Why puzzles irritate me

I like puzzles.

At least, I think I like puzzles.

But I get irritated and impatient at a lot of puzzles.

This is why puzzles irritate me:

  • Input problems: I believe I know the answer but I have to enter it in a certain way and I can’t seem to do it right. Professor Layton, I’m looking at you. Jumping puzzles fall into this category as well.
  • Scope problems: The rules of the puzzle aren’t clear. I know a lot of people like this kind of thing, but it ends up frustrating me. Can you use external tools? Do you have to use external tools? Is breaking the puzzle the answer? Gordian knot and ARG webpages, I’m looking at you. If I have no scope guidelines at all, it becomes hard not to wonder if the ‘solution’ is ‘standing on my head’ or ‘editing the image’ or ‘walking away’.
  • Solving a puzzle without realizing I’ve found the solution (in scopeless puzzles)/solving the puzzle without understanding how I did it (like with disentanglement puzzles): I like to feel clever. Not being able to repeat a task makes me feel dim.
  • Puzzle People and their abhorence of sharing solutions. “You’ll feel so good when you solve it yourself!” and “Oh, that one’s so easy!” — when I’ve spent hours on it already. Fine, I admit that it feels good to solve a puzzle. But you know what kind of assistance I’d love from fellow puzzlers? Finding out if I’m on the wrong track. Braid, I’m looking at you and your Puzzle Person designer. 

What I enjoy about puzzles is solving them. Investigating them, testing them and understanding them. I don’t particularly like fumbling with something until it works out, and I don’t enjoy banging my head against a wall. One of my fundamental traits is a desire to understand how things work, what its rules and exceptions are, and the neat concepts it exploits to create the puzzling effect. One kind of puzzle I often enjoy are boss fights in video games, especially RPGs.

Last night, after researching puzzle boxes, I discovered ‘trick locks’. After perusing many pictures and a discussion of one, I promptly went and gave my email address to a marketing page in order to download a solution.

By doing so, I learned something very important about puzzle boxes and trick locks, which I will now share with you. Don’t worry, it isn’t a puzzle spoiler, it’s just a basic conceit that most people might already know, but I hadn’t grasped:

Those smooth exteriors conceal complicated mechanical innards.

I’m so very happy I’ve learned this because, especially with ‘trick locks’, I imagined that there was, well, a trick, as there is with so many puzzles. Something simple but non-intuitive and perhaps out of the percieved scope. If I’d just picked up this trick lock and started to fidget with it, I might have solved it but I wouldn’t have understood why, and would have even visualized something very different happening inside. And now that I’ve realized how complicated the things can be, I’m eager to play with one and see what I can learn about it.

I lay in bed last night thinking a lot about the idea of solving puzzles you can’t see the mechanisms for. But then I fell asleep and forgot most of what I thought. If I remember it, I might be back!


I caught Dwarf Fortress. It’s been going around.  I blame Kevin for infecting me with it, and I think he got his infection from, oh, that filthy forum he visits, and Neil. I was utterly useless for a few days, but yesterday I started to gain some limited functionality back. Today, well— well, the goblin attack yesterday only killed 6% of my population, but it sort of destroyed morale in my happy river valley. And the hippy elven traders never have anything to trade. I kind of want to start a new Fortress with all the things I learned in this one, but I can’t afford that kind of relapse, not until I finish this manuscript. So I suppose I’ll nurse this one, letting it linger along. Maybe I’ll have to form up a military. Bleah.