The first puzzle was a series of rings and wood and strings, meant to be detached from one another.
When someone showed me how it worked, it was the closest I had come to witnessing magic.
I’ve always wanted to capture some of that magic myself, in music, in art, in writing.
But something that has been deeply ingrained in my head, much like the careful explanation of removing those rings, is that a clever puzzle needs to also have a full set of clever clues.
It is not enough to reach the end of the story and announce the lengthy and fantastic path to the solution if we have not had the chance to witness that path ourselves.
There were many stories I read that had a brilliant climax but somehow all those clever turns and twists never made it to the page for me to try and solve as well.
It is my greatest regret with the tales of Sherlock Holmes.
We hear that Sherlock is clever.
We witness him saying clever things.
We find out at the end the fabulous solution that he has found using fiendishly obscure clues methodically pieced together.
But we never have a chance to pit ourselves against him. We know that the dog did nothing in the night time, but we do not get the chance to observe those other pieces of evidence, those other careful movements towards a grander whole.
I loved my complete collection of those tales, but there was always a disconnect reading them. They were the stories I could hear at the fireside, not the stories that forced me into the center of the tale.
The more a plot relies on clever twists and conclusions, the greater the responsibility to share those steps, no matter how obscured.
Whether it is a mystery or a romance or a dissertation on the existential dissatisfaction of small marine sea squirts, the smoke and mirrors should always be penetrable by a careful reader.
The dog may do nothing, but the story must always provide something to lead us towards the exquisite murder of a man by the horse he tried to lame.
This is a week about the role of illusions, plot, and puzzles in stories. Today’s referenced story is Silver Blaze by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
For animals who do something, you can read my fantasy novel, The Guests of Honor. It is available here.