You may have heard about The Witness, the new puzzle game on Playstation 4 and PC from Braid creator Jonathan Blow. I played it earlier this month and rather enjoyed it. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I’ve begun playing it again despite having fulfilled my professional obligation to review it. Why? Well, because I hadn’t completed all the puzzles by the time my piece had to go live and by gum it’s so addictive I need to complete the rest.
Seriously, I really enjoy tackling these puzzles. I actually enjoy them a little too much, as I’ve pretty much started to see these mazes in my dreams. I am so obsessed with solving these puzzles that today I was able to solve one when I wasn’t even playing the game.
Spoilers for one particular puzzle/solving methodology ahead.
Let me explain. For the uninitiated, The Witness is full of panels containing mazes, similar to the one pictured above. To solve these mazes, players must draw a continuous line from the entrance to exit within the bounds of certain rules, rules that are established by any symbols contained within them. Learning what each of the game’s symbols mean is its ultimate challenge, as they are never explicitly explained, rather they need to be perceived by the player.
With me so far? Good, because I want to get to the story.
Two nights ago, I encountered a panel that stumped me for a solid hour before I had to give up for the night and surrender to the sandman’s call. It looked like this:
As you can see thanks to the puzzle next to it, the coloured squares represent the rule where each colour needs to be sectioned off by the line, but the slight variation in the centre there makes pairing them up using the same method impossible. So I set to work, trying every possible way I could to separate the squares into their colour pairs but to no avail. Everything I tried ended up needing to pass back over itself.
After the hour went by, I gave up in a fit of fury, profanely cursing everything I could think of. The game, Jonathan Blow himself, immigrants, the works.
Anyway, the whole thing was bugging me while I was working at my other job yesterday. Knowing that the puzzle was out there waiting for me the next time I booted up the game was giving me the itch. I needed to solve it. And I’d been thinking about it so much, and had spent so much time the previous night staring at it, that I decided to grab a pen and paper and just go at it right then and there.
I drew the maze from memory and whenever I got the chance between tasks I tried new routes. Still nothing worked, you just couldn’t pair those coloured squares off. I’d bested some of the craziest puzzles in The Witness but this time, this time, the maze was actually impossible. I was convinced of it.
It wasn’t until another one of my co-workers asked me to explain to them what I was doing that I suddenly have an epiphany. What if the rule I was trying to follow was based on a false assumption? It suddenly dawned on me that I’d forgotten previous times I’d solved coloured square puzzles by cordoning off single squares; they didn’t necessarily need to be in pairs.
So I looked at my crappy hand drawn maze again and came up with this:
Few people have moved with such sudden excitement, and with such ecstasy, as I did in that moment. The shock from those around went pretty much unnoticed by me as I victory danced my way around the room.
Though I was confident I’d just hit a winner, I was still hoping against hope that I wasn’t wrong. If I was then it was right back to the literal drawing board.
But lo and behold, when I got home last night and booted up The Witness…
My victory was sweet but short lived, as I’ve already gotten a few puzzles further and am now stumped again. And I know I struggled so much because I was an idiot and in my time away from the game forgotten a key part of the coloured squares system, but shut up, I got there in the end.
The point is that this game ingrained itself so deeply within my brain that I was able to recall, recreate and subsequently solve one of its puzzles from memory. It’s consumed me, and it’s a real concern. I need my brain to do stuff, like to work and for socialising and figuring out when I can insert digs at fellow editor Charlie for being so British.
I guess I’d better get back to. Maybe once I 100% complete it The Witness will let me go…