Are We There Yet?

Thanks to a mention on Trip Payne’s website, I have been spending too much time this past week on Mark Halpin’s lovely set of puzzles called Are We There Yet? This is a set of 12 puzzles loosely based on The Odyssey — a diagramless crossword puzzle on a theme related to the encounter with the Cyclopes, a logic puzzle based on the bag of winds given by Aeolus, and so on. Each puzzle also has something tricky going on with it, and when the solution is properly interpreted it will give a phrase that you can enter at the website; if you’re right, you get back a piece of a map or other item. At least, I think that’s what’s going on with all 12 puzzles, but I have only solved seven of them all the way to the point of entering the right phrase, so whether there is something even trickier going on with other five, I don’t yet know.

I especially enjoyed the puzzle connected with the plunder of Ismaros, a sort of twisted word search puzzle that took me several hours and much, much Googling to solve. It’s impossible to talk about this sort of thing much because you don’t want to give any unwanted hints to anyone who might want to try it, so I’ll just say that I encountered a lot of surprises and discoveries along the way to the answer. I just today finished the diagramless crossword for “The Island of the Cyclopes”, and it’s got a delightful surprise at the end — the several ways in which the puzzle ties into the theme are clever and a lot of fun to discover.

My one caveat is that these are pretty tough (though fair) puzzles and I think an inexperienced solver would have a lot of trouble just knowing where to start. None of them comes with clear, full, and specific instructions; in most cases a lot of the help in figuring out what to do comes just from recognizing that the puzzle looks a lot like a particular puzzle type you’ve seen in magazines. So when each puzzle turns out to have an unexpected twist in it somewhere, that’s just the right level of challenge for someone like me. But for someone who maybe hasn’t seen a Fences puzzle before or a Flower Garden puzzle or an Anaquote or a diagramless crossword and so on, and doesn’t know how to solve them even without the twists, I think maybe that person is going to get lost quickly. It might be a nice thing if Mr. Halpin were to write up a sheet of instructions for the basic puzzle types that his are based on; the more experienced puzzlers like me don’t have to look at it.

I’ve “solved” all 12 puzzles now, but as I said, I still haven’t figured out what to do with five of them. For each of the other seven, I’ve entered a phrase and received a piece of a map or other item, but the seven pieces I have received don’t seem to do me any good yet, so I’m figuring I’m not going to be able to go anywhere with that till I get all 12 pieces.

And in the meanwhile, the final steps of these five puzzles still elude me:

AIOLIA — I’ve solved the logic puzzle about the winds of Aeolus, but I don’t see any way to derive a phrase from the answer.

THE ISLAND OF LOTOPHAGI — I’ve solved the clues and filled in the grid, and I have a number of letters that sure look as though they ought to be significant, the sort of thing where if this were a puzzle in Games magazine or the like, the letters would have spelled out a message. However, in this case they don’t spell anything at all, and I haven’t been able to anagram them into anything relevant either.

OGYGIA — I’ve completed the puzzle, which is a mildly unorthodox Cross Sums, but I don’t see how to derive a phrase from the answer, which of course is all numbers.

THE SIRENS — I’ve found the answer to the Anaquote-like three-letter pieces at the bottom of the page, and I see a reason (or at least a correspondence with something connected to the rest of the puzzle) for the eight large letters on the ring of islands shown in the middle of the page. Doesn’t give me a phrase.

THRINACIA — I’ve solved the puzzles on the four smaller maps, and I see how the four solutions can be related to the larger map. But there seem to be two equally valid ways to apply this, and I don’t see that either of them gets me a phrase.

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