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Puzzleland

by Mitchell H. Allen

***
A young girl really gets into her new variety puzzle magazine…

A whimsical novelette in 8 parts.
***

Part 1: Down a Rabbit Whole

Part 2: Through the Surrogate

Part 3: Terrain of Error

Part 4: Photo Symphonies

Part 5: Guild Complex

Part 6: Con Trails

Part 7: Pro Test

Part 8: The Great Wind Up


 

 

Part 1: Down a Rabbit Whole

Alicia was happy with her Christmas stocking stuffers. Granny always included fruit, nuts, one trinket and a rolled up magazine. This year, in addition to the walnuts and pecans, Alicia had received a variety puzzle magazine. She munched on a crisp apple while studying the colorful cover.

“Enjoy Over 300 Fun Puzzles!”

A  Wheel of Fortune was tucked into the corner. Each of the four wedges showed a picture of a different puzzle, one of which looked like a crossword. A pretty Spirograph-like image reminded Alicia of an unopened pineapple. The other two were interesting, but Alicia’s eye was drawn to the large blue spinner, whose arrow was aimed at the crossword. She set the apple down on the coffee table, scooted back into the overstuffed sofa and opened the magazine.

Two Of A Kind

Alicia had randomly selected page 43 and was staring at the second puzzle, with its eight curious images. Each image contained five horizontal black bars superimposed over eight circles of varying sizes and shades of gray. The overall effect was like staring at bubbles through venetian blinds. As she stared at the eight images, she began to feel squishy, as if she were becoming part of the sofa.

She tried to tear her eyes away. However, she only managed to reach the edge of the page before the puzzle’s simple question caught her attention:

“Which two of the eight designs are identical? Answer is on page 129.”

“This looks like fun.” She was drawn back in.

A distant shout snapped Alicia back into her firm, skinny pre-teen frame. It was her little brother, Edgar. He had just run into the house, whooping and hollering with his new assault rifle. He was a returning Marine, judging from the “Hoorahs” and mock salutes he was throwing around. Apparently, the ridiculous orange toy had no negative impact on his imagination. Alicia smiled indulgently as he plopped down next to her.

“Whatchu doin?” Edgar grabbed the magazine.

“I’m looking at a puzzle magazine. It’s from Granny. See?”

Edgar quickly lost interest in the colorless interior. The small print, dashes and boxes were no match for his impending deployment to the tropical island where a nest of terrorists was hiding in trees. Alicia laughed and shooed him away.

She looked at the brown bite mark in her apple and decided to close her eyes while eating the rest. After the final nibble, her sticky fingers idly opened the magazine, this time to page 31.

Cryptograms

“Ooh! I love these.” Alicia tossed the apple core onto the coffee table, licked her fingers and reached for a pencil. The first puzzle on the page was shorter than the others – a two-line string of gibberish ending with a question mark:
A cryptogram!
“Ha. This is a quote. That Q must be an A.” She began to scribble in the beginnings of the solution:
A cryptogram!
Alicia muttered as she cycled through reasonable possibilities. She quickly guessed three of the two-lettered words and substituted them for the code. As she filled in I’s and T’s, other words revealed themselves:
A cryptogram!
The squishy feeling returned. Alicia didn’t try to fight it, this time. Her brain was feverishly plugging in the gaps, discarding nonsense words, stumbling upon excellent fits – finding “NEVER” and “OF”. The pencil raced through the two lines, sensing the end.
A cryptogram!
Alicia whooped when she placed the F’s, for the first word burst open the floodgates. She uttered the words aloud, trying to speed up the process of discovery. She wasn’t familiar with how “dear” was being used and thus was unable to complete the first sentence. “Breath”, “life”, “would”, “man” and “living” rounded out the spurt.
A cryptogram!
Infuriated by the unmatchable missing letters, which always happened when she got to the end, Alicia resorted to the Alphabet Song, while staring simultaneously at GSEKH and GQL. She had the ability to hum through the song, rejecting previously used letters, as well as nonsense that would not fit next to that R. When she reached “P”, she paused.  She narrowed her eyes on the page, seeing PRI E.

“Pride! No wait, J’s are D’s. Prime? Price?” As soon as she realized that the M was already accounted for, she committed to “price.” The associative pathways in her brain immediately latched onto “pay” and … she was done.
A cryptogram!
Alicia didn’t have time to gloat because, in the next instant, she squished out completely.

***

Alicia felt as if she were floating. As her eyes became accustomed to the dim light, she noticed pages fluttering by, as if on wings. She grabbed at one and saw that it was a black and white picture of a jar. On the jar’s label was the inscription:

YSQVZH   UQSUQAQJH

Alicia couldn’t make any sense of it, and let the page slip through her fingers. Other pages seemed to be assorted puzzles and word lists. One sheet, just out of reach, had the word “Anacrostic” above a weird looking crossword diagram. Alicia craned her neck as it drifted past, but she was unable to see the clues.

After some time had passed, or so it seemed to Alicia, she alighted on a grassy field. Curiosity, rather than panic, led her to spin around wildly, taking in the surroundings. The grass, oddly, was grey. In fact, everything was some shade of black, white or grey. Grey, indeterminate clouds scudded across an even darker shade of grey sky. Black, leafless trees slumped here and there, each alone with its patch of grey grass.

Suddenly, a grey creature popped up, startling Alicia.

“Are you here to rescue us?”

“I’m sorry, what?”

“Ah, I shall speak more loudly,” shouted the creature. It did so, repeating its question.

“I’m not hard of hearing, you know.”

“I know nothing of the sort. You just said you were sorry. That’s all I know.”

Alicia opened her eyes wide. “You’re talking!”

“Well, how else will I find out if you’re here to rescue us?”

“Rescue you from what?”

“The Evil Editor.”

The creature had spoken this last in a hushed tone, so that Alicia was unable to make out what it had just said. “I’m sorry, what?”

The creature whispered forcefully, “Blast, child, are you daft?”

“No. I am not deaf. I just can’t hear you when you whisper.”

“Listen!” The creature raised its voice slightly. “We are all in trouble. We have no time for foolishness. Either you are here to help or you are just in the way. Which is it?”

“Who’s in trouble? What do you expect me to do?”

“I just told you. All of us are in trouble. We expect to be rescued!”

“Oh. Well, I just got here and I hardly know where I am. How am I supposed to help?”

“Really, child. You must have solved a puzzle to wind up here. Do you remember doing that?”

“Erm…”

“Magic Square? Nim? Crosswords?” The creature was becoming agitated.

Alicia dimly remembered doing a puzzle. She thought mightily for a moment then blurted out, “Cryptogram! I solved a quote by Mohandas Gandhi, whoever that is.”

“Brilliant! A Gateway, then. Follow me!”

 

 

Part 2: Through the Surrogate

Alicia hesitated only a moment before jogging after the grey creature. It wouldn’t do to lose sight of the only thing that seemed to know its way around this bleak landscape. Indeed, the grey creature seemed to become harder to spot, being as grey as the as the grassy field through which they ran. Alicia saw one of the leafless black trees looming and assumed that was the destination. She slowed her pace, allowing the grey creature to scamper away.

As she approached the tree, Alicia noticed that the dark trunk was scarred white in several places. She immediately thought of the crude carvings on her desk at school. These inscriptions, though, were beautifully rendered. She wondered aloud, “What is this?”

A tree

“A tree.” The grey creature popped up out of the grey grass. Its sudden reappearance startled poor Alicia. In a firm tone, it declared, “A tree is very important.”

“I should think that all trees are important.” She ran her forefinger along the cursive groove of one inscription.

“Yes, they are, but not equally. B tree is more important than A tree.”

“I’m sorry, what? You have bees? I hate bees!” Alicia was alarmed at this news.

“Child, don’t babble. The B tree has keys, not bees. A tree is important, even though it has no keys. Not one of the other trees has keys at all.”

“What does a tree need with keys?”  Alicia sensed that she was missing something.

“You really should learn to listen carefully. A tree has no keys. B tree has keys.” The grey creature was becoming quite annoyed with having to repeat itself.

Alicia snorted with mild derision. “I’ll listen carefully if and only if you start to make sense!”

“Oh, dear. Now I’ve upset you. You have made a valid point. I shall explain, but we really must be going.” The grey creature set off at a rapid pace.

As they ran, the grey creature spoke more deliberately. “Good rulers make good decisions. Good decisions are wise choices. Wise choices are always right. Keys turn either left or right.”

