Brainstorming, Anyone?

I’m in need of a way to design a particular puzzle, and I’m not coming up with anything I like. What follows is a bit spoilery, but there’s no help for that. I’ll try to disguise the less than essential bits.

This is an old-school parser-based game. You need to find a way to open a secret door in the bookstore location, and the key to doing this is going to be a phrase you’ve acquired by solving a complex anagram puzzle. The scuff marks on the floor will reveal the existence of the door, and there’s a bust of Shakespeare nearby.

The phrase I have in mind to use is a few words from Henry IV, Part 1, but of course that fact is much too dreadfully obscure for any player to notice the connection between the phrase and the bust of Shakespeare. I can nudge the player toward seeing the connection. The phrase is “unclasp a secret book” and I can provide an old leather book, held shut by a clasp, whose title is “Shakespeare’s Secrets.” That’s a reasonable in-game clue, once you’re unscrambled the anagram.

But what will the player do with the phrase once she has noticed that it may be relevant in that room? Using it as a command would be weird, because the verb isn’t a normal IF command. Entering it into a computer terminal is just too old-school a cliche, so I don’t want to do that. Saying it to the bust of Shakespeare would be rather silly, because the bust is clearly just an inanimate object. I had thought of having the door open when you open the clasp on the book, but then the anagram puzzle becomes irrelevant, and it’s a huge part of the scenario.

Wild and impractical ideas would be welcome – this game is going to be full of them!

hmmm, how about a Scrabble board the player can spell arbitrary words on?

1 Like

Terrific idea … but it’s not clear to me how laying out a phrase on a scrabble board would open a secret door.

I believe I’ve seen escape rooms that used Scrabble tiles with metallic bottoms to complete circuits; not sure about the exact mechanism though.


Your potential weak connection is inherent player Shakespeare knowledge.

Would it be possible to include ‘IV:1’ or “ivy-one” in your anagram? (As in Henry IV:1) That will probably cue the player it’s a Bible verse or something similar. Could the word HENRY be also somehow involved in the anagram but not blatantly next to IV:1? Perhaps you could have a friendly bookstore clerk named Henry and if the player doesn’t make the Shakespeare connection, have him step in to help.

“Do you have a book called IV:1 (ivy-one)?” “No, who’s it by?” “All I know is I have to unclasp a secret book IV:1” “Unclasp a secret book - That’s a Shakespeare quote from Henry the Fourth…part one, I think.” “Do you have that book?” “Yeah, let me show you.”

Or…just have an educational Shakespeare poster on the wall with his face made out of the titles of his plays. There’s your feelie!

Of course, Henry IV as a book doesn’t work, but right next to it is another in gleaming letters: Shakespeare’s Secrets that is a blank Shakespeare themed journal with a fancy clasp like they sell at bookstores. It pulls out and clicks, being the lever to actually open the secret door. “Unclasp” can just be metaphorical.

TL;DR - the interactive mechanism is asking a clerk about either SHAKESPEARE or UNCLASP [a] SECRET BOOK or HENRY --/4/FOUR/IV - that is right next to the correct one.

Does the bust have to be an inanimate object? Could it be an automaton, with which the player could interact? Perhaps it would respond to being told various stock Shakespearean phrases? Perhaps it would periodically quote Shakespearian lines?

The room is crowded with bookshelves. In the center of one 
is a niche, in which someone has placed an extraordinary bust 
of William Shakespeare.

> x bust

Up to a point, it's just as you would expect -- domed
forehead, lank hair, almond eyes -- all that first folio 
goodness. But its mouth looks like a ventriloquist's 
dummy and a large brass ear-trumpet is crammed 
incongruously into its right ear.

As you examine the ear trumpet there is a hissing
sound. The bard's lips begin to move. "A woman's face, 
by nature's own hand painted," it intones, "hast thou, 
the master mistress of my passion." You wonder if it is 
going to continue, but it seems (perhaps literally) to have 
run out of steam.

> say shall I compare thee to a summer's day

There is a clanking and mechanical whirring from within 
the bust. Its lips move up and down and a recorded voice 
crackles "Ahh. It sounds so terribly hackneyed now, but I 
was quite proud of it at the time."

> say alas poor yorick

The automaton clatters. "Stop! Stop! If you tell me you knew him 
well I will be obliged to do something you may regret."

