The Gray Matter Sodality [Review]

Piece of mind.

Location: at home

Date Played: August 7, 2018

Team size:  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯; we recommend 1-2

Duration:  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Price: $25 for each monthly installment with a month-to-month subscription, $63 for a 3-month subscription, $114 for a 6-month subscription, $204 for an annual subscription

REA Reaction

The Gray Matter Sodality was a monthly subscription puzzle game. Each monthly package had us solving a single layered puzzle in search of a segment of Albert Einstein’s brain (not kidding).

The story was as humorous as it was clever. The narrow puzzling was kind of refreshing… when it worked well. Unfortunately, The Gray Matter Sodality was hamstrung by issues with puzzle ambiguity, requirements for unusual gear, and an aggressively high price tag.

In-game: A pencil, plastic brain, GMS notebook, map, and a letter from The Gray Matter Sodality.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players seeking a limited and focused puzzle experience
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Fantastic setup
  • Narrow, focused puzzling

Story

When Albert Einstein passed away in 1955, pathologist Thomas Harvey extracted the brain of history’s most famous physicist without permission. Harvey ultimately persuaded Einstein’s son Hans Albert to allow him to keep the brain, under the condition that it would be used for scientific research. After decades of keeping the brain in a jar, Harvey dissected Einstein’s brain into 240 blocks and 1,000 microscopic slides, distributing them to researchers around the world. (This is a true story, by the way.)

We were recruited by an international organization dedicated to reclaiming and reassembling the scattered pieces of Einstein’s deconstructed gray matter.

In-game: A deck of playing cards and a pair of dice on top of a letter from The Gray Matter Sodality.

Setup

The Gray Matter Sodality sent us monthly envelopes with a letter and some clues to find the location of a piece of Al’s brain. (This review is based on a sample of 3 installments.)

Each envelope contained a few pieces of paper and a key prop like a deck of cards or a cassette.

We also frequently needed to find or acquire other items to solve some of these puzzles.

When we solved the episode’s puzzle, we submitted the solution (the location of the brain fragment) to a website to confirm and complete the challenge.

Gameplay

The Gray Matter Sodality was a monthly mailing with one layered puzzle per envelope. The level of difficulty and time commitment to solve varied broadly across episodes.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, puzzling, and finding the right tools to solve a challenge.

Analysis

+ Turning the real life story of the dissection and dissemination of Albert Einstein’s brain into the basis for an episodic puzzle game was &%^*ing inspired. It’s one of those ideas where I am confident that there will be many other creators wishing that they had come up with it.

+ We really appreciated the focused nature of The Gray Matter Sodality. After playing some massive multi-month subscription games with multi-hour playtimes, backtracking, and lots of information to parse, it was relaxing to open up a small package, find a few items, and know that they all tied to a single puzzle.

The Gray Matter Sodality‘s puzzles had a few layers, so while each installment may have been one puzzle, there was some depth.

– The need for some unusual gear ranged from annoying to infuriating. We were able to get around some of this via free iPhone apps, but one required the real thing…

Spoiler - The infuriating gear...

I’ve gotta vent…

It wasn’t just the gear, but how it was presented.

We needed a cassette player. In 2018. A cassette player. A cassette player.

In-game: a cassette take labeled

Setting aside that we needed a piece of technology that was far more than two decades past being useful for most people, the presentation of this cassette was ill conceived.

When we flipped the cassette we found a label with shortened URL that sent us to a Spotify playlist. When we found that playlist we thought, “Brilliant! It’s a cassette, but the contents are on Spotify. What a clever workaround.”

Then we realized that the playlist was far longer than the capacity of a cassette and so we reached out to the hint system… which confirmed that we needed to listen to the cassette. These were two different threads of the same puzzle, not an inspired workaround.

So I set out to find a cassette player; it was not particularly easy.

David's Facebook post with a poop emoji background asking,

Unsurprisingly, most of our friends and family didn’t have a cassette player. Eventually we got one from Lisa’s aunt who works in radio.

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– Some of the cluing felt incomplete. After we solved the main challenge of one puzzle, we spent 15 minutes guessing because there was a shocking amount of ambiguity in deriving the actual solution.

+ The month 7 cards & dice puzzle was really clever.

? The production value was fine. Nothing terrible, but nothing special or visually impactful.

– The variability of commitment was too broad. We solved one of these episodes in less than 10 minutes, another in about 25 minutes… but a lot of it was filling in a cluing gap, and the last one took about an hour. The expectation setting wasn’t great.

+/- There wasn’t a self-service hint system. Despite this drawback, we received prompt email responses to any hint requests (even when we used a friend’s email address.) We don’t know how well this will work for people in diverse time zones.

The Gray Matter Sodality was too expensive. There wasn’t a lot to it. It was mostly printer paper, toner, and postage. Personally, I find it difficult to justify $25 for a 10-minute puzzle. The production value and puzzle quality didn’t do anything to help justify the price tag. Even the $17 per package (if you subscribe for a year) seems a bit steep based on the three episodes that we played.

+ After speaking to someone who has subscribed to more episodes from The Gray Matter Sodality, I’ve heard that there is at least one better puzzle in another mailing that we didn’t receive. I’m glad to hear that there’s a bit more depth.

Tips for Playing

  • The mailings are not fully self-contained. You will need to buy or find additional equipment to solve some of these puzzles.
  • Because the installments are focused, The Gray Matter Sodality is really only a 1-2 person activity.

Order your subscription to The Gray Matter Sodality, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Gray Matter Sodality provided a complementary reviewer’s sample of three mailings.

(If you purchase via our Cratejoy links, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale.)

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