Da Vincis Secret: The Clue

November 13, 2007

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I like puzzles. Anyone who has had to sit next to me on the V train can probably confirm this. Games Magazine was always one of my favorite magazines when I was younger, and it is now my standby entertainment source on the ride from Alphabet City to Midtown and back. Usually I stick with the standard puzzles like cryptic crosswords and battleships, but based on a one-paragraph recommendation in the annual Games 100 feature, I recently picked up a slightly more unusual sort of puzzle, Da Vinci’s Secret: The Clue.

The first in a series of 7 wooden puzzles, The Clue is a stack of 7 wooden blocks which when properly unlocked will yield a scroll of unknown contents. The scroll and one of the 7 wooden blocks are both necessary in solving the second puzzle The Equation. And so I have unwittingly been sucked into one $40 purchase which will inevitably lead to 6 more. (Best quote so far regarding the mystery of The Clue: “Well it’s not like this is the sort of thing you buy yourself. It’s like something your aunt would buy you for Christmas. [pause] Wait, you actually bought this yourself?”)

Years ago I read a definition of what makes a puzzle different from a game or some other such form of entertainment. To heavily paraphrase, a game is an ongoing series of tests which must be surmounted to reach the final resolution. The solution can, in effect, be measured as a continuum, with a number of states existing between the game’s start and its completion. In this sense a crossword puzzle is more of a game than a puzzle.

A puzzle, however, can only exist in two states, untouched or solved. These two states are divided by a moment of insight, the flash of inspiration which is required to overcome the hurdle and unlock a puzzle’s secret. The frustration inherent in this is that it might take just as long to solve a puzzle as to finish a game, but the hours put into a game reveal slow and steady progress while the puzzle remains steadfastly unsolvable until the second it is finished.

This is all a long way of saying I’ve spent several hours staring at my stack of wooden blocks and I haven’t made any progress. Some of my initial insights (there are engraved lines on the middle block!) I have since discarded as probably only useful for the second puzzle in the series. The circle and square inscribed in the top haven’t led to any breakthroughs, and even the clue packaged with the puzzle has been a touch less than helpful.

Thats not to say I’m not happy with The Clue. Its extremely well made, its given me quite a few hours of relentless brain-wracking, and it looks fairly cool sitting on my shelf. I’ll just be a lot happier once I can set it on my shelf with the scroll sitting by its side.