At this point, the grey creature bore left, toward another solitary tree. Just beyond the tree lay a cluster of nondescript buildings. Physically, Alicia shifted gears easily. Mentally, she was totally flummoxed. This business of rulers, trees and keys made sense only as each bit was spoken.  She was about to question the grey creature regarding the preposterous conclusion to which it was alluding, but it resumed its monologue:

“Our rulers are in exile. The substitute rulers are not very good. However, the Gates are always open and they do have an impressive lobby. It is just unfortunate that they don’t use keys.”

Her bafflement complete, Alicia could stand it no longer. She blurted out, “Why are the gates always open? Are they broken? Isn’t there anyone who can repair them so that the keys will fit?”

The grey creature skidded to a halt next to the tree and turned to peer up at Alicia. “My, you are a curious creature.”

Alicia, taken aback, stopped abruptly and retorted contentiously, “I could say the same thing about you!”

The grey creature, unperturbed, responded, “Me, curious? I’ve only asked nine questions of you, including that one. You’ve uttered a baker’s dozen, three in rapid succession! That’s curious, don’t you think?”

“Certainly not, as I have no idea who you are, where I am or what I’m supposed to be rescuing.” To punctuate her points, Alicia stamped her foot. With each stomp, the poor grey creature bounced into the air.

“Control yourself, please!” The grey creature squeaked piteously. “I will satisfy your curiosity. Only, stop clomping! You are making me ill and you’re likely to hurt the roots of B tree.” It stood between Alicia and the tree, as if to protect it from her.

The grey creature took a few deep breaths, as if to calm itself. Alicia, for her part, continued to huff and puff, simultaneously miffed and out-of-breath. Finally, she blew out an audible sigh, imitating the exasperation displayed by her mother toward her little brother.

She stepped closer to the tree, which was much larger than the first tree.  “Where are the keys, then?”

“The Evil Editor took them. Now, follow me!”

***

After a time and another left turn to skirt the buildings, the two arrived at the edge of a dense copse.

Alicia was winded, but still managed to gasp, “Surely, you don’t have a name for each of these trees?”

The grey creature raised a dark grey eyebrow archly. “Of course we do! This is the Nevergreen Forest, home of Sarah and Harris Gate. Follow me!”

Alicia trudged into the dark woods. She thought of Hansel, Gretel and breadcrumbs. In the next moment, she laughed aloud and muttered, “A trail of crumbs will do me no good. I would be as lost outside as in!”

Just then, a tiny hut appeared in a clearing. It looked inviting – the bright white glow from the windows held the claustrophobic darkness at bay. Alicia looked down at her traveling companion.

“Go on, then,” urged the grey creature. “I’ll be returning home.” Without waiting for a response, it retraced its path and disappeared.

Alicia walked timidly toward the hut. She had just reached the door and was about to knock when it flew open. A rather large, cheerful lady stepped outside. She clasped Alicia’s outstretched hand, pulled her toward the threshold and exclaimed, “Welcome! I am Sarah Gate. Won’t you come in? I’ve baked a pie.”

Alicia allowed herself to be led into the hut. And what an interior! The grey creature hadn’t been exaggerating, for the lobby was magnificent. An enormous chandelier was the centerpiece of this grand entrance. A dozen creatures in white tuxedoes scurried to and fro, entering and leaving through as many doors all around the perimeter. The floor was highly polished, its composition concealed by the reflection of the lights from the chandelier. The walls were decorated with portraits and still life paintings.

Sarah Gate gave Alicia a moment to collect herself. She smiled brightly while giving Alicia a gentle pat on the arm. She gestured towards one of the doors on the left. “Come meet my husband.”

They passed through a large, grey wooden door. A thin man sat at an impossibly grand desk. It was the same grey wood as the door but polished to a high veneer. Alicia took note of the heavy black drapes, the thick, white carpet and the half-height dark paneling covering the walls. The man stood up.

“Welcome to Chez Nevergreen!” He laughed uproariously, taking delight in Alicia’s widening eyes. “I’m Harris Gate. Pay me no mind, I kid a lot.”

“Hi.” Alicia felt small. She had read enough literature to associate luxury with aloofness. The opulence of the hut seemed all out of proportion to the cheerful demeanor of this big woman and her jocular husband.  All the questions she had had earlier fled from her mind as she glanced nervously between the two.

“Don’t be frightened,” soothed Sarah Gate. “We are glad to see you. Are you going to rescue us?”

“Erm …” Alicia felt ridiculous.

Harris stepped into the silence. “The Evil Editor has taken the keys and exiled our rulers. We have been waiting for a puzzle master to find one of our desperate clues and follow it to the Gateway.” Despite the apparent gravity of the statement, Harris delivered it with a huge, sheepish grin. He added, with a chuckle, “I named it that myself, on account of we’re the Gates.”

“Um, yes.” Alicia stumbled over her words. She wanted to tell them that she knew all about the Gateway, the cryptogram and the B tree. Instead, what came out was, “Okay, I guess.”

Sarah Gate beamed. “Excellent! I’ll send for some pie and you get started with Harris.”

 

 

Part 3: Terrain of Error

Harris Gate regarded Alicia with a studied look. Alicia felt as if she were in the Principal’s office for something she didn’t do. Nervously, she stared at the reflection of Harris in his highly polished desk. Curious, thought Alicia, as he glared. He seems to be grinning up at me. How can that be?

Suddenly, Harris burst out laughing. “I can never hold that pose very long, dear. Don’t look so mortified. I was just thinking about where I should begin. Perhaps I shall begin with who we are. Ah, here is the pie. Just put it on the desk.”

“Of course, sirrah.” A servant in an impeccable white tuxedo placed three plates and a steaming grey pie next to Sarah and proceeded to cut it into three wedges. After serving the pastry, the servant backed out of the room, bowing low enough to blend into the plush white carpet.
Pie
Alicia looked at the unappetizing plate and decided to ignore it. Instead, she looked around, wondering if this whole confusing affair would be cleared up in time for dinner. Strangely, no clocks were in the room. She was almost morbidly curious, yet still too uncomfortable to speak out of turn.

“My dear, you look so confused. Let me begin at the beginning. As I said, perhaps I shall begin with who we are. Ah, have some pie.”

Alicia blew out an air of frustration. Since she could not get out of eating pie, she grabbed her fork and speared a small bit of the glop. Sarah and Harris Gate looked at her expectantly. Quickly, she stuffed the mess into her mouth. An impossible combination of sensations assaulted her. Steam heat. Cinnamon heat. The crunch of orange rinds between her teeth. A slimy trickle of orange-flavored syrup floating warmly down her throat. Déjà vu.

“Wow!” Alicia didn’t know what else to say.

“Exactly,” beamed Harris.

“Right!” cooed Sarah.

“Now you know who Sarah is – the greatest chef in creation!”

“You made this?” Alicia goggled.

Sarah sniffed, “Why, don’t you believe Harris?”

Alicia, suddenly comfortable, laughed. “No, no. Of course I believe him. It’s just, this pie is so delicious!”

“Aren’t you sweet! I do what I can.” Sarah puffed out her chest.

Harris interrupted, “Yes. Right. Now, I suppose you passed a cluster of buildings on your way here?”

“Why, yes, we did. Just beyond the bee tree.” Alice wondered if the little grey creature had really meant to say that there were keys, rather than bees, in the tree. She didn’t want to sound ridiculous, though.

“Right!” Harris nodded cheerfully.

“Exactly,” affirmed Sarah. “That is the Square Knot Complex. Puzzles are created there for export. Harris worked in the administrative headquarters until our rulers were taken.” A mask of sorrow interrupted Sarah’s countenance as she finished.

“How awful!” said Alicia.

“Well, I have to work somewhere!” Harris was offended.

“No. How awful that your rulers were taken. Evil Editor must be a horrible person.”

“Exactly!” fumed Sarah.

“Right,” chimed Harris. “As if I didn’t already have my own troubles – I’ve had to neglect my rounds in order to manage this state of affairs. This estate of theirs must have a manager around.”

“I thought this was your home,” Alicia raised a questioning eye, briefly ignoring her pie.

“This old hut?” Sarah laughed. “Yes, this is our home. Puzzleland is the rulers’ estate.”

Harris snorted. “Until the Evil Editor exiled them and forced us to assume their duties.”

Alicia popped another forkful of pie into her mouth. The steamy, spicy, slimy syrup slid smoothly down her throat. Déjà vu. “Elu par cette crapule.”

“Right! Exclaimed Sarah.

“Exactly! You are quite astute,” Harris beamed, a happy principal recognizing that the troubled child was, in fact, a little genius. “We were indeed elected by this creep. Her name is Taupe Trapue LeClerc, though she prefers to be called T. T., as you might expect.”

Alicia was slightly alarmed; she didn’t know French.

