Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Book - Maze

Vintage despair


Christopher Manson
Christopher Manson
# of Players:

Game Design & Mechanics
  • Let me start by stating the obvious: this book came out in 1985, so of course it isn't marketed as "an escape book". However, I've seen it pop as recommendation a few times on Amazon, and I strongly suspect that if the book was released today, the publisher would definitely try to put an "escape" spin on it.
  • As it stands, it's more of a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book (yet again), but with strong visual elements.
  • Each of the 45 "rooms" takes 2 pages. On the left side, you have a textual description (with a pinch of storyline), then on the right, a full-page depiction of the room. Any passageway with a number on it means you can choose it, and go to the matching room page.
  • As explained at the beginning of the book, your first goal is to reach Room 45, at the center of the maze. Then, find your way from there back to Room 1. (As you might have guessed, some doors are one-way only.) Then, find "The Path" - an optimized track going from Room 1 to 45 and back, in only 16 moves.
  • Once you're figured out the Path, it's time for "The Riddle of the Path", also mentioned at the beginning of the book. There are, in fact, two riddles with a common answer. You can either look at everything in Room 45 and try to phrase a question out of that, or look for words and letters hidden along the rooms of The Path.
  • When the book was initially published, 35 years ago, there was a contest giving 10,000$ to the first person would provide both the riddle and its answer. No one managed to do that initially, so they extended the deadline and added some hints, eventually giving up and splitting the money between the 12 contestants would had come close.
  • Throughout the years, the book has continued to capture imagination, and a website now exists dedicated to it. In fact, not only does the site collect official solutions and fan theories, but it also holds the entirety of the book in digital form. You can go ahead and read it from there. The website also covers some "meta" mysteries, such as the nature of the Maze itself.
  • After all these years, the book still looks great. Mr. Manson's line art is very evocative.
  • The "storyline" (or individual storylines, rather) is very intriguing. It's an enjoyable read, puzzle or not.
  • Seeing the rooms and their (presumed) solutions online can provide really nice examples...
  • ...of what NOT to do when designing an escape room. You see, to quote the author: "Anything in this book might be a clue. Not all clues are necessarily trustworthy."
    So basically, readers are assuming that every room has a "best exit", and that clues in the room text and/or picture point toward that exit in some way. But since the author never provided explicit answers, in many cases all those "solutions" read like double-guesses made after the fact. To me, that was a bit disheartening. Heck, anyone can come up with "perfectly logical" explanations to connect A with B, in hindsight. Just ask Nik Kershaw.
  • Common sense seems to be that the maze is unsolvable without trial-and-error.
  • Other "metagame" revelations have a bit of a "dark" angle as well. But hey, that's a very personal stance. ūü§∑‍♂️

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