The Puzzle as a Literary Genre

Observations about Puzzles with a Purpose by Paul Niquette
Notes about the title.
Copyright ©2010 Paul Niquette. All rights reserved.

 
A bottle and a cork cost a dollar ten cents. 
The bottle costs a dollar more than the cork. 
How much does the cork cost?
-- Puzzle given to Paul Niquette by his father in 1939.

y solution was wrong, of course.  Same as everybody else's during the seven decades that have followed.  But that day I was shown how to solve it, and something wonderful lighted up my six-year-old cranium. The moment marked the beginning of a penchant for solving puzzles -- and later on, for creating puzzles, thereby offering others the pleasure of finding solutions. 

Within fifty years, the Internet asserted its primacy.  What better venue will there ever be for sharing puzzles with the world!  A search on the web for "puzzles online" produces hits by the tens of millions.  Heck, you will find more than a hundred entries listed in the table of contents at Puzzles with a Purpose.  By the way, one of those puzzles has a grown-up title, Counter-Intuitive Cork.  Here are some observations about that on-line collection...
 

Whatever the formal definition, each puzzle is supposed to be a friendly test of the solver's reasoning and knowledge, with the latter augmented by materials from all over the web.  Solving each puzzle may be mere entertainment, but...
-- hey, does the word 'mere' really belong in front of 'entertainment'? 

A puzzle might bring parent and child together through words (Wholly Toledo) or graphics (Droodle Generation) or elementary arithmetic (Gold on the Wing). A puzzle designed for a juvenile (Train Speed) can confound an adult but...
-- hey, why not vice versa (Riddle...or Hoax)? 

Most surprising is the discovery that a puzzle can produce an original discovery (Reaman Numeral).  A puzzle ought to be a learning experience for the solver (Erg and Ugh, Mythical Muses, Steamboat Hill, Natural Hypoteneese) but...
-- hey, why not for the creator (Strange Series)? 

The idea of the puzzle is to invite passive readers to become active solvers. By convention,  the published solution is necessarily kept separated from the puzzle. Solvers must wait for the next publication cycle or suffer some other form of inconvenience, like looking up the denouement on a different page or upside down in fine print.  On the web, the solution is one click away.  Suspense is thus self regulated. 

-publication opens up a galaxy of new conventions. The power of transclusion by hypertext deserves highest consideration.  Optional links augment the content of both puzzle and solution.  Gaps in a solver's knowledge get filled in instantly for the occasion at hand -- and beyond.  Acquiring new knowledge cannot be avoided, as this singular tool-of-the-web exploits and satisfies the solver's curiosities (plural).

Paperless delivery makes conservation of space meaningless.  Indeed, hyphen-
ation of words at the end of a line makes no sense and impairs reading.  Same for right justification and small font size.  Sidebars and footnotes can apply many graphical options.  Puzzles especially benefit from all the features of on-line publication. 
Everybody knows that there are two general categories for literature: fiction and nonfiction.  Puzzles can be fiction but their solutions must be nonfiction!  Please note the exclamatory punctuation.  When one thinks of nonfiction, some twenty genres come readily to mind...
 
Almanac
Biography
Diary
Dictionary
Documentary
Encyclopedia
Essay
History
Journalism
Letter
Manual
Memoir
Philosophy
Reference
Review
Science
Scripture
Statute
Textbook
Travelogue

Something seems to be missing on that list.  Isn't it about time for a new genre?   Meanwhile...

ver a decade, Puzzles with a Purpose evolved from simple (Band Around the Earth) and terse (Genesis Won One) to complex (Next Superbowl) and verbose (Sloping in the Dark).  Puzzles and their solutions, unfettered by the conservation of paper, are free to express any amount of literary content, in the form of both essays and narratives.  Whereas each puzzle necessarily stands alone alongside its solution, some puzzles became linked to others.  Thus, a half-dozen themes have emerged.  They are listed here with representative examples...
 

