I find that, when I’m stuck in one place with nowhere to go, immersing myself in a puzzle of some sort is really effective in taking my brain for a good, lengthy walk.
So for day 6 I have chosen “riddle me this” as my overarching theme. Today, you’re getting a book, a film, and a computer game.
Book: Agatha Christie, Towards Zero
Whenever I hold this book in my hands, I feel the shiver of a sub-zero November in Warsaw, and in my mind’s eye I see the tall glass ceiling of the Warsaw University Library, where I bought my copy at a little second-hand bookshop.
This is the first book by Christie that I ever read, and it made me understand what the fuss around her detective fiction was all about.
The novel appeared in 1944, a year before the end of World War II. Its plot takes the reader succesfully on a wild journey to try and determine the identity of the culprit, or culprits. That is, of course, the purpose of all detective fiction. But what makes this books stand apart is the way in which it plays with the reader’s biases. All readers like to form strong opionions about the characters in a book — Christie knows this, and exploits it with gusto.
Towards Zero is also a savoury meditation on the long and invisible chain of cause and effect that precedes any notable event:
“I like a good detective story […] But, you know, they begin in the wrong place! They begin with the murder. But the murder is the end. The story begins long before that — years before sometimes — with all the causes and events that bring certain people to a certain place at a certain time on a certain day. [….] All converging towards a given spot… And then, when the time comes — over the top! Zero hour. Yes, all of them converging towards zero…”
You can borrow this book on archive.org.
Film: A Tale of Two Sisters/ 장화, 홍련
This Korean psychological horror film was written and directed by Kim Jee-woon, and released in 2003. It was inspired by a Korean folktale/ ghost story that is as gruesome as it is gripping.
And so is this horror film. Yet its plot does not amount just to creating a sense of psychological horror — more than anything, it is a puzzle that you don’t even know you’re solving until the very end.
The story begins with Su-mi, an adolescent returning home after having spent some time receiving care at a psychiatric hospital. Back home, she is reunited with her father and her beloved — and seemingly vulnerable — sister, Su-yeon. But over the household reins Eun-joo, the girls’ stepmother, with an iron fist and little patience for the sisters.
Little by little, and then all at once, a string of cruelties unfolds, and the three female characters are swept in a whirlwind of violence and trauma. But what is the true undercurrent of their story?
You can rent this film on Amazon Prime.
This absolute gem by Jason Roberts was released in 2017 by publisher Annapurna Interactive.
I don’t know if I have the requisite words to describe this amazing game, but I shall try nonetheless. In a nutshell: if you’re into solving puzzles and mysteries of any kind, this one’s for you.
Gorogoa is a visual, interactive riddle, a cross between matryoska dolls, Escher’s impossible spaces, and virtual escape room games. In this game’s gorgeously illustrated world, every little thing, every little corner is a bit of a complex puzzle.
Part of the challenge is also that you’re working blind: you don’t quite know what the goal is, and the game’s mechanics are never straightforwardly explained, you only learn them by playing.
Moving between a breathtaking fantasy world, a world plagued by war, and a vaguely postapocalyptic setting, the player tries to uncover the secrets of Gorogoa, to make sense of its meticulous cypher.
My records tell me that I have spent approximately 3 hours getting to the bottom of this game, and I can say, hand on heart, that those were some of the best-spent 3 hours of my life.
You can buy Gorogoa on Steam.