An entry in Fortnightly Topic Challenge #50: Escape Rooms
Your head is throbbing like mad. You try to get your bearings as you look around the laboratory. Shattered beakers and spilled chemicals are everywhere. Another failed experiment. How long have you been unconscious?
There is a small white pill next to the mug. Next to it is a note:
“Figured you’d need this. - Marc”
Marc is your lab assistant. But where is he? The handwriting is shaky. It does not look like Marc’s handwriting. If anything, it looks like the handwriting of Dangerous Dirk, your arch nemesis who has been trying to murder you. What if the pill is poison? Should you take it? In fact, should you have drunk whatever was in that mug? You sniff it. Yes, probably water. Or at least, you’re not dead yet. But the sketchy looking pill and note? You decide to ignore it.
Your phone is missing. You try the door but the handle won’t turn. You shakily wake up the computer hoping to send an email for help. Unfortunately, it is Windows 8 and missing a start menu. In your confused state you can’t get it to do anything except beep at you.
Beside the map is a list of song ideas Marc had been working on. Doesn’t look like he finished it.
- Tag/topic (9,6)
- Deity’s Doorway (4,4)
- Thorin’s thief (5,7)
- Coastal capital, country (8,8)
- Not sure. Something silly?
You think back to that tempting white pill. Should you take it? Will it help you escape? Or will it kill you? You consider the clues lying about the room… something seems to be missing…
There are 7 ?'s in the clues to solve for.
You try to focus on the 7 ?'s. Some seem easy, some you have a guess about, and others you are clueless. Fortunately, after you solve a couple, a pattern emerges, and you are able to solve the rest. But something seems to be missing... there are gaps in the pattern? You take a drink to clear your mind. The sight of the mug strikes inspiration. You rush to the computer to look something up, but the keys wobble blurrily and the computer only beeps back at you. Where is Marc? you wonder. How long will I be stuck in this room?
Hours have passed. You finally realize the city in the map has three identities, but each identity has at least one inaccuracy/error. You curse whoever left you this puzzle for making it so difficult, but eventually come to some conclusions. In one identity, an entire ward of the city and at least one pine tree is missing. This appears to be an obfuscation and not a clue. In the second identity, numerous buildings are missing. For example the hospital on Shared Way. You're also pretty sure one of the roads leading out of the city should not be there. These also appear to be obfuscations and not clues. In the third identity, one of the neighboring attractions is formatted differently than the others. Unlike the other obfuscations, however, this one is accompanied by a "?" symbol and is a clue to solve for.
Apart from "birthday, kids, wall, assistant, and Marc", pretty much every other noun in the story can be used as a hint, some quite major, to help solve various portions of the puzzle. Even if it doesn't seem like the noun is anything special. See new tag.
You stumble around the room searching for clues. What's this? There's a crumpled up note in the wastebasket.
Apparently, whoever left you this puzzle originally made it longer, but decided to shorten it.
The last thing you want is more puzzles to solve, but you wonder if they will give insight into the overall pattern.
So against your better judgement, you read the note:
More questions (not hints), in no particular order
- Speaking of songs... You can call me... What can you call me?
- In what continent does the city (on the map) lie?
- Shouldn't you remove the Uranium from the mug?
Well that was cryptic. But aha! Someone left some working notes on the puzzle design!
- Todo #1: Cryptic clue and length (but which line is the length? Recognizing the overall sequence/mechanism will help)
- Todo #2: Enigmatic clue and length
- Mug: Irrelevant until last step
- Map: Treat each color layer independently. Do not overlay or you will get lost. In fact, focusing on the south attraction alone might be a good place to begin.
I like grids and patterns. I'll reiterate that between the map layers and the song list, we have 5 common, well known objects which are associated with a clearly defined grid or pattern. For example, a 'U.S. Political Map' (2 solved, 3 to go). Each must be solved/identified on its own without letting information from another muddle your thinking. Hints to each object are in the story. The only commonality is that each 'identity' leads to one or more ?'s that form a well known sequence (with gaps). Which gets you to the last couple steps, which leverage one of those identities (the one not yet used).
Conclusion - The End of the Matter (spoiler now that it's solved)
You swallow the pill with a gulp of water from the mug. In a bit, your mind clears and the pounding in your head is gone. What's this? The KEY to the door has been lying ON the TABLE the whole time! You storm to the door, unlock it, and march down to the dining hall in a fury. Marc is sitting there munching on a hamburger.
"Marc! Why did you make that puzzle so hard? Why didn't you just write what it was?" you demand.
Marc looks up mid-bite. "Oh, you're finally up. If just wrote it out, how would you know the message wasn't from Dangerous Dirk? It might have been cyanide! Only I know how much you like puzzles. He could never have come up with that."
"But I don't like puzzles!"
"Then why is your homepage set to that puzzling site?"
"Because you set it there! You know I am no good with computers! Every time I try to change it, it just beeps at me! You're the only one who knows how it works. Why else do you think I keep you around?"
"Oh. I'm sorry. I'll get that upgrade done for you. Care for a hamburger? I made you one." Marc points to the counter where a delicious looking burger sits under warming lights.
You sigh. "Actually, yes. I'm starving. I feel like I've been trapped in that room for over a month!"
The hamburger is every bit as delicious as it looked. Escape is sweet success.