Mike Selinker is a familiar name in puzzle circles, not only as a constructor but as the author of the long-running “Puzzlecraft” series in Games magazine and the book of the same name.
So my social-media networks lit up when his book The Maze of Games came out last year after a very successful Kickstarter campaign and more than a year of design and production. I will echo what my friends said at the time: if you like puzzles, this is a collection to pick up.
While the book is advertised as a puzzle/story combination, the story is little more than beads of text strung along a thin thread of plot; two Victorian-era siblings have been trapped in a series of puzzle-laden mazes by the skeletal-but-stylish Gatekeeper. But it’s worth skimming the story, not only to enjoy the fantastic illustrations by Pete Venters of Magic: The Gathering fame, but to glean occasional hints.
The puzzles, on the other hand, are the heart of the book. Word and logic puzzles of many types fill the pages. In general, the puzzles get harder as you move through the book. By way of example, the first set took me an evening or two to get through; many in the third set took me an hour each, though even some of those fell quickly. Kids will probably be able to work with you, though tackling the puzzles on their own might be challenging.
But the individual puzzles don’t exist in isolation. The Maze of Games is what puzzle geeks call an extravaganza, a series of puzzles that feed into one or more higher-level, or meta, puzzles. These are rare finds, though they are staples of the most popular puzzle hunts (the book was inspired by a live-action event Selinker runs at Gen Con). In this case, each individual answer gives you information you’ll need to exit the particular maze you’re meandering through. And a quick lookahead suggests a meta-meta: one more layer that brings in all the others. This adds tremendous depth and complexity, and a satisfying, engaging puzzle experience.
Selinker envisions solvers attacking his puzzles in the same order as the brother and sister in the book. But “I got stuck on one early puzzle” wouldn’t be an in-depth review, so I worked around problem spots, imposing a “finish one maze at a time” constraint on myself. The metapuzzle framework gives you the ability to find shortcuts to individual puzzles, backsolve them as needed, and sometimes bypass them altogether, which goes against the spirit of the book but relieves potential frustration. So if you care more about the puzzles than the minimal plot, you can enjoy the challenge of getting the information you need in a different way than Selinker intended. You can always swing back through and pick up the puzzles you skipped.
The book blew through its Kickstarter, and thus includes an appendix of puzzles made by some of the country’s top puzzle designers. You can also buy an audiobook version narrated by Wil Wheaton, a soundtrack, and even “an old-library” perfume, a strangely tempting idea given how much I like the smell of used-book bookstores. And if the book feels a little pricey or cumbersome to carry around, an ebook version (which doesn’t include the appendix) is available through Puzzazz. That’s actually how I solved it, though I have the physical book as well. For the word puzzles, the ebook is often an easier solving experience; for the logic puzzles and mazes, the book often is.