How do you give enough hints to a puzzle without ruining the charm of it?
Every month, the collective Puzzled Pint run puzzle theme evenings in secret locations across the world. The Friday before, they send out cryptic clues to the location, but also have a “just tell me where it is already” link.
We really enjoy these nights as a chance to try out new puzzles (and beers), and one comment made by one of the organisers of the London Puzzled Pint group has really stuck. To paraphrase:
The secret is in working out how the puzzle works in order to solve it. We give you clues to help you on your way, but are on hand if you need a few more hints.
This absolutely matches our philosophy. We know that our puzzles aren’t to everyone’s tastes. Unlike a book of Sudoku, there is no gentle learning curve, with a book full of computer-generated puzzles, gradually increasing in difficulty. Instead, we spend a long time crafting individual puzzles, ensuring that they link to the narrative where possible, but also having the charm of a puzzle that makes you lean back and smile wryly when you’ve solved them. We also try where possible to sprinkle clues in the text, in other images and other page adornments.
This does cause problems however. For some, they miss the learning curve (for us, that makes life easier, as it would involve less puzzle mechanics, but we think would make the books as a whole a little less fun). For others, they can be frustrated by elements of a puzzle needing background information or a Google search.
We are determined to do all we can to help people read and enjoy our books, and are finding the right balance of supporting players, but without giving them a directive list of how to solve problems. Here are some of our solutions:
A dedicated forum, where questions can be asked, and possible solutions are hidden with a neat little ‘spoiler’ function, which covers text unless you click on it. The challenge with this is that whilst the forum is looked at (the website numbers bear this out), less than 1% of players post to it.
A clue under the submission box. For many of our puzzles, you can scan a QR code or go to the specific webpage, and enter your solution. We have been experimenting with giving clues under this box.
A Reverse Index of hints. We have been beavering away and have made a reverse index for a few of our titles so far. You simply look for the number of the puzzle, and next to it is a very clear hint to solve. The hints have been alphabetised in order to avoid seeing a hint to the next puzzle.
This is a work in progress. With each new version of our books, we look at the comments on the forum, responses on Social Media, and will make clearer puzzles which are clearly more challenging.
So here is the big ask; how can we improve? What would work best in supporting players solving particular puzzles? What would you like to see?