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Ian’s Labyrinth (Part 1)


This Post contains SPOILERS of puzzles that appear the book The Maze of Games by Mike Selinker, specifically ones in Chapter One: Diamonds in the Rough.

In my summary of the recent National Puzzlers’ League convention in Portland, Maine, I mentioned that I bought my nephew a copy of Mike Selinker’s puzzle book The Maze of Games. The book dropped during convention week and Mike brought copies to Portland to sell to puzzlers who had not ordered copies in the Kickstarter campaign. I had not seen a copy of the book when I bought it for Ian; my copy was waiting in my mailbox back in Colorado. But Ian was very enthusiastic about the book and I was confident he could handle the puzzles, or at least interested to discover how he would cope with puzzles that he couldn’t handle.

Ian has fairly good experience with games, both board games and game apps on his iPad. He is interested in math and logic puzzles, and is currently fascinated with nim-style analysis puzzles, but doesn’t, to my knowledge, spend much time with word puzzles. He has been exposed to some puzzle books such as The Westing Game and Eric Berlin’s Winston Breen series though I’m not sure how much unassisted solving he indulged in regarding the puzzles in those stories. He has participated in of my birthday puzzle hunts over the years and even co-wrote and presented his own puzzle hunt party last fall. So while he may a novice at some of the puzzle types featured in TMoG, he can grasp the solving approach when given clear instructions, which Mike has provided. And the experience of the birthday puzzle hunts and the extravaganza presented at MaineCon he has some familiarity with metapuzzle structure. Because TMoG does not offer puzzle solutions in the manner of Westing Game or Winston Breen, Ian has been texting me about the puzzles in the book, thus I am able to monitor his progress and share that progress in the blog.

Ian, along with his mother and grandmother, spent an additional week in Maine after the convention. According to my sister, Ian was fixated on the book throughout the remainder of the vacation. Mom and Grandma worked with him on some of the early puzzles of Chapter One, but eventually he turned to “Mr. Todd” for help.

Hello this is Ian. Do u know a word that means “the germ of an idea” that begins with I and the third letter is k

I got this text the first day of my return, before I had even opened the package containing the book. I suggested an answer to the clue, figuring that it could be a word he was unfamiliar with; it seemed a reasonably small toehold in some kind word grid puzzle. He asked after a few more clues with letter placement and I begged off, telling him that I needed some time to catch up on my own solving before I could help him.

I began solving my own copy of the book and caught up with Ian when he was working on the fourth puzzle in Chapter One. He confirmed his keywords for the first three puzzles — all three were correct. Then he texted:

Wait sorry. I don’t understand 9. What does it mean encoded

I realized that Ian was asking about cryptograms.

It’s a letter substitution. Each letter in the list is encoded with a different letter.

So if a was b then b would be c. Or is it completely different letters

A letter can encode any different letter but always the same letter within the same list.

Ok thanks. So e.x. if the word peanut were there spelled pexnut would x stand for a as the key letter



It was a meager explanation of the mechanism of cryptograms. I wasn’t entirely sure if Ian understood the concept, and I didn’t mention any basic cryptogram solving techniques, but with a few days he texted me and confirmed the correct answer.

This evening Ian finished the fifth puzzle, which features a pirate story with missing words and phrases that must be deduced by context cues and cross-referencing of numbered bigrams. Ian texted me in the afternoon.

Ok and I just realized that there is one more letter on pirate one. did it right when i woke up so I missed a few. I’m now looking at it and I’m completely wrong.

The Dead Man’s Bounty is a tricky puzzle. Let me know if you need help.

Ok I will. It is the hardest so far

Throughout the evening Ian texted to check on missing answers. His guesses were either correct or very close.

Is SUPERB CHESTS one [of the missing answers]

Four of the bigrams in SUPERB CHESTS are correct. Two are incorrect

What are bigrams

Eventually, Ian cobbled together enough missing answers to start attacking the puzzle’s keyword.

Is [the keyword] one word or a phrase

It is not a single word

Does it have to do with the life of pi

I encouraged Ian to go back to solving the missing answers. He finally got everything and texted the correct keyword for me to confirm.

You got it


I will mention that, in addition to my texts, Ian is getting help from his mom and from some of her fellow middle school teachers who drop by the house. I’m happy with Ian’s solving pace and I’m noting the puzzle concepts he is learning (cryptograms, bigrams). I look forward to talking to Ian on the phone to find out more about his solving process, e.g. the method he used to get the solution to the cryptex puzzle in the book’s introduction.

By the way, Mike Selinker has just launched a followup Kickstarter campaign for the Audiobook of The Maze of Games narrated by Wil Wheaton.

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