Recreational Challenges...
Chase Me, Catch Me
Logic and Reasonings...
Measuring the Moon
Math and Models...
Paranormal Numbers
Reasoning meets the Rails...
Streetcar Mystery
Puzzles in the Skies...
Pilot's Nightmare
Words and Meanings...
Omancy Schmancy

A few puzzles may have made original contributions in science (To Billow or Not to Billow), technology (Single Tracking), and mathematics (Circloid).  Inasmuch as the solver's powers of observation are called into play, a puzzle and its solution might even result in original insights into a baffling mystery.  Permit me to illustrate...

he puzzle Which way, Amelia? was created with an exceptionally ambitious objective: To solve the greatest mystery in aviation history, the disappearance of Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan during their 1937 flight around the world.  Theories and speculations and myths appear on a million websites pertaining to this fascinating story.  An on-line bibliography lists more than a hundred published works claiming to solve the mystery.  Given all that, what might one puzzle hope to accomplish? 

Not enough, apparently. The Amelianna Collection actually took ten puzzles. 

As puzzles are expected to do, these entries identify unknowns and solve for them.  Acting together, they address the most critical issues in Amelianna. Then too, there are unknowables in  the historical record and popular narratives.  That means solvers must make assumptions

Whether these puzzles accomplished the objective of actually solving the Amelia Earhart mystery with finality -- well, such a judgment is not within the scope of the present essay. 

There are three dozen links among the individual puzzles, binding them together to form a coherent whole, transcending disparate topics. The Amelianna Collection totals 20,000 words and includes 40 illustrations.  More than a hundred text passages were brought  in from worldwide resources. With its transclusions, that would amount to a ten-chapter book -- if the set were ever printed out on paper.

Some of those entries came about by inadvertence as much as by design. The development was dynamic.  Over a period of months, individual entries arose almost spontaneously, each standing alone. As originally published, several puzzles and their solutions were marked "work-in-process."  Comments and criticisms received from solvers near and far influenced the contents.  New puzzles were added and gradually brought into confluence with the others. 

Whether these particular aggregations will wind up in a book-like manuscript remains to be seen, but -- hey, length is irrelevant.  Indeed, a stand-alone puzzle qualifies for the new literary genre, especially one enriched with hypertext-intensive features.  Care to share your thoughts?

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Problematics as a Literary Genre

hat was the working title for an early draft of this essay.   Because of its resemblance to mathematics, problematics was thought by the author to have more gravitas than puzzle.  A check in OneLook found these quick definitions for problematic (without the 's')...

  • open to doubt or debate ("If you ever get married, which seems to be extremely problematic")
  • making great mental demands; hard to comprehend or solve ("A problematic situation at home")
Such undesirable characterizations are confirmed in 29 dictionaries on the web, each giving emphasis to the embedded problem, which since antiquity has always been -- well, problematic...
    c.1600, shortening of problematical (1560s), from Late Latin problematicus, from Greek problematikos "pertaining to a problem," from problematos, genitive of problema (see problem)...
Some 44 online dictionaries have definitions for problem that are distinguished from that of puzzle and not always amenable to solution.  Here is how Oxford Dictionary defines problem...
  • matter or situation regarded as unwelcome or harmful and needing to be dealt with and overcome.
An unappealing connotation is reinforced by one dictionary that gives problematics (with the 's') a plural definition: "the uncertainties or difficulties inherent in a situation or plan." 
 
Life is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be lived.      -- Thomas Merton

Another web reference provides usage examples for problematics, all decidedly gloomy...

  • "Gradation addresses one of the key problematics of metaphysics that arise from Aristotelianism: 'being is predicated in many ways' (Aristotle, Met.1028a10)."—Mulla Sadra
  • "Beyond that, Clinton ducked the dynasty issue and the problematics of a co-presidency."  —Hillary On Bill: I Understand That 'Its A Lonely Job In The White House
  • "Chava Tidhar and Dafna Lemish found that unique conflict situations, such as the uprising in the occupied Palestinian territories, sharpen the problematics of the images of women in television news." —Israeli Media: Portrayal of Women.
The essay above is ambitious enough without setting upon the word problematics hoping to engender a recreational sense for it.  Accordingly, the word puzzle...
  • a particularly baffling challenge that is said to have a correct solution ("He loved to solve chessmate puzzles")
...will just have to develop its own gravitas as a literary genre.
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