The Seven Deadly Sins Puzzle
Patrick Möller of ARG Reporter recently asked various people (PMs, I think), a series of 15 questions. While most all of them got me to thinking and to writing, it was most fun for me to go back down memory lane and think about my favorite puzzle. I figured I’d post my answer here for my own sense of posterity – a little reminder of what I like in a puzzle and why.
11) Which puzzle from past ARGs do you like best/was real fun? Can you tell us why?
My favorite puzzles are those that truly offer a lot to the story, both in their design and in what they reveal. I also like complex puzzles and those that bring the community together, yet could be solved on your own. And, while I create dozens of smaller puzzles, puzzles that do all of that are my goal. And, of those puzzles, the Seven Sins puzzle in Lockjaw was my favorite.
Lockjaw dealt with the questions of immortality and ethics (business, medical, human). We had developed a web browser for the game that, presumably, all of the characters and a number of the players used. The browser had a built in AI named Mephista. She saw every page that everyone who used the browser saw and, within the story, she dumped certain information into a central server. So, clearly, someone or something was aware of nearly everything that was going on (although players weren’t fully aware of this until the end game). Additionally, we had several characters out for revenge and looking at all of the sins, no matter how simple and mundane they might be, that the other characters were committing.
In order to show that in the game and to add to the depth of all of the characters, I created a puzzle deeply rooted in the mythology and symbolism of the Seven Deadly Sins. Each sin is associated with a color, an animal, and a punishment in hell. Additionally, each sin is paired with a corresponding virtue. For example, envy is associated with green and represented by a dog. If you’re guilty of envy, you will be punished in hell by being placed in freezing water. The contrary virtue of envy would be charity – combating the jealousy of others by giving to them. I used the great painting The Seven Deadly Sins and The Four Last Things by Hieronymus Bosch not only because it’s a cool painting but to help clue players in to the idea that the theme of the puzzle was the sins.
So, the puzzle…
It started off rather simply. Players would be taken to a page with a colored background (1 of 7), an image (one of four – the “four last things” from the painting), and a submit box. Every time you returned to the page, the color of the background the image would change. Every time that you made an incorrect guess in the submit box, it would send you to various pages online. At first, it seemed very random. But it wasn’t long before players identified the images as being a part of the painting. That gave them the seven sins reference. But they still weren’t sure what to put into the submit boxes. The pages they were sent to offered the clues.
Each of the four images was themed and was paired up with a long list of web pages. For example, an incorrect guess on the image showing the view of hell led to websites that dealt with punishment. Incorrect guesses on the other images led to pictures of animals, punishments, or sins. Once players figured out the symbolism behind the sins, it was a simple matter of pairing up the color (for example a green background meant they were dealing with envy) with the image and they knew what they had to enter – the name of the sin, the corresponding virtue, punishment, or animal. There were 28 correct answers in total. Each correct answer would send players to page with an image, poem, short story, or statement that fit the sin and which they could later pair up with characters in the game who were guilty of committing that sin.
It didn’t stop there. The file names for each correct page continued the seemingly random motif with names such as 1heaesnu1.htm. It was what’s known in some cipher crowds as a columnar transposition, but that’s just a big fancy term for “line them up and read up & down”. When they were put in order (marked by the numbers on the beginning and end), a phrase which explained the puzzle from the character’s point of view appeared: Higher than the question of our duration, is the question of our deserving. Immortality will come to such as are fit for it, and he who would be a great soul in future, must be a great soul now. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Worship” The Conduct of Life.
In my mind, it really satisfied everything that I want to achieve in creating a puzzle. It could be solved individually – there was nothing extraordinarily difficult about it and all of the information needed could easily be found on Google. Yet, it was easier to solve as a group. Refreshing the page to get the right combination of color and image could be a bit tedious and so everyone could pitch in. It also had that awe factor – initially looking at it and seeing it change and thinking you could never make sense of it, yet it was relatively easy to do. It had the excitement factor with each little solution taking you a step closer and providing a bit of satisfaction. And, the motivation for the puzzle, the content of the puzzle, and the information that it provided all fit into the story. But it also led to more questions – who was doing this? why? how?