“I have a simple job, actually, my dear. Well, it was simple until the Evil Editor began tampering with the memos. You see, I give out supplies. Each office sends a daily memo to one of the supply rooms. I have to deliver the requested supplies to the right office. Now that the Evil Editor erases the room numbers and replaces them with vague descriptions, I must spend all day running in circles. The windowless office with no fan, indeed!” Harris harrumphed indignantly with fingers forming air quotes.

Alicia burped softly. “Ooh, excuse me. That is amazingly evil.”

Harris laughed. “Indeed. The Administration Building is a maze on three levels. You can walk all around, visiting every office without once crossing your path!”

Sarah joined in the laughter. “Remember the day I brought hot pretzels for everyone? People were running hither and thither, up and down, unable to find me and my cart until you told them to follow their noses.”

Alicia could smell an intriguing puzzle. “Do the descriptions help?”

Harris stopped laughing abruptly. “No!” He held up his hands when Alicia jumped. “I’m sorry, dear. It’s just that I don’t have a head for figuring out stuff like half the light bulbs are delivered before entering the second supply room. That’s one of the things we’re hoping you can fix. The Evil Editor has been transforming the output of nearly every building in Square Knot!”

Alicia gave them her best look of commiseration. That wasn’t too difficult to accomplish, as she had no idea how she was supposed to help. She didn’t have to wait long to find out.

“Now, the only building the Evil Editor has been unable to sabotage is the Crypt. That’s where I went to create the Gateway puzzles. Those are so devilishly hard, once the Crypt togglers have finished, even old T. T. can’t crack them.” Harris sat back, his job done.

Alicia perked up. “So, you need me to solve another cryptogram?”

Sarah smiled. “No dear, that was just our distress signal. We’re going to hide you in the Crypt so that you can figure out the Evil Editor’s spell. You see, T. T. LeClerc is a victim of her own cleverness. The Crypt togglers have informed us that she has used the same method to sabotage the entire complex. She is nothing more than a two-bit hustler.”

“I suppose I can help. It’s like a chess match.” Alicia sat up fully straight.

Sarah rubbed her hands gleefully. “Yes, finally, someone to undo this stalemate!”

Alicia forked the last of the pie into her mouth. “No, it is opposition.”

 

 

Part 4: Photo Symphonies

Alicia found herself racing back through the Nevergreen Forest, momentarily surprised by the speed and agility of the plump form of Sarah Gate. The slice of pie was sloshing around, an uncomfortable reminder of the strange conversation that had just taken place in the hut. Even though Alicia loved puzzles, she wasn’t too keen about mysteries and even less enamored of being dropped into the midst of intrigue. This T. T. LeClerc sounded like someone she would rather not meet. Alicia picked up the pace. She wasn’t likely to lose the target; she just felt claustrophobic and couldn’t wait to emerge from the murky woods.

Sarah Gate finally stopped. A thin sheen of moisture reflected the diffuse light at the edge of the wood. She put a finger to her lips. Alicia pulled up on tiptoe. She quietly stepped on a twig, which did not reciprocate. With a loud crack, the twig became kindling and the two ladies’ presence became known. A thin grey creature popped up out of the grey grass and hailed them.

“Hail!”

Sarah sighed. “Hello, Nathan. Go tell them we’re here. This young lady will help us.”

“Wonderful!”

The grey creature took off toward a small building. Alicia followed its progress. She gasped as her line of sight intersected with the hulking structure dwarfing the small building. “What is that?”

Sarah followed the girl’s eyes. “Oh, that’s where Harris works. The Administration Building. We will not have time to visit. We’ll follow Nathan in a moment, as that is the Crypt. But first, we need to go there.” She pointed to the left of the Crypt. A slightly larger building shared the dark shadow of the Administration Building. Sarah began jogging toward it.

The building was an elegant block of concrete, reached by a laughingly tiny escalator. Over the double doors, Alicia noted the engraved letters proclaiming the structure as the Lexicon Library. As they ran up the three steps and through the doors, she wondered if that was redundant.

Sarah guided Alicia directly to a room labeled Multimedia. The room was an eerie copy of the lobby at the Gates’ home. The chandelier in this room was not as grand, though. In fact, it looked as if it hadn’t seen a feather duster in ages. The floor was highly polished, though, and there were a dozen doors, just like the lobby. At that moment, one of those doors opened and a familiar person in an impeccable white tuxedo emerged.

The servant, for that’s how Alicia thought of him, approached them. Gone was the servile demeanor. In its place was the efficient mask of a seasoned bureaucrat. In one motion, he simultaneously handed a device to Alicia and a clipboard to Sarah. Without a word, Sarah unhooked the pen and signed out the device. Equally silent, the servant nodded civilly and spun on his heel. He counter-signed the receipt as he walked back through the door.

“Well, take care of that, dear. It takes 17 years to make a Lexibus and they’re obsolete almost the moment they leave this building.”

Alicia stared at the device. “I see it has only one button. What does it do?”

“Why, that lets you choose between dictionary, thesaurus and puzzle. The design is clever, as you are never more than one click from puzzle mode. You can talk into that little hole, though I prefer to bring up the keyboard.”

Alicia spoke into the hole. “Testing, testing, one, two, three.” Almost immediately, the device lit up and displayed a short list:

MIC {3}

MICROPHONE {10}

TES {cryptic-charade 3}

Alicia giggled with delight. She understood why they had made this detour.

Sarah smiled. This girl just might get us out of this mess. She gently touched Alicia on the elbow to guide her from the room and back outside. “Mind your step, dear. The escalator doesn’t always reverse automatically. T.T. tampered with it, somehow.” Incongruously, Sarah jumped to the ground. Alicia decided to see how quickly she could run down the up escalator. With only three steps, it wasn’t much of a challenge and she quickly rejoined Sarah on the pervasive grey grass. They set off for the Crypt.

***

The Crypt was as unremarkable as the hut had been grand. Eight dark black tables, eight white chairs. Eight little creatures perched on the seats, every one of them too short to touch the floor with their feet. To Alicia, they looked like kindergartners in the wrong classroom.

Sarah read her mind. “Do not let their appearance fool you. These togglers have been creating puzzles for decades. The youngest is half a century old!” She walked toward the smallest creature. “Hi, Chute.”

“Hello, Sarah. Nathan alerted us, so we have prepared a separate table for our distinguished guests.” Chute hopped down from his chair and escorted Sarah and Alicia to a much larger and even blacker table. The chairs at this table were even whiter and shinier. He pulled out both and bowed gallantly.

“Thank you,” sighed Sarah, as she sank gratefully down onto the chair.

“Thank you,” echoed Alicia, without the sigh. She decided that their furniture was simply less dusty. She placed the Lexibus on the table and waited.

Chute walked back to the cluster of tables. “Let me introduce my colleagues, in no particular order.” He walked from table to table, giving Alicia a moment to associate names and faces. “This is Rocky, Moe and Sizzles. Over here are the twins, Eenie and Meenie. Finally, we have Papaya and Minie.” He bowed at the only other ladies in the room.

“Pleased to meet you,” murmured Alicia. She was wondering if they were pulling her leg. She looked over at Sarah, hoping to intercept a knowing twinkle or a smile of amusement. Detecting neither, she spoke up, “Okay. Let me see if I have this straight.” Pointing associatively, she repeated, “Eenie, Meenie, Minie, Moe. Rocky, Paper, Sizzles, Chute!”

The togglers clapped in delight. Chute gave Alicia a gap-toothed smile. Papaya squeaked, “Almost, dear. That one is Eenie and I’m Papaya.” She added, “Meenie has a mole on his nose, if that helps.”

Sarah stood up. “Well, I’ll leave you all to it. I must be getting back.” She gave Alicia a final pat on the arm and scampered out of the Crypt.

Chute followed her to the door and locked it behind her. As he turned back to the newcomer, he clapped his hands twice, sharply. A large projection screen descended from the ceiling until it reached Alicia’s eye level. An image faded in, filling the screen with what appeared to be an out-of-focus Valentine. Chute began reciting what was – apparently – a well-practiced speech:
puzzles have two hearts
“The two hearts of every puzzle beat in opposition. The thrust of the solver is parried by the composer. The heart of the solver is dominant and must always win. The heart of the composer submits with resistance. In this way, both composer and solver grow stronger.
puzzle have two minds
“The two minds of every puzzle coexist as equals. Logic and Reason walk hand-in-hand. Neither mind suborns or subrogates the other. The purity of truth shines brightly within both.
puzzles have two voices
“The two voices of every puzzle oscillate for attention. Patience and Passion, in full harmony, echo the siren song of the ultimate challenge; by their silence, we judge a puzzle unworthy.
Puzzles have two spirits
“The two spirits of every puzzle manifest the life-force. Pattern and Symbol shape each construction, imparting the personality that makes a puzzle popular.”

