The Grand Master Manifesto
The process tends to change and the answers vary. You are interested in knowing how the culprit did it. You are dissatisfied when a problem is not complex enough to give you difficulty. You question the author’s prowess for not succeeding in tricking you. And question the problem for not managing to make you think more, before reaching half the book. In any case you continue reading because you want to read the solution regardless. And not only based on this but based on everything up to this point.
Congratulations are in order for you, theorist. This scenario is also possible. It is possible to also solve problem with less difficulty than expected so you aren’t satisfied. Like I wasn’t with Ellery Queen’s Calamity Town when I realized it could be solved before reaching a third of the book and later confirmed such theory based on the actions of the assumed “culprit” because no one else would blame themselves without a strong reason. Same as I was dissatisfied to be able to solve Van Dine’s first book in the first 50 pages because it was quite possible for “that” person to commit the crime but wasn’t for the others. In this case the rest of the book feels like dragging on about other matters. Or similarly when Paul Halter’s howdunit was effortless to figure out based on its own premise, that made the main problem the solution. We refer to the sort of interesting problems that though still captivating can be easy to solve. However, same as they exist there are also those that are incredibly difficult to solve.
Simple, effortless, challenging, complicated, impossible. All sorts of levels of complexity. Isn’t that the point?
Regardless of the simplicity of these problems, and their respective equivalents, you still enjoy them. Despite reasoning out the tricks you still enjoyed the tale the author told because the rest of the story and atmosphere make up for the drawbacks.
You wish to be amused, shocked, entertained, and challenged. Possibly all at the same time. You wish to reason. More importantly, by yourself than any other. Theoretical problems are made to be solved and if you can then you will. There is not a reason to use cheap methods to obtain the answer because this is you and you can solve it. If there is a spoiler that reveals the culprit’s identity before one makes a strong conjecture, one rather not read it. To be adamant when it comes to problem solving as you are. While I have heard that there is a sure-fire way to solve most of Agatha Christie’ books by following a pattern, but I rather stay away from it because I want to solve them personally. No I don’t want to know such formula that would allow me to cheat on a problem I can solve myself, otherwise the whole reason of solving the problem loses its point.
And so I would ask, are you similar in this respect, theorist? If you have reached this far then you probably are. Perhaps is not only the story the interests you but the promise of a challenge that comes with it. Perhaps you know exactly what I mean through all these long discourses and years – and this is all rather redundant for you. Perhaps it would be better that way. Still this needed to be written because this is in large part of who the problem solver is.
You don’t need and shouldn’t have needed too much help with full theories for any problems through these years, rather you required hints and clues to work out an excellent theory on your own. You found the process fulfilling and intriguing. You found the long train of thoughts interesting in their own way. I only provide clues and commentary of theoretical problems, occasionally crafting a full officially theory from them. But the final say is made by whoever engages in this complex procedures of problem solving.
How the culprit did it and how the detective saw through it by figuring out the reasons and methods used, huh. Yes, tricks. You are also interested in them. They are in all of these stories. The more difficult the mystery is, the most incredible the solution is. And every now and then how extraordinarily simplistic the solution is.
They used an object. That fabric instead of that other object. Used x-x-x-x to create the trick. The culprit left before x-x-x-x hour but everyone thought he did later. B character was the culprit and not C because he was the only person with access to x-x-x-x object. It goes on and on and on.
There are problems that can be solved by deducing who it was and who it was only possible based on certain action given the timeframe and the means. There are mysteries solved via which characters has the best motive and chance. Then there are those with incredibly difficult to believe crimes with intricate solutions that can only exist in mystery books.
In actuality, there are many methods. Methods and solutions we can’t easily believe.
There are problems that not only appear impossible but because the solution is improbable enough that creates a strong skeptical response from the reader after learning the solution. The reader questions when this happens, how was it possible that all those events played out exactly like the culprit wanted? How did anyone not notice? His question is fundamentally “why”?