> say if music be the food of love

The automaton whirrs, and somewhat tuneless lute music begins to play.

> say to be or not to be

The automaton clatters. "That is the question! That is the question!"

> say open sesame

Nothing happens.

> say *******

For a moment nothing happens. Then, slowly, the bust turns 
in its niche. There is a click, and the bookshelf swings slightly ajar.

Thanks, Paul. I was thinking vaguely about that possibility, but the way you’ve written it out makes it easier for me to see that it will work. There are actually several automata in the game, so one more wouldn’t be out of place at all. I love the ear trumpet too!

The actual quote that opens the door could be anything. I was searching a Shakespeare concordance and stumbled on that quote from Henry IV. It seemed fitting, but I think I’ll go back and search again for “open” and see what memorable quotes pop up.

I would second this, in a big way. I’m decently well read and I’d never come up with that quote. In fact, even with the knowledge that I was trying to anagram a Shakespeare quote and knowing what it was, it’d be pretty tough I think. I just spent a long time coming up with this so I’ll leave it as a challenge–can you figure out what (quite well known IMO, though I have just received a dissenting opinion on this) Shakespeare quote this is an anagram of?

wondrous leader veneer

It’s from the play

The Tempest

quote is

Our revels now are ended

Anyway, the automaton seems like a good idea, BUT I had another idea which might save you from having to write a response to every moderately well-known Shakespeare quote, and save the player from knowing that they need to speak a free-form phrase. You could have a book open to a page from Henry IV, where the individual words on closer examination are on raised buttons. The player has to press the buttons that form the phrase they need. (After they start pressing buttons, the game can prompt them to type in a whole phrase instead of pressing buttons one by one.)

This puts the puzzle back into interactions with concrete things, and it also cuts down the domain in which the player has to search. Even if they don’t know the quote you’re looking for, they can look at the page. As it stands, they might be able to guess that “unclasp a secret book” would be the phrase–but that might be a nice bonus for a player who can figure this out without doing the anagram. Or if that’d be catastrophically bad, you could require them to use the thing that gives them the anagram (or something from the location) in order to unlock the book that has the phrase in it.

Or this might be a terrible idea! The thing is, it’d be a lot to implement, and it’d be hard to tell how successful it is until you go through testing. But, well, at least it’s another idea for you.

1 Like

For the sake of having multiple approaches, here’s how I’d do it (assuming the anagram puzzle itself is nicely solvable and all that):

It’s titled Shakespeare’s Secrets.

It doesn’t open the obvious way. You’d have to use a specific method.

You’ve almost got it, but it seems like there’s just something missing.

The book opens, revealing that the center is hollowed out! Inside the book is an old iron key.

The bookshelf swings open with an agonized squeal of metal against metal.

I like this. Thanks – I think it may work. Implementing “unclasp” as a verb is easy. The problem I see is that because the book is described as having a clasp (which would need to happen) and has the word “secret” on the cover, the player could solve the puzzle without solving the anagram. Unlikely, as “unclasp” is not an ordinary IF command, but certainly possible.

I may have painted myself into a corner with this puzzle. Maybe I need to change the design entirely.

You could replace the “clasp” with a “mechanism”, perhaps?

But this all depends on the player actually figuring out the anagram.

Yeah, it really is difficult to have an “out of world” puzzle that the player has to solve and progress hinges on. As clever as it feels to add this sort of thing, my personal preference would be to work with the player instead of against the player - go for fun instead of getting the player stuck.

I’d avoid the anagram completely, put a poster on the wall “Unlock Shakespeare’s Secrets!” (or have it engraved on the bust/have the automaton say it if the player can talk to the bust) and remove reference to scuff marks. The puzzle would then be about finding the right book instead of doing wordplay out of game. You could even add a clue if the player asks a bookseller about the bust “That’s a promotional item the publisher shipped us to promote a new book…”

Ah, well … it’s a wee bit more difficult than that. Here’s a more complete description of the design challenge. (1) This is a direct sequel to my first game, “Not Just an Ordinary Ballerina.” The puzzles are new, but the setting is the same, and some of the puzzles are related to things in the first game. (2) At the front of the shopping center is a large marquee directing customers to the shops. As in the original game, the marquee letters have gotten scrambled. Unscrambling them is not difficult, because each item is the name of a shop, and the doors of the shops all have signs over them. (3) There has to be a reason why the player needs to unscramble the marquee. That’s the design challenge. My base assumption is that a few of the letters are missing, and that the missing letters are an important clue. (4) So the real question is, what to do with those letters that would (a) require that the player unscramble the marquee jumble, (b) be easy enough to do once you notice there are missing letters, and © be impossible for the player to do without the list of letters.

