Wrap-up: The Making Of Tricky T Tribute (or: Humble H Homage)
This is not a solution to the puzzle, but provides notes from its poser. This type of answer has been approved by the community.
Caution: This post may contain spoilers.
I hadn't thought about this one much since I wrote it and then today I got a message saying it had passed the 1,000 views mark. Thanks!
When I looked at it again, I thought that maybe there were some lessons to be learned here.
I do a lot of my puzzle creation while I'm travelling. I was on a train one day and a phrase popped into my head: "Can you answer the question I didn't ask?"
That seemed like a cool premise for a puzzle to me. I couldn't let go of the idea: how could I create a fair puzzle where the reader has to answer a question I didn't ask?
I thought of a few ways I might be able to do this: maybe hide a question in a piece of text somehow, maybe have a series of puzzles whose answers form the final puzzle when put together, or maybe have the answers form some sort of set or sequence from which the missing piece could be deduced.
I wanted to keep it as short and simple (for me) as possible. Famous last words. Cue ominous background music.
I told myself that using steganography of some sort would lead to a huge, ugly wodge of text. I threw out that idea. Similarly, I threw out the second idea because I'd have to make up a puzzle for each word in the final puzzle. I might have to create multiple puzzles with the answer "the" or "a". I'd have to create the final puzzle from scratch and I didn't have any ideas offhand. Simpler! Simpler!
So I decided to go with a set or sequence. It had to be something that would be familiar to many or most pse members and yet not immediately recognizable. Something fairly easily found if it was not recognized. I watched the hills and mountains go by and I thought of...
the riddle game in The Hobbit.
It's been many years since I read it but I figured it was fair game. I had done a couple of Tolkien-themed puzzles around that time. The book was fairly well-known, and the movies were reasonably popular. The game itself has been mentioned in chat a time or two. I could just do riddles with the same answers as those ones and leave the last one for the readers. Easy peasy! (The background music grows louder.)
Well, the first difficulty was that I hadn't read the book for quite a while and I was not able to access the internet at that time. I wasn't worried because I could remember five right off the bat which had to be just about all of them, right? I mean, it's a novel, there's a story going on, it's right in the middle of an escape: how many riddles could there be. So I had:
Fish, mountain, time, teeth, daisy, and ring (which I knew was last, so I figured I would leave that for the reader).
Hey! These were easy! I wanted each riddle to have a different sound and a different gimmick. A little tweaking, some minor changes... done! I'd be at the hotel soon and I could verify the order of the riddles as soon as I was on wifi. The only nagging doubt was that I was I was missing...
one of Bilbo's riddles which meant I was missing one of Gollum's as well. So two more riddles. Oh, well.
When it comes to composing riddles, I take a word and run through a list:
- What does it mean?
- How is it used?
- How is it spelled? (Does it contain another word or word parts? Is it an anagram? Etc.)
- What does it remind me of?
- What does it do? What is it made of? Why is it interesting?
When I have half a dozen interesting and/or unique aspects of a word, I just jumble them together. I like rhyming so I nearly always make them rhyme. That's just me, though. I'm not sure how much it adds to the result.
At the hotel, I did a quick google of the answers to my riddles. Instant success! There were several sites with all the riddles and their answers. Just about every subset of three answers pointed to a list when they were entered into google. The solution was readily accessible on the web, you could get there with google even if you hadn't read the book, and I had all I needed to complete the puzzle.
TEN RIDDLES? What was this guy thinking of? I'm not almost done, I'm just barely over halfway. To make matters worse...
The answer to one is "fish on a one-legged table next to a man on a three-legged stool with a cat nearby".
How on earth could I come up with a new riddle with that as an answer???
If I didn't, what was I supposed to do with these five riddles I've already written? Grr! I found myself cursing Tolkein's editor. How could that idiot have left so many riddles in there? What was he thinking?
It was rewrite, rethink time. I could either write off the work I had done so far or come up with a plan for completing it on the return train trip (which I had hoped to spend polishing). By the time I got on the train I had come up with the idea of the mixed up cards so I didn't have to write a riddle for the "problematic" answer and I had some ideas for the missing riddles. Two and a half hours of writing and polishing and I was done but I have to admit I wasn't entirely happy.
Your thoughts/mental process
The thing with a puzzle like this is that there is always a risk that someone will google two of the terms or will have just read the book and will solve the puzzle in a tenth the time it took to create. This isn't terrible, necessarily, but I wasn't sure how much more work I wanted to put into the project. How much, after all, would people enjoy it? What if the first guy who sees it solves it and it gets buried under new submissions and practically no one else even reads it?
At this point I was thinking that I should probably have done something completely different. Maybe some way of making it into a series. Maybe alternating riddles with something else. Maybe... I don't know. I just couldn't come up with a good idea.
In retrospect I think I was overreacting. The extra riddles thing was not such a big deal. The sudden increase in work took me by surprise and I made too big a deal of it. In the end it really wasn't all that much time.
A big takeaway for me was to do your research up front before you invest time.
In a kind of an opposite sense I think that this puzzle's success shows that at a certain point you should stop second guessing yourself and just go with it. Make your puzzle the best it can be. Put in the work and don't worry about the consequences. Lots of people viewed, eighteen of them upvoted... that's great! A whole bunch of my favorite puzzlers contributed to the final solution. I really should have put in the time to make every one of the parts as clever as it could possibly be.
And, really, I have enjoyed making every one of my puzzles. I always come away thinking that I ought to do more of them. You're not rid of me yet. :-)