I’m a sucker for a good puzzle. Which is why I love reading books set in a “puzzle-world”–some kind of setting built as a test or obstacle course for the main character. My favorite aspects of this kind of story are the riddles that must be solved along the way and the satisfaction of finally understanding why the world was set up in the first place. Most important, a puzzle-world plot is enjoyable simply because the setting is so weird.
Let me give a few examples:
Kid wakes up in a maze. Kid must find way out of maze. Watch out for mechanical monsters.
The main puzzles here are finding a way out of the maze and figuring out why the kid is in the maze to begin with. This story also includes a few smaller puzzles along the way, though unfortunately they aren’t the type the reader can try to solve on her own. And of course, the whole maze turns out to be a test–but I won’t say more for fear of spoiling the story.
Girl wakes up in an arena. Girl must get out of arena. Watch out for monsters.
Again, the goal of the main character in this book is to figure out how to get out of the huge, wilderness-infested arena she finds herself in, but also to figure out what has gone wrong with what was supposed to be an arena filled with wonders. We also get a few small puzzles to solve along the way: What’s with this field guide that seems to be completely wrong? How can these mechanical parts be connected to form something useful? The story ends up being something of an allegory, and the arena is ultimately a test of character.
Family stumbles upon weird theme park. Family must escape theme park. Watch out for monsters.
Don’t judge me for loving Goosebumps. As a kid, I enjoyed the doom and gloom theme park featured in this story; my favorite part was the supposedly never-ending slide. This setting was less of a puzzle to solve and more of a collection of odd, somewhat dangerous attractions that made you say huh? And the theme park wasn’t so much a test as it was an entertainment for the monsters who ran it and filmed the human families who got stuck inside it.
Boy visits chocolate factory. Boy must find way to leave factory intact. Watch out for traps.
There’s no question about why Wonka’s factory was built or what Charlie is doing inside of it–we’re told all of that straight off. But the factory is full of such strange inventions and so many “traps” that you start to wonder what’s up Wonka’s sleeve. In the end, we realize that the whole tour has been a test–and that Charlie has passed, a very satisfying solution to a subtle sort of riddle.
What other puzzle-world plots have you encountered?