The screen went blank. Chute looked at Alicia expectantly.

Alicia stared back, dumbly. “I’m sorry, what?”

Chute clapped sharply, twice. The screen ascended with a whisper. He looked sadly up at Alicia. “The key to obscurity is to be clear.”

Papaya cleared her throat. “Chute, may I?”

Chute returned to his table, dejected with his failure to communicate. “Sure, go ahead.”

Papaya remained seated. With a raised voice, she asked, “What is your name, dear?”

Alicia snapped back to the present. “Alicia Waters.”

Papaya was happy to have wrested the girl’s attention from the shredded remains of Chute’s pomposity. “Well, Alicia, do you like to solve puzzles?”

Alicia smiled. “Yes, ma’am, I do.”

“But you don’t like Tic-Tac-Toe, I’ll bet.”

“That’s not a puzzle. But no, I don’t.”

With two sentences, Papaya had established to the others that Alicia knew the difference between games and puzzles and also had a sense of what made puzzles enjoyable. Still, she didn’t want Chute to feel totally useless, so she added, “Because it practically cries out that it is too trivial, no?”

Alicia nodded. That’s right. She wanted to add that she didn’t like fill-ins, no matter how hard they were. However, she felt that she had regained some ground after her moronic reply to Chute. So she remained silent.

Papaya nodded along with her. “Very well. I’ll bet a smart girl like you doesn’t like fill-ins.”

Alicia laughed. “How did you know?”

Papaya just smiled. No sense in alarming the girl with the team’s profile of her solving abilities. Besides, one cryptogram wasn’t statistically significant. Instead, she assured her that even the togglers had their favorites.

Not wishing to be left out of this female-bonding episode, Minie chimed in, “I hate acrostics. They don’t know whether they want to be crosswords or fill-ins. Either way, they have too much going on.”

Alicia was thoroughly enjoying herself. She pitched her voice low and intoned through her nose, “By their silence, patience and passion voice their displeasure.”

The room turned frosty. Eight pairs of eyes lasered on the impertinent visitor. Meenie broke the silence – he tittered. Soon, all the togglers were laughing. Even Chute joined in.

Papaya shouted, “Welcome, Alicia! You’re just what we need in this stuffy old room. We were just having you on. We all have very thick skins. Comes with age, you know.”

Just the same, Alicia decided not to push her luck. Her poor heart was still hammering. She smiled weakly and started fiddling with her Lexibus. This served to bring the togglers back on point.

“Have you tried the Lexibus?” Sizzles was speaking, now. “I’m the one who keeps the puzzles updated.”

On safe ground again, Alicia became animated. “Yes, I did! I said, ‘Testing, testing, one, two, three’ and it gave me ‘microphone’, which I thought was pretty neat.

Sizzles lit up. “Heh, just a little engineering humor. Wait until you get more of Sarah’s pie. We like to have contests between the Lexibus and her marmalade. The pie doesn’t know the current terminology but usually kills Lexie on archaic words.”

Alicia asked, “What was tess, though? It printed out something about cryptic three.”

“Ah, that’s for fillers. Crossword puzzles need lots of weird constructions, abbreviations and whatnot.” Sizzles thought for a moment. “I’m pretty sure it’s a plural of a musical scale. You know, do, re, me.”

Alicia frowned. “I thought that was tee, eye.”

Sizzles nodded, “Yes, of course. But there are variant spellings.”

Alicia shrugged. “Okay.”

Chute got up again. “Alicia, you’ll be spending a bit of time with each of us. The sooner you really know how to use the Lexibus, the sooner we can unravel Taupe’s nefarious coil of sabotage.

This time, the chill in the room was real.

 

 

Part 5: Guild Complex

One by one, the togglers came to Alicia’s table to explain some facet of the Lexibus. Each one had to stand on the chair vacated by Sarah Gate. Their stubby fingers poked here and there on the screen, causing it to light up brightly as it displayed various lists, forms and puzzle templates. Alicia’s head was swirling and her eyes soon glazed over.

Papaya was the first to notice that Alicia had stopped paying attention. Moe had been discussing the finer points of Sudoku Symmetry. Chute winked at Papaya from his table, as if to say, “It’s not me, it’s her.” Papaya cleared her throat.

Moe looked up from the Lexibus. “Erm?”

“You’re losing her, Moe.”

Moe looked crestfallen. “Oh, dear. Forgive me. I only wanted you to see how the original designers intended to present these types of puzzles.”

Alicia turned her bleary eyes to Moe. “It’s okay. But, will all of that help us to figure out the Evil Editor’s code?”

Moe shook his head. “I suppose not. But I hope you’ll forever appreciate the beauty of a blank Sudoku!” He jumped  down from the chair and trudged back to his table.

Alicia felt a twinge. She hadn’t meant to zone out on the togglers. She was simply overwhelmed. In what she hoped was a perky tone, she said, “I think the patterns are lovely. Aren’t crossword puzzles designed the same way?”

Rocky answered, “Indeed. The Sudoku people borrowed symmetry from cruciverbalists. It’s all a bit inside-out, though, as crosswords preserve their beauty, even after the puzzle has been solved.”

Alicia thought about that for a second. She mused, “So, the pattern of Sudoku becomes hidden when it’s solved. Is that what you meant?” She looked over at Chute, whose gap-tooth smile could scarcely suppress the beam of pride that twinkled in his eyes.

“Exactly! The key to obscurity is to be clear.” Chute leaped to the floor. “I’ve been trying to get my colleagues to see this for weeks. T. T. is not sophisticated. Her pedestrian constructions were never imaginative enough to meet the minimum standards for membership into the Crypt.” He paused, as his gaze flickered briefly to Eenie, before refocusing on Alicia. “If we are going to figure out her shenanigans, we have to stop assuming that she’s done something profound!” This last was punctuated with a stomp of his foot.

Minie chimed in. “Chute, dear, that’s all well and fine. However, neither we nor the Lexibus have been able to detect any simple patterns.”

Alicia interjected, “Have you looked at the pattern long enough?”

The crypt togglers stared at Alicia with varying degrees of confusion contorting their features. They tried to answer all at once, so that Alicia couldn’t determine whether they had understood what she said. After the hubbub died down, the togglers waited for her response.

“Um,” began Alicia. “I meant to ask if you have looked at enough of the clues to detect a pattern. In math class, we learned about rational and irrational numbers. The decimal expansions never terminate or repeat in irrational numbers. One might mistake a rational number for an irrational number if one doesn’t expand the decimal places enough.”

Eenie nodded. “That’s quite true. Lexibus! What is one divided by seven?”

Everyone crowded around Alicia’s table. Mercifully, Alicia brought the device to their eye level. The screen showed:

0.142857142857142857142857142857142857142857 {44}

SEVENTH {7}

ONE OVER SEVEN {14; Tailor?}

Eenie laughed before continuing. “Yes, the decimal expansion repeats very early, making the pattern obvious. Now, what if we try this? Lexibus! What is one divided by 49?”

The Lexibus screen instantly refreshed:

0.020408163265306122448979591836734693877551 {44}

FORTY-NINTH {11; United States and Canada?}

ONE OVER FORTY-NINE {19; Major General Leslie Groves?}

“Leslie Groves?” Eenie looked puzzled. “Ah, well. Anyway, do you see a pattern in there?”

Everyone agreed that none was apparent. Alicia caught the twinkle in Eenie’s eye and held her tongue.

With a flourish, Eenie double-tapped the first answer. The screen filled with digits:

0.020408163265306122448979591836734693877551 020408163265306122448979591836734693877551 020408163265306122448979591836734693877551 020408163265306122448979591836734693877551 020408163265306122448979591836734693877551 {212}

“How about now?” Eenie winked at Alicia.

Chute quipped, “That is clearly obscure!” He looked up at Alicia. “So, how do we look long enough for T.T.’s patterns?”

Alicia shrugged. “I haven’t got a clue. What were you looking at before I came here?”

“Mostly the disasters in the Administration Building,” said Sizzles. “It’s where we first discovered T. T.’s transformations. If there is a pattern to her madness, we haven’t found it.”

Meenie spoke up for the first time since showing Alicia his word scrambler. “Sadly, her malfeasance has spread to every building in the Complex, except this one.”  His mole quivered, making him look like an indignant mouse.

Alicia subconsciously rubbed her hands together. She remembered Harris Gate’s complaints about work order memos being shuffled. Maybe she was about to see some evidence. She looked at Papaya, the eagerness on her face obvious to them all.

