Let Us Now Mock Crappy Puzzles
But while I was looking around my temporary country lodgings the other day, I noticed a puzzle book on the shelf titled Mensa Publications Presents the Ultimate Puzzle Challenge--a book of 400 or so puzzles published in Britain in 1995. Not only is the book ugly--printed on something just one step above butcher paper--but the puzzles are the same ten or so types of puzzles repeated over and over again: Deduce what these symbols weigh; Find what's next in this series; Complete this magic square. They're almost all mathematical, and they're all pretty damned boring. (Admittedly, there is a color section on much nicer paper, with color versions of these same puzzles, but since I'm colorblind there's no point in torturing myself with those.)
And yet, as I was flipping through it, I noticed a few other types of puzzles that were even worse. Take, for example, the Aunt Hildegarde puzzles. As aficionados of Aunt Hildegarde puzzles know, they follow a distinct pattern: Aunt Hildegarde has just visited [Name of Relative], and now she loves X but hates Y... and you have to figured out what's guiding her preferences. If she visited Uncle Wallace, and she loves CHALLAH but hates BREAD, loves OFFENSE but hates DEFENSE, and loves MOUSSAKA but hates FUDGE, you might guess that she likes double letters--as exampled by the double L's in Uncle Wallace's name. It's a potentially fun type of puzzle, and when done well, the variations are always interesting: she visits Uncle Septimus and only likes words that contain chemical symbols; she visits Aunt Mildred and only likes words that contain the names of colors; she visits Cousin Liv and likes finding Roman numberals; and so on.
In the Mensa Ultimate Puzzle Challenge, here are the answers to the three Aunt Hildegarde puzzles: she doesn't like words with S; she likes words containing a U; and--in a puzzle that said, "She likes LILLE but hates PARIS, she likes ANTWERP but hates BERLIN"--it turns out she doesn't like capital cities. Three puzzles, no mental challenge at all worth mentioning. What a depressing waste.
But, having established that the editor (Robert Allen, director of Mensa Publications) is enigmatically tone-deaf, I was appalled further by his occasional tendency to add old-fashioned, full-page riddles. Bad Riddle #1 says in essence,
"Little Johnny wanted to go under the sea. Although his father protested [I've cut out a lot of tedious dialogue], they eventually agreed to do so, even though neither of them swim, there would be real sharks (who somehow wouldn't hurt them), and they were afraid of getting wet ('we won't get wet,' said Johnny). Johnny and his dad are not going diving, or taking a trip in a glass-bottomed boat. So how are they going under the sea without coming to any harm?"
The answer, it should pain you to hear, is, "Johnny wants to go through the glass tunnel at an aquarium." Which ought to, but does not, include the subclause, "...which, in the interest of keeping the puzzle consistent, was actually placed under a real sea, not a series of tanks made to simulate it for tourists." But even after that addition, I feel like adding further, "Or they hopped in a submarine; that would work too."
Bad Riddle #2: "A man came home to find himself locked out of his house and his backyard full of water. An upstairs window was open [which would allow him to get in and unlock the door], but he had no ladder to help him reach it...Then he had an idea. What was it? It did not involve ladders, steps, or climbing up the walls of the house."
I'll give you one sentence of spoiler space, so stop here if you want to think about it before proceeding.
Answer: "The water in his garden was snow. He rolled several giant snowballs, built a pyramid, and climbed up."
I came up with a better answer. "The snow was actually frozen ethane, and he was able to use it for fuel to propel himself skyward. Did I mention he was wearing a jetpack?" This is a guy who will go to any lengths to avoid simply smashing a downstairs window.
Bad Riddle #3: "I have five hands, but you would pass me in the street without comment. Why?"
Official Answer: "Because three of them are on my wrist watch."
My answer: Because they're hidden in my backpack, where I keep all my victims' trophies.
But once you get to the end of the book, in the Brain-Buster section, you get two of the crappiest puzzles of all. Here's the final, brain-busting, be-all-and-end-all riddle:
Bad Riddle #4: "Joshua Shrimp had been at sea for forty years and in that time he had been around the globe many times. However, he had always spent his nights in bed and on dry land. How?"
The answer is so depressingly bad that I've relegated it to the Comments section so you can click it for yourself.
That would be bad enough. But here's one of the final word puzzles. It consisted of a picture of three crates, each one covered with letters. Three crates, mind you. Now here's the text.
Bad Word Puzzle:
"ARROT RCUP RPDRC
LEHAEC TMHEED UPSE
US LE ME
These letters, when joined together correctly, make up a novel and its author. Can you spot it?"
It's really that bad. "Lets just take a title and its author, scramble all the letters, and ask people to reconstruct whatever the hell we were thinking about." But to compound the insult, the visuals of the crates are completely irrelevant to the puzzle! It's not a clue, it's not a "take one letter at a time out of each crate in order" type of thing; he just literally threw down a bunch of random letters and said, "You know, I've got some clip art of a crate that would work here; three of them would give me enough space for all these letters. Good luck, solvers!" This is, hands down, the laziest goddamned excuse for an alleged "puzzle" I've ever seen, lazily tossed off by someone who doesn't seem aware that puzzles are supposed to be fun.
The answer to that one is also in Comments. In the meantime, I have a puzzle for Robert Allen:
The following letters below--divided into three groups for no reason at all--can be rearranged to spell out a three word message. Can you figure out what it's saying?
KFUN UCYS OMEA