For instance, if I create a typing terminal and allow the letters to be entered in any order, the player can find the proper input using the lawn mower process – just type letters at random until the solution appears. The marquee puzzle wouldn’t need to be solved at all. If the letters have to be entered in a specific order, then what we have would appear to be an anagram – unscramble the new collection of letters – and the solution of the anagram has to be obvious enough once you have the collection of letters, but not obvious before you acquire the collection of letters. For instance, if you have a bust of Shakespeare in the room and the solution is TO BE OR NOT TO BE, that’s too easy.

It’s an ugly problem – and would be much the same whether or not Shakespeare is involved.

1 Like

One of the puzzles that didn’t make it into Cannery Vale when I switched from Inform to AXMA was more extensive version of the “change the letter on the sign” scenario you describe; a marquee would be missing letters and they were scattered all over the map. The player would see one letter on the ground in front of the incomplete marquee which would clue them to search for more letters and reassemble them on another sign which had a specific number of slots for letters, and then the unused letters anagrammed to a new location. Perhaps that kind of “rearrange letters in slots” conceit might be a way to make in-game anagramming more obvious and interactive - it would be a lot easier to pull off in Inform with virtual objects than it would be a choice-system.

I think a good way to come up with a solid puzzle here is to combine the secret phrase with something that is in the book. You should need both of them to solve it. It should be possible to unclasp the book without having seen the phrase yet, but doing so doesn’t solve the puzzle; you also need to know the secret phrase. Below is a possible way to make this happen, but one could imagine other ways to accomplish this. The core part of my suggestion is simply that you need both the phrase as well as something in the book to solve the puzzle.

To open the door, one needs to place weirdly shaped alphabet blocks in curious indentations somewhere. Could be in a wall, on a table, on a shelf, doesn’t matter. The player can find a total of 8 blocks in the game. It should be possible to spell “ANIWUASB” with them. The solution to the puzzle is to put the blocks in the correct spot and spell out that sequence of letters, which will open the door. Now as to how to find out the sequence of letters.

When unclasping the book, the PC sees a bookmark. When turning to that page the first thing of note should be that some of the text has been circled, but some of the text inside the circle is erased (blacked out or whatever):

And now I will <ERASED TEXT>

The erased text is obviously “unclasp a secret book”. To help the player make the connection (if it’s not actually obvious), then part of the erased text could still be legible, but none of the first letters of each erased word. Like:

And now I will ****asp * *ec*** **ok

In any event, the first letter of each word forms “ANIWUASB”. There’s a total of 8 words, and the player has 8 blocks, so that’s a slight hint too. If more hinting is needed, the first letter of each word in the circled text in the book could have a dot under it, or be otherwise marked to point out that the first letter of each word is important.

If the player solves the puzzle without knowing the secret phrase because they know their Shakespeare, the game could just acknowledge that fact with something like “wow, you do know your Shakespeare.”

Implementation wise, you could require the player to micro-manage the placement of the blocks by implementing rotation and having them rotate the blocks until the letters are correct, or you could instead just implement something like spell ANIWUASB and the PC then does it without the player’s involvement. (The latter approach is obviously a glorified password entry that would be equivalent to a type ANIWUASB on the keyboard or similar.)

Thanks, everyone for the insightful suggestions! I think for now I’m going to put a tablet-type data entry device in the book. It will be obvious to the player that a phrase of some sort needs to be entered on the tablet, and a little lateral thinking should suggest that this phrase may relate to the jumble of letters. At this point, the fact that the book says “Secret Book” on the cover (and is referred to in the inventory as a secret book) should, I hope, prompt the player to look for those letters in the jumble. And indeed they’re present. The book is held shut with a brass clasp, and the letters of “clasp” will be plainly visible among the few unmatched letters that remain. This may still be horribly difficult, but it’s no more difficult than the card player puzzle, the junction box puzzle, or a couple of other perplexities in the scenario. Plus, the game is going to have a complete hint system.

If I ever finish the game, and if beta-testers ever make it that far, I’ll get some feedback from them.