a murder mystery and a scavenger hunt, an encrypted message and a puzzle box.

But they’re all puzzles. And that’s what I find so fascinating. There are endless ways to challenge ourselves in puzzly fashion, and video games are constantly innovating when it comes to puzzle-solving.

[Image courtesy of Zelda Dungeons.]

Whether we’re talking about navigating past guards with well-placed arrow shots in the Thief games, navigating the labyrinth of the Water Temple in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, or maneuvering around a room in mind-bending ways with your portal gun in Portal, video games can take 2D puzzle ideas and bring them into the third dimension in amazing ways.

A friend recently told me about a game called Iris Fall, where you actually manipulate light and shadows in order to solve puzzles. That’s not just ingenious, it’s beautiful as well.

There are even games that let you change the rules of the puzzle itself in order to solve it.

[Image courtesy of Born Frustrated Studio.]

And another game in that vein recently came to market, a detective game called File://maniac.

In this murder mystery, you’re tasked with tracking down a devious murderer who happily taunts you with messages as you pursue them. But instead of pursuing leads and accomplishing tasks in more traditional detective-game format, you actually have to manipulate the files of the game itself as you play.

Yes, the very coding and organization of the game is the basis of the puzzles and codes for you to unravel.

Heather Alexandra at Kotaku explains more:

Getting rid of a locked door might require placing the door’s files in your recycling bin. Finding the password to a lock means opening up a handful of notebook files and searching until you find the code. It’s a different sort of puzzle solving, one that encourages the player to be aware of the game world’s artificiality… playing around with the actual game files creates a fun mixture of puzzling and “exploration” as you poke around folders and directories.

[Image courtesy of Go Go Free Games.]

It’s a brilliantly meta concept. Whereas many games and puzzle experiences are all about immersion, ensuring you forget you’re playing a game and encouraging you to dive into the narrative and gameplay itself, File://maniac demands that you not only remember you’re playing a game, but forces you to think like the designers of the game to circumvent each challenge.

It’s like being trapped in a maze, then being able to shift your perspective to an overhead view of the maze and navigate yourself out with omniscient ease. It’s a total perspective shift, and the a-ha moment of figuring out how to change the rules to your advantage is an immensely satisfying reward.

Do you know of any games out there that create unique and unexpected puzzly experiences? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you!


Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!

Unlikely Ways to Escape an Escape Room!

[Image courtesy of I Googled Israel.]

Solving an escape room is a unique experience, one that immerses you in a story and surrounds you with tasks to complete and puzzles to unravel. Although there are some similarities between rooms (as well as solving techniques you can learn to be better at solving all sorts of escape rooms), each one has its own flavor, its own challenges, and its own quirks.

The same can be said for those groups who tackle the escape room experience. They all have different skill levels, different styles, and different approaches. Some players are terrific at the hide-and-seek portion of a room — discovering hidden compartments, secret caches, and so on. Others are better at identifying and solving puzzles. Still others can be strong abstract thinkers who look outside the box and recognize where patterns are formed and where they are absent.

But sometimes, players think too far outside the box, surprising escape room managers and designers with their curious efforts to complete the game.

[Image courtesy of Snorg Tees.]

In a post on Quora Digest, someone asked what was the weirdest or most unexpected thing that has happened during an escape room event?

One commenter, the owner/operator of an escape room, said that a player once snuck a Swiss army knife into the room, used it to unscrew the boxes containing keys to some of the major lockboxes, and escaped the room in five minutes. Naturally, to the disappointment and chagrin of his friends, he skipped the vast majority of the game itself, missing the point entirely by doing so.

Figuring that there had to be more stories like this out there in the world of escape rooms, I reached out to some of the escape room companies we’ve connected with on Twitter, and wouldn’t you know it, there’s plenty of escape room weirdness to go around!

For instance, the crew at Boxaroo, based in Boston, Massachusetts, have had to deal with the opposite problem: people sneaking things OUT of an escape room:

We’ve had interesting things stolen from our rooms. The usual locks, keys, and even a light bulb once. But the most bizarre was an entire lockbox that went missing. About 4″ by 5″ by 11″.

We had no idea how the person snuck it out until we checked our security tape footage. It was someone sticking it in their trenchcoat, old-school style.

When asked about their most peculiar moment with players, the team at ESC Escape Rooms, based in North Hollywood, Los Angeles, shared a story that explores the dangers of getting into character and immersing yourself too deeply into the setting of a game.

One of the employees was overseeing a game from outside, and instructed the player to go through a door. That’s all, just use the door as you would any other.

The player responded by creating a fake door — like a mime or an actor in an improv show — and pretending to step through it, as if acting out the instruction was somehow part of the solve.

Much like the escape room supervisor who witnessed this, I’m totally baffled.

Sometimes players take instruction in a manner you wouldn’t expect. Other times, they take those instructions all too literally.

Just ask the folks at Red House Mysteries in Exeter, England, who lost visual contact with the solvers in one escape room scenario.

The room had a suspended ceiling, and apparently, this created a blind spot for one of the cameras used to monitor the room.

After not being able to see the players on the CCTV for a good 5 minutes and getting no response on the radio, they went into the room to see if everything was ok.