“I suppose you’ve seen enough of the Lexibus for now. Would you like to look at some of T. T.’s mischief?”

Alicia nodded. “Please.”

***

Chute took the Lexibus and whispered a few commands into the embedded microphone. Once again, the overhead projection screen descended from the ceiling. An image faded in:
duster
Chute began to speak, “Harris Gate tried to explain his trouble with the supply room, I’m sure. The poor man can barely function without strict instructions. Consequently, he has learned to deliver supplies to the offices by following a few simple rules. T. T. LeClerc upset his orderly world by changing the room numbers into descriptions such as ‘the windowless office with no fan.’ Harris made no deliveries for three days.

Meenie giggled.

Chute continued, “Harris complained to Sarah, who had the good sense to visit the Administration Building and make notes about the offices. Then she brought the memos and her notes to us.

Sarah Gate's notes

Map of the Administrative Building

“We deciphered the descriptions and gave Sarah a sheet listing the corresponding room numbers. The very next day, Harris had another problem:  his daily routine required him to begin his rounds in supply room #0. He would take light bulbs, bottles of window cleaner and feather dusters from the supply room and distribute them according to the memos. By going around the building in office number order, he would wind up at supply room #8, where he could load up supplies for the rest of the offices.”

Alicia’s eyes squinted in concentration. She wasn’t about to ask why the supplies were needed every day, as that didn’t seem germane. Apparently, the feather dusters were the problem and she was already trying to imagine how that could be.

“The beauty of Harris’ system was that his supervisor had printers installed in both supply rooms. Each office manager sent a new memo to the printer in the appropriate room. Therefore, Harris always knew exactly how many supplies to load onto his cart.”

Alicia couldn’t hold her tongue, this time. “Why didn’t Harris just use the same sheets each day?”

“Because Harris couldn’t be trusted to replenish the inventory. His first day on the job, in the chaos surrounding our missing rulers, his supervisor tried to show him how to place orders using the computerized requisition forms. After the weekly distribution of supplies, Harris was supposed to place orders for more.

“Apparently, that was too much for Harris; he ignored the requisitions task. Everyone was inconvenienced four weeks later, when the light bulbs and bottles of window cleaner ran out. They were in the dark for days! After that, Harris’ supervisor devised the current system and changed the weekly routine to daily, so that no office would ever run out again. As for the daily memos, Harris turned them in to his supervisor, who tossed them out. Once a month, she would restock the supply rooms.”

Alicia nodded sagely, satisfied that her original question had been answered, as well.

“So,” said Chute. “The problem came when he got to office #4. The office manager told him that, as always, their memo requested a light bulb and a feather duster. Harris showed her a memo that requested only a light bulb.”

By now, the Crypt togglers were laughing uncontrollably. Even Chute was smiling as he recounted the hapless details. Alicia, taking her cue from the levity in the room, smiled back at him and nodded for him to continue.

“Harris caved in and gave the manager a light bulb and a feather duster. When he came to office #5, the exact same thing happened. Harris suspected that the office managers were playing a practical joke. He played along, giving the office manager in #5 a feather duster in addition to his allotted light bulb.

“Harris  was convinced that the whole fiasco was a running gag when the manager in office #6 demanded to know why Harris didn’t have a feather duster for her. Harris was about to shove the memo under her nose when he realized that the memo had requested a feather duster! He was still playing along, though; he told her to get it from office #5.

Chute wiped his eyes, chuckling. “Really, this was our fault. We should have known something was wrong when he told us that, not only was he short a duster for office #7, he also had problems on the second half of his delivery route.”

Alicia was hyper-alert. The sleuth in her could sense that the crux of the problem was about to be revealed.

“Harris took the empty cart to supply room #8, where he grabbed that day’s memos from the printer. Now as you can see, the offices after supply room #8 are numbered as follows: 9, A, B, C, D, E and F.

“Harris had no trouble at #9, #A and #B. When he tried to give the office manger in #C a feather duster, she looked at him like he was crazy. She asked him if saw a ceiling fan anywhere.”

The Crypt togglers were practically rolling on the floor. Alicia tried to ignore them, but she seemed to be coming down with an infectious case of the giggles. She pictured poor Mr. Gate, looking from the memo to the manager, at a loss for words.

Chute pulled himself together enough to continue. “After going through practically the same conversation with the manager in room #D, Harris was totally flustered. He completed his rounds without further incident, except for the fact that he ended up back at supply room #0 with two extra feather dusters!”

“Curious,” said Alicia.

“Curious, indeed. We know the room numbers and LeClerc’s descriptions were matched up properly. In fact, we asked the supervisor to see if the daily sheets used the same descriptions. She kept three weeks of printouts and confirmed that the same descriptions were used.” Chute shook his head.

Alicia stabbed her forefinger into the air. “Harris mixed up the memos when reading your sheet. I guess he never bothered to write on the memos, did he?”

Chute gave Alicia a look of admiration. “No, he didn’t write them down. However, if he was mixing them up, he never managed to screw up any offices other than #4, #5, #6, #7, #C and #D. Besides, it was always feather dusters. Such consistency is highly improbable, even for Harris! No evil pattern exists in the descriptions.”

Alicia stared at the screen. Her eyes were starting to cross when something jumped out at her. She started counting out loud. The Crypt togglers became silent.

“Oh. My. God. The printers!” Alicia squealed with the excitement that comes with solving a tough puzzle. She stood up and addressed the room.

“T. T. LeClerc must have caused the memos to be sent to the wrong printers! Harris needs six dusters from supply room #0 and only four from supply room #8. He needs three each of bulbs and bottles from both supply rooms. On top of that, look at rooms #1 and #9. They both have windows and fans! Rooms #2 and #A both have windows and fans. Rooms #3 and #B, no windows, no fan. So, as Harris travels around from each supply room, the memo descriptions match!”

Chute started jumping up and down. “Excellent, excellent! Why didn’t we see this before? It is so obvious, now! When he gets to office #4, he’s looking at the memo for #C!” He clapped in delight.

Papaya squeaked, “We never saw it because we never looked closely at this slide. We were so sure that Harris was being his usual incompetent self that we never bothered to compare Sarah’s notes to our master sheet.”

Moe spoke up. “Well, so much for patterns. What else have we missed?”

Chute agreed. “We should be ashamed of ourselves, letting T. T. beat us with such a simple ruse. But these other acts of sabotage don’t look anything like this. Let’s notify the Administration Building to fix those printers.” He turned back to Alicia. “That was great, but we’re just getting started.”

Alicia was pumped. “Let’s see! Let’s see!”

 

 

Part 6: Con Trails

The Crypt togglers fed off Alicia’s excitement. They wasted no time in bringing up more of T. T. LeClerc’s heinous sabotage.  As the overhead projector flipped through images, Alicia listened to brief descriptions of the damage that had been inflicted upon the buildings, work orders and projects of Square Knot Complex.  As Chute had pointed out, none of the images suggested simple printer-swapping tricks.

Rocky shouted, “Hold that one, Chute!” A picture of treetops and clouds froze on the screen.
Contrails? Ghostly Gummi Worms?
Rocky walked over to where Alicia was still hopping about. He placed a hand on her arm to calm her down. When he had her attention, he began to explain the image:

“The crown jewel of the Office of Word Puzzles is a hidden meanings theme called Open Your Eyes. The puzzlesmith who invented it is a big fan of your actress, Penelope Cruz. He had just seen one of her films, Abre los ojos, and dedicated the theme to her.”

Alicia had heard of the actress but had no idea what movies she was in. She kept that to herself – hoping to prolong her newfound status as super sleuth. She nodded at Rocky with her best Mona Lisa smile.

Rocky continued, “This particular puzzle uses visual images to hide a message. Sometimes, that could be a quote. More often, a simple list is hidden. Once, the entire Do-Re-Mi song was embedded in a map of Austria. Solving the puzzle is just a matter of seeing past the surface.”

Alicia muttered, “What’s so special about that? Haven’t you seen I Spy and Where’s Waldo?

Meenie harrumphed. “Comparing Where’s Waldo to Open Your Eyes is like comparing the cave paintings at Lascaux with the work of M. C. Escher.”

Alicia, though chastened by the mild rebuke, crossed her arms, rolled her eyes and returned her attention to Rocky and the slide. She stared at the screen as Rocky continued his explanation.

“The puzzlesmith had hidden some Greek letters in four images. T. T. obliterated the original artwork by deleting the puzzlesmith’s letters and superimposing these six letters onto each one.” Rocky shook his head sadly.

