Verwald’s Treasures

The latest week-long pause in this blog’s regular content was brought to you courtesy of Verwald’s Treasures, an online wizards-and-polyhedra-themed puzzle extravaganza by estimable puzzlewright Nathan Curtis. A sequel to his earlier puzzle extravaganza What’s That Spell, it was kickstarted in 2018 and repeatedly delayed until its release two weeks ago. I didn’t start it immediately, thinking I’d devote a full weekend to clearing the thing, but, much like its development, the solving wound up taking longer than expected.

It’s the sort of metapuzzle-oriented thing that fans of Panda Magazine and the MIT Mystery Hunt will be familiar with: a melange of crosswords and assembly puzzles and Japanese spatial logic puzzles and the like, where solutions unlock more puzzles and every puzzle yields a word to be used later. Each puzzle thus effectively has two stages: first solve the puzzle presented, then figure out how to extract a word from it. Sometimes the second stage is trivial, as when a crossword has some highlighted squares. Other times, it’s the bulk of the puzzle’s difficulty, as you stare at the filled-in grid with no idea what to do next. This goes a long way to establishing a pattern that most of the puzzles are not simply what they appear to be on the surface.

Although putting the whole thing online is important to the layered structure, the individual puzzles are not electronic and could have been delivered in print form — indeed, some of them are positively designed to be printed out. I wound up with a small bookworth of printouts by the end. Some are even designed to be cut out and reassembled, although I sometimes found it more convenient to use an image editor for this. Helpfully, where appropriate, the website uses individual images that can be copied from the browser, instead of encapsulating the whole puzzle in a PDF.

I’ve been following the puzzles of Mr. Curtis for some time, so the types seen here were generally familiar to me — in particular, the Pathfinder, a sort of crossword variant where the answers take twisting paths through the grid, is something I’ve come to think of as his signature format. Even the familiar puzzles are done in some sort of novel variant, though, and in the later, more difficult sections, you’re expected to figure out the novelty without instruction. It can be easy to get on a completely wrong track and, in effect, try to solve a different puzzle than intended. Fortunately, there’s an excellent hint system that provides the gentlest of nudges on demand, as well as heavier ones if you decide you need more, all without revealing its full scope. To my mind, the climactic penultimate puzzle more or less requires extensive use of this system, as it’s a real read-the-author’s-mind puzzle otherwise — and even then, still requires some effort to interpret, as the hints use some confusing phrasing that describes the process of constructing the puzzle rather than the process of solving it. The actual final puzzle, in contrast, is extremely gentle, just putting a capstone on everything else you’ve done, to help you feel competent again after the struggle. I recall feeling grumpy about the final puzzle of What’s That Spell? after the hints assumed that I understood what I was supposed to be doing more than I actually did, so the gentleness here of both the hints and the final puzzle are extremely welcome.

Anyway, I recommend it, if you’re a fan of this sort of thing. The website is set up to facilitate team solving, but I can attest that it can be solved solo.