Black Letter Game – First Impressions

*NOTE*  This post will not include any spoilers for the Black Letter Game, just vague descriptions of situations for the purpose of analysis and storytelling.

Last Wednesday, we heard a knock at the door downstairs.  We don’t get unexpected visitors, so we’re always a little wary of who it might be.  Luckily we have a window that looks down over the sidewalk, so we can check out the situation.  This time, we saw the mailman walking back towards his truck.  I looked at Nick in a flash of realization.  “The box!” I shouted, and quickly ran downstairs.

A few weeks ago we had gone in 50/50 with a friend for a subscription to the Black Letter Game, a type of puzzle game which mails five “artifacts” to you over the course of five months.  The concept sounded so mysterious and wonderful and tapped into the realm of real-world puzzles and mysteries which I adore so much.

We had no idea what to expect, and that was half the fun.  I opened the door and saw this little box, maybe 1 foot cubed, sitting on the front step.

I grabbed my camera and documented everything before asking Nick to bring it inside.  I shut the door behind me, and he asked me to guess how heavy the box was.  I had been imagining something wooden and metal every time I heard the phrase “artifact”, and the box appeared to be weighing on Nick’s arms.  “Super heavy?!” I guessed excitedly.  Nick handed the box over to me.

It weighed about as much as a 1 foot cubed cardboard box.  “Super light!” I corrected myself, laughing.  Baffled, we inspected the box for more information.  Just two stamps, one that said “BLACK LETTER LABS”, and another instructing us not to open the box until March 02.  I turned the box over and heard the sound of a piece of paper fluttering around inside.  Suddenly, Friday felt like an eternity away.

But Friday did eventually arrive.  The game was scheduled to “start” at 3:00pm EST.  3:00 came and went, and nothing happened.  Were they just running late?  Did we miss something?  Later that day, we were told we should already have had everything we needed to begin.  Uh-oh.  The game was already testing our resourcefulness.

Once we received that instruction, we flew excitedly through the process of “getting started” (I can’t say much more than that), finding all sorts of curious clues, some of which were highly entertaining.  And finally, we were ready to play the game for reals.

The box was open, its contents documented and relayed to our teammate, and we found ourselves confronted with five puzzles to solve.  Our strange little artifact… On the one hand, it seemed like we could glean an infinite number of puzzles from the data it presented.  On the other hand, how could we possibly extract five whole, logical answers from so much hot nonsense?

Delightfully, we found ourselves solving our first puzzle relatively early on.  We discovered a pattern, did some research, and made the connections.  The answer was clear, and we were right.  It felt great.

Our next two puzzles were similarly elegant.  Once we figured out what the artifact was encouraging us to do, things became simple and clear.  There was never any question whether what we were doing was right.  How do you know when you’re in love?  You’ll know.  How do you know when you’re on the right track in a Black Letter Game puzzle?  You’ll know.

The elegance of these puzzles really demonstrate the abilities of the designers and their respect for players.  The FAQ expresses the creators’ distaste for red herrings and their efforts to make sure their puzzles had as few as possible.  Compare this to last year’s Post Hunt where we were literally handed a bag full of red herrings (ultimately useless items).  Between that and the Final Six at The Stone, it feels so good to work on some well-designed puzzles for a change.

That being said, these puzzles aren’t easy.  In fact, my team is stuck at 3/5.  Day 1, we were on fire.  Day 2-3, we managed to eliminate some extraneous pieces and confirm one suspicion.  We feel so close on one puzzle, but at the same time we feel so far away from the right path.  We’re missing something.  The game has taught us that the answers will make sense, that we’ll know it when we see it.  And we just don’t see it.

But each day brings a fresh perspective.  Each night, our brains wash over the data of the day and form new connections.  This game has rather put us in our place as far as our assessment of our own puzzle-solving abilities, but we’re having a lot of fun.  And it’s lovely having something to look forward to each month for the next four months!

Although the game has already started, it’s not too late to join in!  Go sign up and join us for this fun journey!

18 comments on Black Letter Game – First Impressions

  • Matt

    Great recap; I’m really liking it, too! I have to ask, though, which two are you stuck on?

    • clavicarius (author)

      Thanks =)

      To err on the side of not revealing too much about the game to the internet, we’re stuck on:


      I noticed the former was the last to be solved by any of the teams on Day 1, but it’s also the one we’ve made the most progress on out of the two (progress on the second being a big zero).