“Didn’t the office keep a backup?” Alicia really wanted to ask which Greek letter looked like those ghostly gummi worms. She had memorized the alphabet but had never bothered to study the letters themselves.

Rocky nodded, “Yes, they did. However, T. T. overwrote the backups with her abominations. The puzzlesmith stored his own copies in our encrypted servers. Every time he tried to restore the files, the production server mysteriously replaced his uploads with T. T.’s. Since you were able to figure out how she had tampered with the office supplies, I was hoping you could fix this, too.”

Chute interjected, “Really, Rocky? Are you sure you don’t just want Alicia to solve this puzzle?”

The room erupted with laughter. Alicia smiled at Rocky. “I guess you’re no good at visual puzzles, then?”

Rocky blushed a deep gray. “Ah, you got me. I’m more of a cruciverbalist who can’t resist cryptic clues wherever they are. Nothing you can do about the server being hacked.” He turned pleading eyes to Chute, “But, can’t we show her the originals, just for a second?”

Sizzles playfully sighed, “Awww….”

Meenie said, “Go ahead, Chute. We need a break.” Everyone agreed.

Chute whispered into the Lexibus. The current slideshow faded out. After a couple of seconds, a new image appeared:
Open Your Eyes
Alicia had to come clean. “I don’t recognize Greek letters, except for that pi.” She shuffled uncomfortably, mildly annoyed that she needed a clue to the puzzle on the screen after Rocky’s vote of confidence.

Rocky waved his hand dismissively. “Never mind that. The Greek letters are pi and rho, in the sun. You see the pi in the clouds. In the lower left corner of the river is the delta. Finally, above the oar, rho is repeated three times.

Alicia was all smiles again. “Did you hear yourself? River delta! Row boat, pie in the sky!” She studied the first picture. Then she  laughed. “Pyro! Get it? Like pyromaniac!”

Now Rocky glared at Alicia. “Surely you don’t think we missed that? Well, then, why don’t you just tell us what T. T.’s picture means!”

Papaya interjected, “Now, mind your manners, Rocky! You did ask the girl for help.”

Rocky softened his face. “I’m sorry dear. But I did say that Open Your Eyes requires you to see past the surface. Yes, we know that wordplay gives us pyro, pie in the sky, river delta and ‘Row, Row Row Your Boat.’ What we don’t know is the meaning behind these literal translations. Can you think of anything?”

Alicia felt her face burning. Not only had Rocky called her stupid, he had made it difficult for her to disprove him, because she had no idea what those gummi worms were. She blinked back tears and mumbled meekly, “I don’t know what those squiggly letters are. Do they have anything to do with the originals?”

Eenie, the mathematician, answered, “Perhaps. Lexibus overwhelms us with all of the possible meanings for the lower case xi. Apparently, scientists love it. We don’t think T. T. is subtle enough to include meaning within this graffiti. But, we also don’t think the letter xi was chosen at random.”

Alicia rolled the word around on her tongue. She had been taught to pronounce it with a zee sound. Eenie’s soft ess sounded so smooth. She asked Chute to switch back to the defiled image. If she was to solve these four, she thought that she needed to figure out T. T.’s game, first.

Chute bookmarked the four images, reloaded the sabotage slideshow and scrolled down to the ghostly gummis. Alicia started chanting, “Sigh, sigh, sigh, sigh…pi in the sky…sigh in the sky…sky-high sigh, pie sky sigh. One, two, three, four, five, six. Six sighs in the skies eating pies…”

The Crypt togglers, no strangers to quirky mind tricks, silently waited for  Alicia to finish. They appeared to be mesmerized by her sing-song voice. When she stopped, they all looked at her as if she were the oracle.

Alicia shrugged. “I don’t know. Why xi and not alpha? Pi makes sense, even lambda, if you’re counting sheep. She giggled. But who counts xis? Hey…is that it? Look, y’all! Six xis!” Alicia whooped with glee. The Crypt togglers goggled in amazement.

Rocky chortled. “Well, I’ll be dipped in the Falla Sea!”

Alicia was grinning so widely, she could barely speak. “Old T. T. is a master of the switcheroo. We should be able to focus on her exploits by looking for flipping, swapping and now, palindromes. We should go back to the beginning.”

Rocky gasped, “But, what about my puzzle?”

In unison, the other Crypt togglers yelled, “Not now, Rocky!”

Chute scrolled back to the first image. Alicia rolled up imaginary sleeves and went to work.

 

 

Part 7: Pro Test

Alicia and the Crypt togglers struggled through one image after another. Although they tried to look for obvious patterns of sabotage, several of the images simply remained tantalizingly unclassifiable. As the number of mysterious images grew, the despair in the room mounted.

“We’ll never get through all of these,” sighed Papaya. She rubbed her eyes and cracked her knuckles against her forehead.

Chute turned off the projector. He faced the group and said, “We need to delegate this to the entire Complex so that we can focus on the ones that don’t make any sense.”

Sizzles nodded. “That’s easy enough; divide and conquer. I can set up a network in ten minutes. How about if we split up the remaining images, send them out and ask the supervisors to fix what they can and bounce the rest back to us?”

Alicia asked, “Won’t T. T. become aware of what’s going on?” She was worried that LeClerc would overwrite the repairs as she had done with the gummi graffiti.

“No,” said Sizzles. “At least I don’t think so. If you’re wondering about how she pulled off that backup override, remember, she tampered with the server. It’s not like she’s sitting at a Lexibus, snooping. Wherever she is, she’s probably just laughing it up as we try to clean up her mess.”

Alicia frowned. “You make it sound like she just wanted to make a challenging puzzle for you all to solve. Don’t you have laws or something here against sabotage?”

Sizzles laughed. “There’s only puzzle rules and craftsmanship. Nothing like this has ever happened before. Sabotage, kidnapping rulers, stealing keys – that’s your world, not ours.”

Alicia persisted. “Well, maybe she did only want to create a super puzzle! Why can’t that be the case?”

The room went silent. The Crypt togglers stared at Alicia as if she had spit on the floor. She suddenly felt foolish. She was about to apologize when Meenie cleared his throat.

Meenie walked over to Alicia and sat down. He said nothing for a moment. The mole on his nose quivered. When he began to speak, his sad face was made even more pathetic by the soft whisper in his voice:

“That can’t be the case, because we all swore an oath to never do such a thing again. Years ago, we had a harmless group of puzzlesmiths that called themselves Ordo Templi Orientis, simultaneously saluting our belief in free will and playfully alluding to Aleister Crowley, one of the greatest puzzle makers from your world.

“Our group enjoyed the serendipities surrounding the life of Crowley, who was the founder of a religious philosophy called Thelema. One of those delightful coincidences was the claim Crowley made that he had been dictated a book of law from a divine entity named Aiwass. The puzzlesmiths learned that this text had been analyzed and deemed the work of Crowley himself. Apparently, he had created a series of riddles and ciphers to obfuscate some nonsense about a lost temple.

“No one in the group cared about whatever it was that Crowley was attempting to hide. Instead, the Book of Law was dissected and used as inspiration for the group’s Monthly Mind-Boggler, what you referred to a super puzzle.

“At first, these puzzles were simple constructions – a cryptogram whose words were the answers to a crossword puzzle; a rebus picture puzzle that was also a cryptogram.  Later, the puzzlesmiths became more sophisticated and the Monthly Mind-Boggler, more grandiose. Members were spending all of their free time either designing new challenges, debating the merits of past Bogglers or working on the current one. Families and jobs were neglected. Our industry began to suffer.

“Finally, the Rulers had to step in to moderate. Rather than abolish the group outright, they set up the ultimate Mind-Boggler and decreed that only those who solved it would remain in the group. In one stroke, the Rulers had managed to adhere to our sense of free will while also restoring the realm to normalcy.

“Most of the members simply gave up; the Mind-Boggler was too difficult. In fact, only eight master puzzlesmiths solved it. As a reward, the Rulers had a new building constructed for the group and assigned the members to an elite puzzle-generating division.” Meenie paused and waved his hands about.

Alicia’s eyes widened in disbelief. “Get out of here! This is you?”

The Crypt togglers chuckled. Meenie smiled and nodded. “Not all of us. My brother and I came later, when two of the original members retired. The Rulers named the building The Crypt and called the new members Top Bogglers. Over time, that got shortened to togglers.

“During the dedication of the building, the Rulers decreed that no other group would be permitted to form and the Top Bogglers were forbidden to refer to themselves as a group. Naturally, Ordo Templi Orientis was disbanded and we literally swore to uphold the new decree. It’s even part of the initiation into the Crypt, which is kind of ironic.”