They found the team of 3 people standing on each others shoulders, having removed the ceiling tiles, and currently climbing into the roof cavity above.

“Whilst technically this is escaping, it’s not really the spirit of the game scenario. Nor do I have any idea where they were going to go from there. Needless to say, they didn’t manage to escape…”


To close out this sojourn into the world of escape room shenanigans, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention something that happened during my very first escape room.

We broke something. We broke one of the mechanisms that released a hidden key.

As a group of ten or so players, we quickly scattered around the room and began looking for clues, hidden compartments, hints on how to proceed, and so on. One team member, an acquaintance of my sister I didn’t know, spotted a small statuette on the mantel.

It was meant to be turned 90 degrees, releasing a hidden key below. Not knowing this, she lifted it off of its small base instead, triggering the hidden key.

And since there was a matching statuette nearby, the group surmised that lifting it would release another key on the other side.

It didn’t.

My best guess is that she managed to lift AND turn the first statuette when she picked it up, triggering the release. The second statuette was lifted straight up, leaving the hidden key still untriggered.

As it turns out, the statuettes weren’t intended to be lifted off their bases, and we’d broken the second release trigger. One of us managed to trigger it with a quarter and free the key, but we didn’t realize we’d actually damaged the game room until the session was over.

Here’s hoping it was a quick and easy repair job. I still cringe when I think about it.

Needless to say, I’ve been far more cautious in all of my subsequent escape room attempts.

Have you ever had or seen any strange escape room moments, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.


Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!

“Outside the Box” Brain Teaser Solving!

Over the past few months, we’ve focused on logic puzzles quite a bit. Whether we’re figuring out Cheryl’s birthday, determining the weights of island castaways with a seesaw, or puzzling out which members of the starship Enterprise crew are fierce Fizzbin players, we’ve been fixating on deduction as a key puzzle-solving skill.

But outside-the-box thinking can be just as valuable when it comes to puzzling, especially when brain teasers are involved.

If there are ten birds on a telephone wire and you shoot one, how many left?

At first glance, the answer is nine. But if you think beyond the mechanics of the question and into the real world consequences, you’ll realize the real answer is zero, because the other nine birds would take off when they heard the gunshot.

Let’s apply this kind of thinking to a mathematical brain teaser that reportedly baffled 96% of America’s top math students.

I can already sense eyes glazing over at the prospect of applying formulas and delving into high-end mathematics, but trust me: a little outside-the-box thinking will simplify this puzzle immensely.

Now, remember that the string is wound symmetrically around the rod. That’s key to this. When you look at the rod, the distance from the string to the next loop of the string is the same. So each loop is 3 centimeters.

How does this help us? Well, we know the circumference of the rod is 4 centimeters. Between these two pieces of information, we can ignore the rod entirely and mentally flatten it out into a rectangle.

Now we’re not dealing with a rod and a string, we’re dealing with four diagonal lines. And with one of the best known mathematical principles — the Pythagorean theorem — we can determine the length of one of those lines.

We’ll treat the diagonal as the longest side of a right triangle. The rod has a circumference of 4 centimeters, which means the triangle has a length of 4 centimeters. Each loop has a width of 3 centimeters, which means the triangle has a width of 3 centimeters. And the Pythagorean theorem — A squared + B squared = C squared, meaning 4 squared + 3 squared = our diagonal squared — gives us 16 + 9 = our diagonal squared. So 25 = our diagonal squared, which means 5 = our diagonal.

And since that diagonal appears four times, since our string wraps around the rod four times, our total length of string is 20 centimeters.

Okay, yes, that was a lot of math, but it would have been much MORE math had we not thought outside-the-box and tackled it from a different angle.

Now, I realize that I tend to pass myself off as a topnotch puzzler and brain-teaser specialist, but there have been plenty of times in the past when a brain teaser has bested me because I wasn’t thinking outside the box.

Here’s one that stumped me recently.

You have a set of 3 light switches. One of them controls a light in a room upstairs. You can turn the light switches on or off as many times as you like.

You can go upstairs — one time only — to see the light. You cannot see the whether the light is on or off from downstairs, nor can you change the light switches while upstairs.

No one else is in the room to help you.

Based on the information above, how would you determine which of the three light switches controls the light inside the room?

Let me give you a minute to think about this one.

Okay, did you get it?

Now, the key here is maximizing the amount of information you can get from that single trip upstairs to observe the light. And it takes thinking outside-the-box to do that.

Here’s what you do:

Flip the first switch, and leave it on for a few minutes. Then shut it off, and flip the second switch. Leaving the second switch flipped, head upstairs.

Now, visually, there are two possible outcomes: either the light is on or it’s off. If the light is on, you know the second switch controls the light.

If the light is off, however, there are still two possibilities. In this problem, it’s easy to fixate on information from your eyes, but the solve depends on another sense.

Remember how we flipped the first switch and left it on for a while? Well, if the first switch controls the light, we’ll be able to feel residual warmth from the light being on if we touch the light. If the third switch controls the light, the light will still be cool.

And there you go: one trip upstairs, one answer.


So, now that we’ve handed deduction puzzles and outside-the-box stumpers, you should be ready to tackle any riddles and brain teasers you encounter!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!