The Monster at the End of This Blog

This past Sunday, Instagram user @muppethistory posted that PBS had newly released a Grover-centric game called “The Monster at the End of This Game.” Based on the classic children’s book of a similar name, the game joins assorted other Sesame Street fare such as “Show Me the Cookies,” “Ernie’s Dinosaur Daycare,” and “Oscar’s Rotten Ride” on the PBS Kids website and in the PBS Kids Game app.

Gameplay is unsurprisingly straightforward, designed as it is for small children. On most screens, challenges are as simple as clicking a glowing item; the imperative to draw a triangle notches the difficulty up barely a smidge. The most complex obstacle to reaching the game’s end (and the monster therein) is a shattered arrow that must, like a tangram, be restored to wholeness. As the player rebuilds the arrow, Grover despairs, “I did not know you were such a skilled puzzler!”

While I have no doubt that many of our readers’ puzzle skills outstrip my own, I do, at twenty-seven, have a significant edge on the game’s intended audience of preschool puzzlers. Why, then, did I find “The Monster at the End of the Game” so captivating? It wasn’t nostalgia for the fuzzy blue Grover’s picture-book antics fueling my determined clicking and dragging—I did not read “The Monster at the End of the Book” as a child. I had only the dimmest suspicion, via cultural osmosis, that a mirror would feature prominently in the conclusion, and could not say for certain if Grover would be the monster in the mirror, or if I would be.

From Lynda Barry’s Making Comics

Without this particular childhood memory on my side, Grover’s pleading that I not finish the game, his insistence that only woe and horror waited for me as I progressed past the stumbling blocks he placed in my path, reminded me of nothing so much as Lemony Snicket’s narration in the A Series of Unfortunate Events books. Maybe the driving factor in convincing me to keep playing wasmy uncertainty as to how exactly it would end. But maybe it was a different branch of childhood nostalgia, fondness for the perilous problems plaguing the Baudelaire children in Snicket’s series.

In 2004, HarperCollins released a collection of puzzles called The Puzzling Puzzles: Bothersome Games Which Will Bother Some People, based on the Baudelaires’ trials and tribulations and framed as a training manual for a secret organization from the series. According to the Snicket Fandom wiki, many of the puzzles are designed to be unsolvable, and the letter to the reader from Snicket himself describes the book as “distressing,” and “frustrating,” the polar opposite of “The Monster at the End of This Game” (at least, if you’re outside Sesame Street’s target demographic).

Before signing off, Snicket writes, “I have dedicated my life to unraveling the puzzles that surround the doomed Baudelaire orphans. Why should you?”

Violet and Klaus Baudelaire in the Netflix adaptation of ASoUE

Why indeed? Why try to solve the unsolvable? Why try to solve the extremely easily solvable? When the story is so good, why not try? Who can resist a compelling narrative, especially one brimming with pathos and puzzles, mystery and monsters? Whether the primary focus is on Muppets or murders, whether the monster is Grover, Count Olaf, or myself, I always want to reach the end. I’ll untie any rope, click any brick, trace any triangle—if it means gazing into the mirror at any good story’s conclusion.


If you also love the intersection of stories and puzzles, our Book Smarts, Movie Madness, and TV Time Daily POP puzzles are probably right up your alley! 

You can find delightful deals on puzzles on the Home Screen for Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search. Check them out!

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Puzzles in Pop Culture: Square One TV

Puzzles in Pop Culture is all about chronicling those moments in TV, film, literature, art, and elsewhere in which puzzles play a key role. In previous installments, we’ve tackled everything from The West Wing, The Simpsons, and M*A*S*H to MacGyver, Gilmore Girls, and various incarnations of Sherlock Holmes.

And in today’s edition, we’re jumping into the Wayback Machine and looking back at the math-fueled equivalent of Sesame Street: Square One TV!

[The intro to Square One TV, looking more than a little dated these days.]

This PBS show ran from 1987 to 1994 (although reruns took over in 1992), airing five days a week and featuring all sorts of math-themed programming. Armed with a small recurring group of actors, the writers and producers of Square One TV offered many clever (if slightly cheesy) ideas for presenting different mathematical concepts to its intended audience.

Whether they were explaining pie charts and percentages with a game show parody or employing math-related magic tricks with the aid of magician Harry Blackstone, Jr., the sketches were simple enough for younger viewers, but funny enough for older viewers.

In addition to musical parodies performed by the cast, several famous musicians contributed to the show as well. “Weird Al” Yankovic, Bobby McFerrin, The Fat Boys, and Kid ‘n’ Play were among the guests helped explain fractions, tessellations, and other topics.

[One of the many math-themed songs featured on the show.]

Two of the most famous recurring segments on Square One TV were Mathman and Mathcourt. (Sensing a theme here?)

Mathman was a Pac-Man ripoff who would eat his way around an arcade grid until he reached a number or a question mark (depending on this particular segment’s subject).

For instance, if he came to a question mark and it revealed “3 > 2”, he could eat the ratio, because it’s mathematically correct, and then move onward. But if he ate the ratio “3 < 2”, he would be pursued by Mr. Glitch, the tornado antagonist of the game. (The announcer would always introduce Mr. Glitch with an unflattering adjective like contemptible, inconsiderate, devious, reckless, insidious, inflated, ill-tempered, shallow, or surreptitious.)

Mathcourt, on the other hand, gave us a word problem in the form of a court case, leaving the less-than-impressed district attorney and judge to establish whether the accused (usually someone much savvier at math than them) was correct or incorrect. As a sucker for The People’s Court-style shenanigans, this recurring segment was a personal favorite of mine.

But from a puzzle-solving standpoint, MathNet was easily the puzzliest part of the program. Detectives George Frankly and Kate Tuesday would use math to solve baffling crimes. Whether it was a missing house, a parrot theft, or a Broadway performer’s kidnapping, George and Kate could rely on math to help them save the day.

These segments were told in five parts (one per day for a full week), using the Dragnet formula to tackle all sorts of mathematical concepts, from the Fibonacci sequence to calculating angles of reflection and refraction.

These were essentially word problems, logic problems, and other puzzles involving logic or deduction, but with a criminal twist. Think more Law & Order: LCD than Law & Order: SVU.

Granted, given all the robberies and kidnappings the MathNet team faced, these segments weren’t aiming as young or as silly as much of Square One TV‘s usual fare, but they are easily the most fondly remembered aspect of the show for fans and casual viewers alike.

Given the topic of Tuesday’s post — the value of recreational math — it seemed only fitting to use today’s post to discuss one of the best examples of math-made-fun in television history.

Square One TV may not have been nearly as successful or as long-lasting as its Muppet-friendly counterpart, but its legacy lives on in the hearts and memories of many puzzlers these days.


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