Alicia was still trying to deal with this revelation and almost didn’t pay attention to what Meenie was implying. After a moment, though, she asked, “Well, why did T. T. violate the decree?”

Papaya answered, “She didn’t. You were the one who brought it up.” She smiled to soften her remarks. “Think about it, she did this on her own. There is no group. As the editor, she had access to the entire complex, even the Crypt. Actually, we had to let her in, but you know what I mean. Besides, if T. T. had wanted to challenge us, why would she have tampered with the computers?”

Alicia was not satisfied. “If the acts are supposed to be sabotage, they’re not very good.”

Rocky interjected, “Um, yeah, they are. We were stuck until you came here. I hope you’re not calling us dim-witted…”

Alicia stammered, “Gosh, no! I’m sorry, I was just thinking about all of the simple substitutions we’ve solved so far.”

Chute grumbled, “You’re forgetting about this growing pile of unsolved mysteries.”

Alicia shook her head. “I think we’re just not aware of all of her patterns.” Alicia held up her fingers as she continued, “Palindromes, flipping, swapping. Things that come in pairs. What else comes in twos?”

“Acrostic puzzle clues and their position in the answer,” Minie offered.

“Coin-flipping, Othello, erm…” added Eenie.

Meenie snapped his fingers. “How about anagrams? Even though some have many solutions, puzzle clues usually only use a pair, such as in cryptic crosswords!”

A sudden knock at the door hushed the room. A thin voice on the other side muttered, “Hail, it’s only me! Sarah is on her way.”

Papaya yelled through the door, “Thanks, Nathan! Please tell her we’ll be expecting her!”

The voice responded, “Wonderful!”

In the silence, everyone could hear the creature’s retreating footsteps. Immediately, the togglers cleared off the large black table and polished it until it shone. Just as Eenie shoved the large white chairs back under the table, Sarah pounded on the door. Papaya opened it and let her in.

“Hello, Sarah. Nathan alerted us, so we have prepared your table.”

Chute hopped down from his chair and escorted Sarah to the shiny black table. He pulled out a white chair and bowed gallantly.

“Thank you,” sighed Sarah, as she sank gratefully down onto the chair. She smiled sadly at Alicia.

Alicia smiled back. “Hi. Are you okay?”

Sarah acknowledged each of the Crypt togglers with the same sad smile before she answered, “T. T. is out of control. Somehow, she managed to swap the salt and sugar in my kitchen. My last marmalade pie was a disaster. Harris took one bite and started swearing in three different languages!”

Papaya gasped in dismay. “Oh, no! She’s going outside of the Square Knot Complex!”

Alicia snorted in disgust. “She’s like a virus, spreading her mischief. I don’t think we’ll stop her by solving her twisted puzzles.” She paused for a beat, then added, “T. T. is upset about something and is taking it out on the whole world. What could possibly be so bad that she would attack a nice lady like you?”

Chute  looked at Eenie, Eenie looked at Meenie and all three turned to Alicia and began speaking at once: “That stupid exam… such a small difference… rulers messed up… big-time snafu… she was hurt… I was hurt, too! … not fair… had to choose…”

Sarah and the other Crypt togglers had confusion plastered on their faces as they tried to decipher the words of the babbling trio.

Rocky interjected, “Wait a minute! Wait a minute! Chute, what are you saying?”

Eenie and Meenie stopped talking, grateful that Chute was singled out. Chute, once again, stood before the group to explain what had just happened: “Taupe Trapue LeClerc should have been the eighth Crypt toggler.”

 

 

Part 8: The Great Wind Up

Pandemonium and havoc descended upon the Crypt. Incredulous voices demanded explanations. Alicia, wide-eyed with confused shock, turned to Sarah, who merely shrugged and shook her head. Chute held up his hands in supplication.

“Please, please! Let me explain.” Chute tried to compose himself. The other Crypt togglers stopped yelling and sat down to wait. Chute used the few moments to take a few deep breaths. When the room was completely quiet, he began:

“I was part of the selection committee that appointed Eenie and Meenie. When Heds and Taylor retired, the rulers set up an open examination for qualifying the applicants. Meenie ranked first, T. T. came in second and Eenie was third. The selection committee sent congratulatory letters to Meenie and T. T. However, when the rulers reviewed the list, they decreed that the twins should not be separated and overturned the committee’s choices.

“Of course, T. T. was furious. She refused to attend the celebrations and took a leave of absence from her editorial job. The next time she showed up, she announced that the rulers had been stripped of their authority. She appointed Harris and Sarah Gate as the new rulers and promoted herself from Editor-in-chief to Editorial Director. Then, she fired all of the other chiefs and took over the third floor of the Administration Building.

“In an effort to consolidate her power, she began to sabotage the Square Knot Complex. Her systematic approach prevented us from organizing against her. That’s why Harris asked us to send out hidden messages in the puzzles.” Chute looked at Alicia. “That’s why you’re here. We have to find our rulers!”

Alicia looked back at Chute with fear in her eyes. “Puzzles are supposed to be fun! I helped you with all of those sabotaged images. I helped you find the pattern in her mischief. We helped each other! What makes you think I can find your rulers? I don’t even know where to start!”

“Calm down, dears.” Sarah rose from the great chair and addressed Alicia specifically, “You have been brilliant. We know that you can find our rulers because your profile is nearly identical to T. T.’s.”

“I’m sorry, what?” Alicia goggled.

Sarah explained, “When Harris asked the Crypt togglers to  send out clues, Sizzles came up with the idea to rate the magazines according to how heavily they were edited by T. T. The one you received was almost completely overhauled; more of her personality is present than in any of the other publications.”

Alicia, shocked as she was, had to smile at Sizzles. She gave him a tentative thumbs-up, more for the idea than for the insinuation. She asked Sarah, “So, have there been others?”

Sarah shrugged her beefy shoulders. “We don’t know. As soon as you arrived, we closed the Gateway. What we do know is that you’re our best hope!”

In counterpoint, Alicia’s shoulders sagged. She looked around at all the trusting, big-eyed little people who were counting on her. “Fine,” she sighed. “Let’s roll.”

***

Alicia was doodling with the Lexibus. She had allowed her mind to wander over her adventure; the synchronicities of her discoveries that lead her inexorably to the twisted heart of T. T. LeClerc were fascinating when considered as a whole. She tried to view the rulers as T. T. might have. That made her wonder what it would have been like to be accepted into the Crypt. T. T. probably would have shaken up this stodgy group with clever playfulness.

Thunderstruck, Alicia realized that T. T. would have been a lot like her! She spoke aloud, “You know, I can’t really blame her.”

Sarah and the Crypt togglers looked at her. Chute hung his head. Nervous coughs punctured the uncomfortable silence.

Alicia clarified, “I mean, I wouldn’t have kidnapped anyone or anything like that. But, I would be looking for the real reasons for their actions. I thought the rulers always made the right decisions?”

“Who told you that?” Papaya looked skeptical. “Obviously, that didn’t happen, here.”

Meenie, with not a little menace, snarled, “What do you mean by that?”

Alicia hurriedly interceded, “My guide told me that. When he was leading me to the Nevergreen Forest. He was full of riddles, though, so maybe he meant something else. Forget I mentioned it.” She couldn’t help herself – she had to add, “But still. How do you go from cleverly disbanding a disruptive organization to making a decision that was sure to disrupt an organized band?”

Sarah nodded. “T. T.’s reactions do seem to fly in the face of our rulers’ established order. Heaven knows, Harris and I are the worst replacements.”

Alicia agreed. “It’s almost as if T. T. had no choice.”

Now, it was Sarah who huffed. “I don’t think we’re that bad!”

“Oh come on! Harris couldn’t even handle the supply rooms!” Alicia gasped. “Oh, Sarah, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean that…”

Sarah sighed. “No, of course you’re right. And you’re acting out just as T. T. probably would have. If you could just channel that energy into unraveling her mind, maybe we can find the real rulers and get back to normal.”

Eenie finally spoke up, “Somehow, I feel like this is all my fault. Maybe I should have turned down my appointment, after Chute told us what had happened.”

Meenie cut him off. “Wouldn’t have mattered. T. T. had disappeared and nobody has ever challenged the rulers.” To Alicia, he added, “Maybe you’re right. Maybe T. T. didn’t have a choice. If she didn’t, you must help us figure out why that is so.”

Alicia thought about that for a moment. “Everything T. T. has done has been about changing things around. That makes sense, now that we know that she herself was switched. What if Sarah and Harris are part of this chain? Are they the opposite of the rulers?

Sizzles said, “I don’t see it. Two sets of married couples. In fact, they resemble each other, physically.”

