They were here before…
Location: at home
Date played: Summer 2017
Team size: 1 -¯\_(ツ)_/¯; we recommend 2-3
Price: $16 per copy
Story & setup
A top secret excavation yielded no interesting results until the team suddenly vanished on the 29th day leaving behind no evidence of their existence except for a mysterious and cryptic journal.
Created by Dimitris Chassapakis, Journal29 was a puzzle book with a narrative experienced entirely through puzzles and illustration.
Playing Journal29 required the book, a pencil (seriously, don’t try this with a pen), and a computer or smartphone.
Every 2 pages of Journal29 contained a URL / QR code and puzzle. When we thought we had a solution to a puzzle, we visited the URL, submitted our answer, and the page either told us we were wrong… or rewarded us with a “key” word. The keys from the puzzles would ultimately be plugged into subsequent puzzles.
Journal29 contained 63 individual puzzles. Each one was unique. If a particular method of solving worked once, it would not work again. In the book’s own words, Journal29 required us to “write, draw, search, fold, combine, and more.”
While some of the puzzle types were familiar, many were remarkably inventive.
The mix of puzzles was fantastic. These included both simple ones and mindbogglers.
The first 8 puzzles built a elegant on-ramp for the rest of the book.
The website was simple and effective.
The key system was smart. If we solved a puzzle based on incomplete information (we didn’t have one of the necessary keys) and then backsolved that key, it did not spoil the puzzle that was meant to yield the backsolved key. We simply had the key to an unsolved puzzle… not the solution to the puzzle. (I’m looking at you puzzle #28. One day I’ll figure out what the hell you are.)
We loved how some puzzles daisy-chained via keys. This meant that certain portions of the book would bind up until we made progress on an earlier puzzle. In the meantime, however, we had other puzzle tracks and puzzles that required no keys. Because of this design decision, we could be woefully stuck in one segment and simply move on to different puzzles. We’d periodically revisit the puzzle we were stuck on until we had a breakthrough. As a result, every time we sat down with Journal29, we made some progress.
Journal29 was low commitment. It lasted us a few weeks of on again, off again puzzling.
I liked the geometric aesthetic of Journal29’s illustrations.
The handwriting font used in Journal29 was occasionally difficult to read. This led to transcription errors when we jotted down keys, which later resulted in frustration in the form of unsolvable puzzles.
The QR codes were worthless. It was easier to type into the URL bar to jump between puzzles. This was important because after the first 8 puzzles, we stopped solving them linearly. Also… QR codes are a silly, ugly, and insecure feature for people trapped in 2013.
A few puzzles in Journal29 got a little weird. They all ultimately had reasonable and clear solutions, but it was a grind to get through some of them.
The story was present, but not so compelling.
I really, truly wish that the answer website had accepted minor variations on puzzle solutions. There were times where we derived an answer along the lines of 123-456-7890, but it had to be entered as 1234567890. We lost a lot of time and built up a lot of frustration over minor variance in solution formats.
Journal29 had no built-in hint system. The Journal29 forum, however, did have spoiler discussions for each puzzle. I used this twice and the experience was mediocre because the discussions were unstructured, often giving me more detail than I wanted or requiring me to dig deep because some of the comments were more confusing than the puzzles. Both times that I used the forums, I learned that I had a key transcription error. I wish that the Journal29 simply had a structured and predictable help website; it would have been a better experience.
Should I play Journal29?
If you’re a puzzler, Journal29 is a fantastic purchase. It was more intriguing than a normal puzzle book. It was deeper, more challenging, and more entertaining than a 60-minute at-home escape room.
We’ve been traveling more than normal these past few months and we carried Journal29 with us. We’d pull it out on a train and solve a puzzle or two or focus on it for hours during a flight delay. It was lightweight and low tech. Because most of the puzzles solved with “ah-ha!” moments rather than grinding process puzzling, we could experience it casually.
I recommend Journal29 for small groups of people who spend a lot of time together. As a couple, it was fantastic. We could easily share the book and it was always remarkable when Lisa easily saw a path forward that was completely invisible to me (and vice-versa). If I was going to attempt this book with 3 or 4 people, I’d consider purchasing a second copy just to make sure that everyone could participate.
It is possible to solve Journal29 without destroying it, but you’d have to work very hard and probably photocopy many of the pages to do so. Jorunal29 was designed for destruction and that was absolutely fine with us.
Grab your copy of Journal29, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
Thank you to Amanda Harris for giving us a fresh copy of Journal29. You’ve brought us hours of entertainment.
(If you purchase via our Amazon links, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale.)