These mysteries are still great classic pieces but they’re so incredible the theorist faces difficulty thinking or considering such answer as even possible. Not always because the theorist didn’t consider them but because he didn’t consider it to be a “possible answer”. “The answer is probably something else”, the theorist reading this type of problem thinks. After all, it is absurd, isn’t it? So it can’t be. In this case the reader solving the problem has to imagine incredible scenarios and adding extra details to the story to make the solution work. There are also situations where there is almost no realistic way for the theorist to solve such mystery in the first place.
This “impossible” mystery and “impossible solutions” that only works in theory. This is the dilemma of the mystery that is a theoretical problem at its highest level. The difficulty of a puzzle whose answer one can’t figure out after hours and the sublime emotion after one solves it. The surprise when one reads the solution. The disbelief but still respect one holds for the piece. On one hand, the solution that is almost offensively intricate and cheap to be considered a real solution; on the other hand, still having a strong admiration for its wit and sagacity. The effect is almost like being tricked but after learning how complicated and how well pulled off it was one feels compelled to give it credit because it was incredible.
This is what the problem solver does regardless of whether there is an audience or not. Part of the personality. To tackle complicated problems in general, to imagine alternatives, picking up on the subtleties, and solutions. Because of it, habitually finding themselves attempting to solve a problem which they find interesting as the prospect is quite innate.
It matters not if it is a puzzle, mystery, or whatever as long as it is complex and interesting. If it is a challenge proposed by the author then one would to honor these wishes and try to solve the problem he or she has posed and taken arduous time to create for the readers to solve.
As a theorist he wants to explore further possibilities. She wishes for stories to show what she couldn’t have imagined. They want theoretical problems – be mysteries or any other form as long as they are in some way complex to solve – for they are most welcomed to challenge them, to repeatedly prove them wrong and fascinate them. In the end, to not necessarily want stories that are always restricted by rules, but instead wishing for the author’s imagination to run rampant while masterfully doing so.
To craft and solve problems unlike any other. With multiple culprits where 9 out of the 10 players are culprits. And the actual solution will be solving the identity of the true mastermind behind everything on top of solving all the crimes. To wish for a mystery situated in a desolated island where there are multiple “fake keys” and only a few actually work. And one where all the keys are distributed among the players so everyone has full access. One where no one knows which key works and one where irremediably a key is lost early in the story. The question is, was the key that was lost the only one that worked?
Even so one would proceed to modify these ideas even more. One would try different combinations, switch them around, or reverse them at times. Change that situation to “all keys do work but they belong to other rooms they were originally intended” meaning that all rooms and keys are crucial – and knowing which key belonged to what room and who has that key is the dilemma.
To want the culprit to be invisible. To wish for its existence to be vague. A mystery where the culprit is blind yet is able to flawlessly eliminate the players making one question how it is possible.
Even if it’s asking too much to wish for all of this. Even so. Even so wanting the culprits to be memorable rather than just a problem the master detective swiftly solves. Even so wishing for the possibility of an old fashion standard mystery with the twist where none of the characters are interested in the detective solving the crime. To deeply yearn for enough unorthodox pieces would make traditionalists go pale.
If, you, my dear theorist, are familiar with these discourses then you know that the theorists yearn for complex and impossible problems. Like those puzzles that take hours to solve. Like those orthodox problems one dreams about in which ideas “locked rooms that can only be opened from the outside” or scenarios in which rooms that only be opened with a key from the outside are common. A situation where once someone is inside the room that person cannot leave the room until the door is opened from the outside.
To wish for countless scenarios and impossibilities. Like that exasperating impossible problems one reads and can’t fully puzzle out and like those many others one hasn’t read, heard or seen yet. Problems that could almost only work in theory as futile as it may sound. Be that heresy, as it may be, to want stories woven with complexity, for them to be crafted and for the theorist to solve them.
And you my dear theorist, do you not?