Author Nick Bantock is probably best known for his Griffin and Sabine correspondence series from quite a while back. It was a bit revolutionary at the time, redefining what it meant to be a book. Envelopes, cards, notes, all combined to create an unfolding story through correspondence. Now Bantock is back and out with a new book, Dubious Documents, which combines straight-up puzzle solving with his unique knack for creating interesting things that we can sort of call books.
Dubious Documents begins with some backstory. You receive a note from Magnus Berlin, who explains why he has sent you a series of sixteen envelopes. Most of the rest of the book is the series of envelopes, each with a riddle inside, a two-sided, visually fascinating sheet of paper covered with an odd assortment of numbers, letters, images, photos, drawings, maps, and more. It is up to you to figure out what the mysteries on each of the pages point to.
There are clues to each of the sheets in the front of the book, but a few of the mysteries can probably be solved without the clues, for more experienced puzzle solvers. The solution to each one is a single word, which you must then know what to do with to decode the larger puzzle. The end result is meant to be provocative, and well-intertwined with pre-revolutionary French history. You will be left with a profound idea that hopes to change your way of thinking about the world. Intriguing! I won’t reveal all of the secrets of this book, though, not even the pre-puzzle solving parts. But throughout, there is plenty for you to discover as your journey unfolds.
My curiosity was piqued immediately by this book; I knew I was in for a treat as soon as I saw it. But, I didn’t want to rush through the enjoyable experience—I prefer to savor such things—so I haven’t quite finished it yet. Still, I’ve gotten far enough into the fun (probably about 85% of the way) to know that this puzzle book is worth the price of admission (less than $20, and even less on Amazon) and is something you can share with your friends and family. Solve the puzzle by yourself or with others, and then pass the book around or pass it down to your kids, allowing others to unlock the secrets of the French past, and our own future.
Again, the book includes a set of clues, one for each of the sixteen envelopes. The clues will be required for some of the solutions, and just a bonus for others. Skilled puzzle solvers will want to look at the envelope contents for a while before reading the corresponding clue, to see if they can figure them out on their own. It will be possible in some cases, and not in others, since you won’t always know which parts of the images are important or relevant until you read the clues.
I got through most of the puzzles solved in one sitting, but a couple of my guesses didn’t fit in the end, so I’ll have to go back through them and figure out where I went wrong. A few of the puzzles I solved within seconds, after barely unfolding the envelope contents. Several others took me a few minutes. And a few still elude me. It does get a bit harder as you go, with some easy ones at the beginning to get you going; I first got stuck on number six. Then, one of them I thought I had correct, but I was wrong. And another one didn’t quite fit either, though it seemed to fit at first. So, my initial feeling of successful conquest was pretty short lived. I can’t wait to dive back in with a new perspective and finish solving the mystery.
This puzzle book is a great project for solo solving, or for a small group. It would be especially nice for families to do with their kids, and for the kids to learn some of the basics of puzzle solving, clue hunting, and deduction. And the price is affordable enough to justify doing it all in an afternoon! Much cheaper than an escape room.
In addition to solving the puzzles, there is good fun in looking at the gorgeous imagery inside Dubious Documents. There are so many old fashioned things to look at, and there is text in several different languages. Even after you solve the puzzle, you’ll still enjoy looking through the components of this book.
I think Dubious Documents is a no-brainer for puzzle lovers. It’s gorgeous and interesting visually, and the puzzles and backstory are intriguing, to say the least. Author Nick Bantock has done it again. Plus, it’s made me want to get all of his other work as well.
If you act quickly, getting the book, and solving the puzzle, publisher Chronicle Books has a website where readers can submit their solution to the puzzle. Correct answers will be entered to win exclusive art prints by the author.
Note: I received a copy for review purposes.