April 19, 2021

Novel Rereleases and New Puzzling Escapes Adventure

The pandemic has not been great for my productivity. Supervising two kids 24/7 and facilitating virtual school for an entire year has been a huge struggle. The school has finally invited students to attend in person--for two days a week--and it feels like I can finally breathe a little.

I haven't had the time or energy to write very much. I've slowly worked on a couple Puzzling Escapes books and helped format a number of other writers' books, but the focus required to write an entire novel has escaped me. There are a number of stories I want to write, and now that I have a bit of time to myself, I can dedicate myself to them.

Currently, I'm working on the next Puzzling Escapes installment. This one has the reader solve a mystery rather than escape a situation. The idea of a treasure hunt sparked my interest and after a little research, I fell in love with the Florentine Diamond. So far the book has lots of puzzles and some narrative, which means there's still a lot of work to be done before it releases.

There are a couple of novels I've written that I failed to market. After the debacle around the release of Quality DNA, I was pretty burnt by Amazon and unwilling to market my work at all. My next two novels launched with little fanfare. Only when I released In the Lurch did I feel ready to tackle advertising again. To keep things simple, I only brought a few titles to events, and since the two forgotten novels never sold well online, I decided not to bring them to events, further sealing the books as commercial failures.

I'm excited to bring these novels back as new editions with fresh covers. I even gave At Fault a new title: The Earthquake Anomaly, which better represents what the story is about.

Both of these books will release on May 1st. If you'd like a reminder on release day, you can sign up for my newsletter.

I'm looking forward to tackling all the stories zipping around in my head. And of course, I especially look forward to sharing them with you.

March 22, 2021

Two New Escape Room Games: My Reviews

I've been fairly quiet here and on social media while the pandemic raged on and my sanity waned. Recently, my kids have returned to in-person school—at least part-time—which has been good for everyone in my family. I finally have the mental energy to do some things I enjoy, so naturally, I had to pick up a couple escape room games. And to share the puzzling love, here are my reviews for Trapped: The Bank Job and Extraordinary Investigations.

Trapped: The Bank Job

By Solid Roots

The Trapped series promises to turn any room into an escape room. The small packet contains components that need to be taped to the walls, placed on surfaces, strewn on the floor, or hidden from the players, turning a room in your home into an escape room.

In The Bank Job, your group is a team of robbers. You need to solve all the puzzles inside the bank in order to open the vault. Once you've retrieved your loot, try to leave the bank without setting off the silent alarms. Although I prefer to be one of the 'good guys' for escape games, the fictional heist in this game was fairly light-hearted.

I thought the physicality of Trapped was kind of corny (can't we just lay all the components on a table and sit to play?) until I actually did it. It really does add to the escape room experience to be poking around a single room (the kitchen in my case) discovering all the objects and realizing how they go together. Even though the puzzles were mostly pretty easy, they did a great job at facilitating teamwork.

Trapped: The Bank Job would be perfect for a family game night. The setup is surprisingly easy for such an immersive experience, and the puzzles are at a good level for all ages. 

Extraordinary Investigations

A Puzzle Novel by Rod Gilles

I almost feel bad about reviewing this book since it's in the same niche as my Puzzling Escapes books. I actually found this book advertised on the Amazon sales page for one of my puzzle books, and I really wanted to love this book.

In Extraordinary Investigations, you are the investigator working to solve a cold case. You're tasked with figuring out what happened to Lois Morgan, a researcher who was investigating a secret treasure.

The mechanics of this book are very different than other puzzle books and games I've played. The separate chapters, or evidence files, are simply that: collections of evidence. The game itself is fully online. You have to create an account using an email address before receiving the questions you need to solve. In order to solve puzzles, you'll need to pull up websites mentioned in the book, find your own resources for things like maps, search for answers on Google, and know German. (In reading the description, I somehow missed that the theme of this book was Nazis in WWII. But even though it's not my favorite subject matter, a puzzle book is a puzzle book...right?) When one of the hints instructed me to look up a certain subject on Wikipedia, I gave up. I just wanted to solve cool puzzles, not do a deep delve into the history of notable Nazis.

I'm not sure who this book is meant for. If you want to try your hand at being an investigator, I recommend the Unsolved Case Files series. If you want to learn more about historical persons and events, then I'd stick to Wikipedia.

December 26, 2020

Puzzling Escapes Haunted House Corrections

I'm absolutely thrilled with the number of Puzzling Escapes books that people picked up this holiday season! I've also had some astute puzzlers point out errors in The Terrifying Haunted House on Mystery Lane. Although these typos have been corrected, some people received the early version of the book. First of all, my sincerest apologies for not sussing out these mistakes before I brought the book to print. Here are the two corrections that have been made.