Papaya chimed in, “The Queen can cook, too! Remember the grilled portobellos at the party?”

The Crypt Togglers groaned in delight, while Sarah playfully rolled her eyes. Alicia was glad that the room was back on an even keel, as she pressed on with her enquiries.

“Well, if they are more or less the same, the switch  would have to be based on something they could do.” She snapped her fingers. “Wait! The Gates could not be rulers.”

Moe snorted, “Big whoop! Neither could any other married couple. I don’t think T. T. was that obvious.”

Before she could stop herself, Alicia blurted, “Well, Chute always thought she was unsophisticated.”

Chute, embarrassed, muttered, “I only said that to protect Eenie.”

“I’m sorry, Chute. I seem to be taking this profiling a bit too seriously.”

Chute chuckled. “That’s okay. We need you to be T. T., if we’re going to find the rulers.”

Alicia got back on track. “Okay, then, what else could the rulers do that the Gates couldn’t? Live in a palace? Is there a palace?”

Rocky answered, “There’s no palace. The entire estate belongs to the rulers. They chose to live in the Lexicon Library. It’s nice enough. Plus, they had an easy commute to work!” He chuckled.

Alicia asked, “They worked and lived in the Library?”

Rocky nodded. “They were the Editorial Directors.”

Alicia looked confused. “But, if she switched the rulers with the Gates, why aren’t they the Editorial Directors?”

Even Sarah had to laugh at that. “Oh, dear, T. T. didn’t want to destroy Puzzleland, she want to rule it. Harris and I don’t know the first thing about editing a magazine. I can barely organize my recipe box!”

Alicia persisted, “Well, then, the switch must be about something else. Like feather dusters.”

Sarah said, “I’m sorry, what?”

Alicia laughed, “The printers were the reason the feather dusters went to the wrong rooms. We need to find the thing that is the reason for switching you with the rulers. What printer error sent you to the wrong room.”

Papaya squealed. “That’s it! She did it again! That’s brilliant, Alicia. Brilliant!” She frantically waved her arms for attention. All eyes were on her.

“The lobbies! T. T. switched them because they would be in the wrong lobby.”

Alicia shook her head. “That can’t be right. I went to the Gates home in the Forest, not the Library.”

“She’s right, Papaya. We haven’t moved. Harris has to travel all the way to the Administration Building. Neither of us go to the Library much.”

Alicia clapped once and whooped. “Wait! Wait! T. T. wasn’t trying to punish you. Papaya is right! T. T. would banish the rulers to a place that resembled their home but was different in some way. The Library is in the heart of the Square Knot Complex, Sarah’s home is in the middle of nowhere. The lobby similarity fits the whole twin theme.”

The Crypt was buzzing. Alicia was on to something. Chute asked, “Do you think our rulers were exiled to Nevergreen Forest?”

Alicia nodded. “I do. Everything T. T. has done has been about switching and pairs. Maybe the genius was in coming up with the exile swap. After that, she probably just built on the theme. Taunting you every step of the way.”

Chute took charge. “Well, what are we waiting for! Let’s get over there!”

***

For the first time in ages, the Crypt togglers emerged from their living tomb. Sarah and Alicia led the group in a mad dash to the Nevergreen Forest. The togglers took forever, as they kept stopping to look up at the grey clouds, and down at the swirling grey grass. Finally, though, they arrived at the clearing in the forest.

Harris was waiting for them at the door, as was Nathan, the servant and nearly every resident of Puzzleland. When Harris saw his wife he rushed out and gave her a big hug.

“You think this nightmare is over?”

Sarah patted her husband on the arm. “I think so, dear. I really think so.”

Chute came up to the servant, who bowed deeply. Chute snorted, “Oh, get up! You’re from the Library, aren’t you?”

Alicia shouted, “I bet he was in on it the whole time. I wondered why I saw you there.”

The servant trembled and bowed again. “Please, Miss. I had to do whatever Miss LeClerc told me to!”

Alicia said, “Not anymore. Now you have to listen to me. Where are they?”

The servant practically fainted from fright. He saw the change in the little girl who had first stepped into the lobby. By far, she was scarier than LeClerc. He pulled himself together and declared, “Very well. This way, please.”

Sarah, Harris and Chute followed the servant into the lobby. Alicia pushed her way past the other Crypt togglers and marched into the lobby behind the Gates. She heard the servant explaining to them that the “Evil Editor” had the keys to the door. She listened as Sarah, uncharacteristically, barked at the servant.

“Theodore, you know those doors don’t mean anything! All the rooms are connected by hallways.”

The servant bowed. “Yes, Ma’am. But Miss LeClerc didn’t know that. The rulers made me swear not to tell her.”

Everyone was in an uproar.

“What?”

“They knew?”

“They could have walked out whenever they wanted to?”

“What’s the meaning of this?”

In all the noise and confusion, no one saw a rather large, cheerful lady step from behind one of the twelve doors, followed by a grinning thin man. The man cleared his throat. Once.

A hush fell over the lobby. Suddenly, everyone was crowding around their beloved rulers, hugging, crying, tut-tutting and carrying on. Alicia stood apart from the mad crowd, surprised at this rough treatment to supposedly royal people. The rulers appeared to be taking it all in stride, though.

The thin man – the king – called out to Chute. “Chute, Eenie, Meenie. We owe you three a huge apology. We never meant to hurt you or Taupe.”

The crowd parted, the royal couple strode forward to stand before the Crypt Togglers. The queen spoke next. “We had to make amends, didn’t we? And it looks like Taupe has risen to the occasion in grand fashion. We do hope you’ll forgive her, she acted with our full permission and cooperation.”

Alicia was stunned. “I’m sorry, what?”

The queen turned to Alicia. “Where are my manners? Come here, child, and meet the lord and lady of Puzzleland!”

Alicia, suddenly shy, shuffled toward the queen. She half-curtsied, half-bowed and stammered, “How do you do?”

The king laughed uproariously. “Oh, we don’t stand on pomp. May I present my lovely wife, Ether. I am Oar.”

Alicia smiled. “You’ve got to be kidding me. Well, I’m Alicia. Pleased to meet you. Why did you put us through all of that?”

Queen Ether answered, “As I said, we had to make amends. We couldn’t see ourselves overturning our own rules, unless doing so would solve more problems than the confusion would have created. Rather than overturn the ruling that we had already overturned, we kept the twins together in the Crypt.”

King Oar continued, “Instead, we overturned our ban on the Ordo Templi Orientis and installed Taupe as its newest Grand Mistress.” He giggled and said, “Right now, she is the only member, but she does have a list of eligible members. Maybe we should just let her do the honors.”

The crowd murmured. Many of them were not quite ready to forgive T. T. LeClerc, despite what the rulers said. Harris Gate was one of them.

“I’ll not have that woman in my house!”

King Oar laughed. “Oh, Harris, who can blame you? She really had fun at your expense. But, out of respect for your wishes, we should all go see her at the Library. It’s high time Ether and I got back to our own home, anyway!”

And so it went. A huge throng, lead by King Oar and Queen Ether, wound through the Nevergreen Forest to the Lexicon Library. Someone had replaced the escalator with a sturdy ramp and the royal couple made their way up to the opened door of the Library.

Taupe Trapue LeClerc was waiting for them in the grand lobby. She ran up to them and hugged each as hard as she could. As she held on to the queen, the crowd surged into the lobby, practically filling the entire area. Taupe stepped away, finally, to confront everyone.

“In the days to come, you’ll learn the full story. For now, I want to apologize for the chicanery, the inconveniences and all of the trouble. I must say, though, I enjoyed it immensely and, for that reason, I no longer hold a grudge against you or our beloved rulers.

“The King and Queen convinced me that anger was pointless. They knew I needed to get it out of my system, so they allowed me to take a sort of revenge in the only acceptable way – puzzle challenges. I hadn’t expected the Crypt togglers to be buffaloed. I’m humbled by that.

“I’m also humbled by the clever Gateway puzzles. So much so, that I hereby announce that Sizzles is the first member to be inducted into the new Ordo Templi Orientis!”

Scattered applause greeted this proclamation. Harris, who’d had his arms crossed during T. T.’s speech, finally smiled when she acknowledged the Gateway puzzles, conveniently ignoring the fact that his sole contribution was to name the collection.

Sizzles came up to Taupe and gave her a hug. And, just like that, everything was all right in Puzzleland.

The End

 


Image of Rowboat: courtesy of Sudhamshu

Ed. note: Originally published in serial format on “Race to the Hugo Awards.” Final installment was posted on 12/24/2012.

One Response to “Puzzleland”

  1. Andy Bland says:

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