March 11, 2019

Building a Puzzle Book

If you follow me on Instagram, then you probably already know that I've recently been working a bunch on a puzzle book. I'm a huge fan of logic problems, boards games, escape rooms, and strategy video games, so I decided to use my background with those to build an engaging puzzle book. Even with that, as well as my experience publishing novels, putting together a puzzle book has presented quite a few unique challenges.

Collecting the actual puzzles was fairly quick and easy, but after that, I had to iron out how this book would work before putting together the narrative. Since I wanted the feel of solving the book to be similar to that of playing an escape room, I needed to give readers an ‘open room’ full of interesting objects they can tinker with. I also wanted the solving of one problem to lead to more clues revealing themselves. Then, once all the pieces were put together, there would be one huge riddle which would unlock the last door for players to escape.

Part of the escape room experience, at least for me, is asking for the occasional hint. In a physical escape room, there is a game master running the room who can give guidance when needed, or tell you if you’re wasting time in the wrong avenue. In fact, some people treat escape rooms as an interactive dinner theater, asking the game master to narrate the entire process of breaking out of the room. Then there are the locks which allow you to try several combinations while trying to find the one that actually works. I wanted to include all of these elements to give my book more authenticity and the ability to support several different play styles.

There was a lot of back and forth while I tried to figure out a way to check solutions without just printing the answer in the back of the book. I also wanted a way to look up hints and solutions so that the adjacent hints weren’t just the previous and next puzzles in the book. Most importantly, I wanted this project to be self-contained. Readers won’t have to rely on the internet or a phone app in order to play. Ultimately, I put together a keyword system which I think works really well. It involves a lot of flipping through the book, making clear formatting crucial to easily navigate the different sections.

I’m still adjusting the formatting and cover. I can do both for a novel pretty quickly now, but I’m not sure what an indie puzzle book should look like. To be totally honest, I’m really struggling over the cover. Furthermore, the formatting for this book has to do more than just make the text pleasant to read. Putting some sort of tab at the edge of the page to denote each section will make flipping to the correct page faster, but having ink stretch to the edge of the page requires formatting the entire interior with bleed, something I haven’t done before.

There’s an awful lot that goes into assembling a book that people don’t really think about. And if all those elements are done right, they blend into the background, allowing the narrative and fun problems to take center stage.

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