1. In the introduction, the book instructs the reader to try looking up the answer 123 with the keyword latest. The keyword for this example should be ratty.

2. The piano puzzle with the keyword steer points to the wrong keyword. I did need to rework the puzzle a little to make it work, so I've reproduced the updated puzzle below. If you haven't played through Haunted House, feel free to try the puzzle here!



Almost immediately, Bang gravitates toward the piano. “Wow, this thing is old,” he exclaims. “I wonder if it still works.” You suspect not since the cabinet is all banged up and every bit of wood appears to be swollen and warped from water damage.

“Doesn’t matter,” you comment. “It’s locked.” The fallboard is down hiding the keys, and it doesn’t budge when you try to lift it. Instead of having a keyhole, there’s a set of three dials to input a code.

“Let’s try to open it,” Bang says.

Hint (Click to Reveal)

“All we’ve got to go on is this piece of music,” you say.

“Right,” Bang says, “but look—it has three notes and the combo has three dials. I bet each note gives us a number. In fact...” He grabs the paper to get a closer look. “The notes are B, G, and F. B is the second letter, G is the seventh, and F is the sixth. Let’s try it!”

You move the dials until the code two- seven-six is displayed and then try again to lift the fallboard away from the keys. It refuses to budge. “I don’t think that’s the answer.”

“Maybe we need to look at the scale.” He points to the empty space between the clef and the first note. “I’ve got some musical references in my toolbox. They might help us solve this.”

Solution (Click to Reveal)

“Why would you keep this in a toolbox?” you ask as you look through the music notation guide.

“It must have been with some other papers I shoved in there,” Bang says. “I noticed it a while ago, but never actually took it out.”

You find the scale listed on the guide which doesn’t have any flats or sharps. “Looks like our paper is in the key of C.”

“Right, so C is the first note, or tonic. D is the second. E is the third. That must be it! We need the positions of the notes in the scale, not the positions of the letters in the alphabet. Since B is the seventh note in the C scale and G is the fifth note, our code must be seven-five-four.”

Conclusion (Click to Reveal)

You adjust the lock so that the numbers showing matches your answer. This time, when you attempt to lift the fallboard, it begins to rotate back and reveal the yellowed keyboard. The inside looks just as beat up as the outside, and some of the keys are missing or chipped.

With no bench to sit on, Bang crouches a bit and starts playing a tune. You know he enjoys playing classical pieces and jazz, but the cacophony the piano makes sounds like neither. You cover your ears. “Make it stop!”

A sudden knocking sound comes from inside the instrument and he jumps back. Even though some of the strings are still vibrating off-key, you can clearly make out scratching noise from the base of the piano.

“You think there’s an animal in there?” you ask.

“I don’t care what that is, I’m not getting near it again!”

After a minute of quiet, you approach the instrument to get a better look at something taped on the back of the fallboard “What’s this?”

“Looks like a map. I don’t think it’s important.”

“You’re just scared,” you tease. You reach out to grab the map, but another knock startles you. You immediately retract your arm and take a step back. “You know what, I think I can see it just fine from here.”

“Yeah,” he says. “I agree.”

Answer Check (Click to Reveal)

The answer 754 leads to cell Q1. The keyword in Q1 was originally annoying but has been changed to steer to match the puzzle.

December 7, 2020

Tumbling Down the Rabbit Hole: A Gift to my Readers

At the end of 2019, I spent hours poring over the selection of planners at my local bookstore, looking for the perfect one for my needs. I was particularly picky about the monthly and weekly layouts, paper quality, ability to lay flat, durability, etc. attributes which can only be determined by physically examing the thing. Although I quit using my 2020 planner in March, I'm hopeful that a 2021 planner will get more mileage. Since I don't want to spend lots of time in stores or rely on product descriptions on online retailers, I decided to make my own planner.

Initially, I looked for planner layouts I could download and print. Etsy.com is a great place to buy printables, but everything there that I liked was in full color and my laser printer can only handle black. After a while, I realized the only way to get a layout that works well for me was to create my own. Since I do a lot of book formatting (learn more about my formatting services), putting together something both attractive and functional was a breeze. 

I love Alice in Wonderland, so I created a layout inspired by the book. I printed the number of monthly and weekly spreads I wanted and then added the months and days to each page using a red marker.

My planner turned out so well, I decided to share it with you! I hope you enjoy this freebie and have a wonderful holiday!

If you do use this template, I'd love to see it! Just tag me @BethMart07 on Twitter or Instagram.