  • tabstop

    I had the inspiration for the *t puzzle over the weekend, but didn’t get it all together until today. I wish I knew how my brain came up with these things, because it would save time explaining this at the office. Definitely have some pieces, but missing some intermediate step on the *n puzzle (and from various comments it sounds like most everyone else is too, even (or especially) those that solved it). Got a “not correct but keep going” response when I took a stab at it.

    • clavicarius (author)

      Wish some of that inspiration would strike one of us! =) Haven’t even found a starting place for that one.

      Got a couple of “keep going”-esque responses as well for ***n. We’ve narrowed it down to one more piece of information we need to find. Unfortunately, there are a lot of options to choose from and we can’t seem to find whatever clue points to the one we need. Sounds like this is the toughest of the group by far!

    • Missy

      My team is also stuck on the *T and are totally spinning our wheels. 🙁

      We did manage to get the *N last night though and it was tricky-tricky.

      • clavicarius (author)

        Wow, congrats!! It must be tricky after all the brainpower it feels like we’ve thrown at it to no avail!

        We managed to get ***T today, and it was actually quite fun and unexpected!

        • Missy

          If you are getting teasing clues on the *N you are probably closer than you think. We had to iterate on it quite a few times (and a typo on our notes didn’t help!) and also got the messages about being close. Once we even were asked to explain our methodology (which we were told was sound, but still wrong).

          Our problem with the *T is we can’t seem to find the right starting point.

          • clavicarius (author)

            Thanks for the advice! One of our teammates managed to solve it yesterday at last! Definitely frustrating though, if you basically “figure out” the puzzle but still don’t have the right answer because there are too many ways to go about it.

            *T is a little different than the rest, but the starting point is the same. We were massively over-thinking things I think… But hindsight is 20/20 I guess!

            • Missy

              Yes, I managed to get the *T last night. It was actually something I’d been thinking of doing for a couple of days, but I just wasn’t setup for it, and didn’t think I’d actually need to set it up until I talked to a friend who had already solved it. 😯

  • Jason

    You’re doing better than my team is, at least. We’re stuck at 2/5 and I feel like we’re banging our heads against a wall on a couple of the others. But it is *such* a cool game, and extremely well-executed so far. I don’t even mind feeling a little dumb. 🙂

    • clavicarius (author)

      Agreed =) The coolness definitely outweighs the humbling feeling it gives (and hey, it’s probably not a bad feeling once in a while). And to think, we get a new one every month from now to July!

  • Dawn

    Hey – I’m just thrilled we finally got the **O…I’m not much of a puzzle person, but it is surely giving he hubby and I something to hash over at dinner! I have a feeling we will be one of the slow ones. So glad you have this board. Nice to see encouraging chatter even if we can’t talk about it 🙂 Good luck everyone!

    • clavicarius (author)

      At first, the whole time/leaderboards thing was really getting to me. I was feeling totally psyched out the first day and could barely think over the clock I heard ticking in my head!

      But now that a few days have passed (and I’ve been put in my place by these tough puzzles), I’m feeling a lot more relaxed about the speed.

      After all, it’s not like there is a prize, and it would be pretty easy to cheat your way into a high place (I could just buy a new subscription and enter all the answers really fast now that I know them, for example).

      It’s all about having fun! Although it can feel frustrating when the answer just seems out of reach, somehow, with time, our brains can see new things and make new discoveries that surprise us. It’s like that saying, “It always seems impossible until it’s done” =)

      Glad to have so many people here commenting and discussing the game! Well, as much as we can discuss it anyway =) Maybe we should start speculating about what the next artifact will be!

  • Dawn

    Dang – thought we finally had the N. Starting to get a headache!

    • clavicarius (author)

      I was not a fan of that one =/ Definitely headache-inducing! I encourage lots of theory-testing and submitting your hunches for feedback!!

  • Matt Stephans

    Is anyone looking for another team member? I have experience with these, but have found my interest slipping as I am solving them solo. Haven’t opened the second puzzle yet.

    • Dawn

      Matt – We (Hubby and I, not a true team in the game sense I suppose)opened ours…I have to say my interest is slipping based on the content of package 2 alone. Was a “meh” moment at best. Still going to try it solo for the time being but hope you and more folks can find a way to “share” within rules on here for the spirit of it. Makes it a bit more fun to see the vague victories and struggling innuendos 🙂 Good luck!

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