An ode to puzzles
Location: at home
Date Played: May 2023
Team size: 1-2; we recommend 1-2
Duration: variable based on player experience levels and desired intensity of play; anticipate 2-4 hours
Price: about $17
The Armillary Papers is Scot Ehrhardt’s first foray into creating a puzzle book. Scot himself is a poet and educator living in Maryland and The Armillary Papers reflects that, being steeped in poetry and set in eastern Maryland. A quick note about the setup of this book: Scot Ehrhardt is the creator of the book but he is also a character in the book, having provided the annotations throughout. The fictional author is the mysterious and deceased Cyzal Frost.
It took me a while to get into this book, and truthfully I likely wouldn’t have picked this up myself if it didn’t hit our review queue. Having said that, I like it more now that I finished it and have had the chance to reflect on it than I did when starting it. There were some puzzles and processes that were difficult to sort through. The whole book and all the puzzles contained within were open from the start without a clear path through them. Some things which felt like puzzle trailheads led nowhere – admittedly, though, some of these dead ends might turn out to be the unhinted “additional tricks” mentioned in an out-of-universe note that accompanies the book.
But I did find myself coming around to it the more I read, the more I solved, and the more I pieced together the story and learned how to trust Scot Ehrhardt as a puzzle designer and storyteller. As I delved deeper and deeper, I found the story to be haunting and plaintive in a way that is rarely approached in the puzzle world. And while some puzzles leaned towards being obtuse and underclued, many others were clear, direct, and fun to figure out. After a slow start, I appreciate the journey I was taken on. I look forward to reading the poetry through again with the perspective gained from solving the mysteries, and to Scot’s next project. This was an interesting first offering with some strengths to build upon.
Who is this for?
- Story seekers
- Puzzle lovers
- Poetry fans
- Best for players with at least some experience
- An engaging story
- A unique type of puzzle book
The body of Reginald Gunn had been found, in his possession a driver’s license bearing the name Cyzal Frost. The only other record of Cyzal Frost existing is a strange book of poetry found in Gunn’s house. This book, The Armillary Papers, was found by the in-universe character Scot (the real life creator of the book), who read through it for clues and left occasional annotations. The book version of Scot passed The Armillary Papers on to me. It became my task as the reader to discover the meaning of the book.
The Armillary Papers is both a poetry book and a puzzle book. Readers can approach it from multiple angles. It can be read as the poetry collection that it is and readers can begin to understand the story and judge the poetry on its own merits. For the more puzzle-oriented crowd, there are multiple mysteries layered into the book, some more difficult to discover than others. Players use the poems, the art, and the ephemera stuck between the pages to solve puzzles and reveal the mystery of the book.
Scot Ehrhardt’s The Armillary Papers was a play-at-home puzzle book with a moderate level of difficulty.
Puzzles were focused on making connections, discovery, and attention to detail.
➕ This is a novel format; I haven’t seen a poetry puzzle book before.
➖ Some puzzles weren’t clear when they finished, or when they started. For example, I felt strongly I knew how one particular puzzle needed to start, but I was waiting for a cue to take that first step rather than act on instinct.
➕ The story was engaging and meaningful, if a bit on the sad side.
➖ A few puzzles solved to the same solution. Whether the intent was to highlight the answer’s importance or to provide solvers different paths to the same vital information, I found myself wishing I had new and different information for every solve.
❓ The puzzles were not gated by chapter. This isn’t a necessity in a puzzle book, but having everything in play at the start made me feel disorganized before I found all of the correct threads to pull on together.
➕ The Armillary Papers was full of Baltimore-area locations and has a very personal feel to it.
➖ The ending was a bit of a letdown in terms of puzzle content: the final puzzle was barely a bump in the road, and there was a lot to read and understand all at once. The story reached a somewhat satisfying conclusion, but the end sequence had a very different vibe from the book.
Tips For Players
- Space Requirements: Minimal. You need enough space for the book and note-taking.
- Required Gear: Pencils and other note-taking gear. You should play this one at home.
Buy your copy of Scot Ehrhardt’s The Armillary Papers, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
Disclosure: Scot Ehrhardt provided a media copy for review.