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An interactive puzzle novel written by Mike Selinker, with enchanting illustrations by Pete Venters.
An interactive puzzle novel written by Mike Selinker, with enchanting illustrations by Pete Venters.
An interactive puzzle novel written by Mike Selinker, with enchanting illustrations by Pete Venters.
2,630 backers pledged $171,146 to help bring this project to life.

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A Conundrucopia of riches, and some realizations

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The Conundrucopia is a 40-page book that, on its own, could probably win a bunch of puzzle book awards. It is insanely good. Every one of those world-class puzzlers I imprisoned in my cage has turned out a world-class puzzle. It looks awesome. Here's Elisa's cover.

There are probably one or two of you who just had a serious flashback. The rest of you don't quite know what that cover's based on. I'll make it a challenge, then. First person to post the origin of that cover's concept gets a tip of the hat from me. (Those who are in the book already know, so not you guys.)

Anyway, I mentioned the book was phenomenal, and I'm going to post the table of contents so you understand what I'm getting at. Here it is, in an unfinalized order:

  • “An Instance of Quizzism,” by Ken Jennings
  • “Professor Babbage’s Other Engine,” by Scott Weiss
  • “Dr. Flattbottom’s Conundrum,” by Jeff Martin
  • “Pop Quiz,” by Patrick Blindauer
  • “A Japanese Battle,” by Matt Jones
  • “Edison’s Cylinder,” by Eric Berlin
  • “As Heard Thro’ a Fogg,” by Greg Pliska and John Chaneski
  • “The Case of the Missing Social Calendar,” by Deb Amlen
  • “The Deck of Destiny,” by Cliff Johnson
  • “Free the Moon Zeppelin!” by David Ellis Dickerson
  • “Helter-Skelter, Skimble-Skamble, All Around the Park,” by Brendan Emmett Quigley
  • “A Most Exhausting Day,” by Eric Harshbarger
  • “For Science!” by Francis Heaney
  • “Geoffrey P. Tynesdale, Consulting Metagrobologist, in The Case of the Emperor’s Son,” by Peter Curtis
  • “Train Station ANTics,” by Richard Garfield
  • “Initial Impressions,” by Will Shortz
  • “Horseplay,” by Gabrielle Weidling
  • “Flatland Eyewitness Reports,” by Scott Kim
  • “The World’s First Roles-Performing Game,” by James Wallis
  • “A Bit of Disorganization,” by Jeff Chen
  • “Prestidigitis,” by Peter Gordon
  • “A Piece off the Action,” by Jeffrey Harris
  • “Harry’s Chessmen Boggler,” by Wei-Hua Huang
  • “Cutting Boards,” by Thomas Snyder
  • “Puzzles from the Eastern Enigma,” by Trip Payne
  • “Bold Predictions—of the Future!” by Wil Zambole
  • “The Magic Circle of Mr. Houdini,” by Roy Leban
  • “alfie at the zoo,” by Mike Selinker
  • “Two by Two by Clue,” by Tyler Hinman
  • “Bikeworks,” by Mark Gottlieb
  • “English Roses,” by Liz Berry
  • “The Mysterious Canals of Mars,” by Sean Trowbridge
  • “A Desperate Call for the Preservation of Books in Our Declining Society,” by Dan Katz

That is about the best table of contents I could imagine. I asked folks to imagine what puzzle they would submit to an 1897 puzzle magazine, and -- look, Dave Dickerson wrote a puzzle called "Free the Moon Zeppelin!" So much good stuff here. I'm looking forward to showing it off to you.

But I can't just yet

I'm not going to sugar-coat this -- well, I just did, by showing off the awesomeness that is the Conundrucopia. But the calendar has turned on December, and with that has come the awareness that we're not going to make Christmas. We're quite close to finishing, with only the covers and a few bits and bobs to design, and a whole lot of proofing to implement. But we're looking at somewhere in the first quarter of 2014 now. I'll get to what that means in a second, but first, some explanations.

I'm not the kind of person who thinks you, the backer, should be subjected to some tale of woe about how we just didn't know what we were getting into when we started this project. We had a pretty good idea what we were doing, because I put together the best team possible to make this particular project. Pete is brilliant, Gaby is brilliant, Elisa is brilliant, Tanis is brilliant, our business team of Liz and Marie and Evon is brilliant, everyone who contributed to the Conundrucopia is brilliant, and I'm not too shabby either. I can't imagine a better team to run this marathon with.

But when we hit the heights of fundraising and enthusiasm that we did, something overtook us. We went from thinking we needed to make a very good puzzle book to thinking we had to try to make the greatest puzzle book we could imagine. And that meant everybody redoubled their efforts, putting in tons of overtime to make the best puzzles, the best words, the best art, the best design.

And all that overtime adds up. It's an assembly line process; Tanis can't edit what hasn't been designed, and Elisa can't lay out what hasn't been drawn or edited. By the time Elisa got the edited files, we were already past the date she was supposed to finish them. We figured we could make up time. We couldn't. We kept improving it and improving it, and now it's even better than we thought it could be. We've invested as much time on this book as on any other project we've ever worked on, and it will show. Just not yet.

What we can do in the meantime

We know a bunch of you ordered this book for holiday presents. Obviously, the book isn't getting to your friends and family by Hanukkah or Christmas. But if you want to give it as a gift, we want you to follow through on that the best you can. So we've made a little winter holiday card from the Gatekeeper. Here's the front of the card, with a fine bone-chilling piece of art from Pete.

There's going to be a holiday-themed puzzle on it too. I don't want to spoil that, but I promise you it will be fun and festive.

We're going to distribute the card by private Kickstarter update. You can print it out and solve the puzzle. But if you intended to give The Maze of Games as a gift to someone else, then we'll go a step further: We'll mail you a printed copy, and you can give it to them. It will have our holiday apologies that their present didn't arrive on time, and let them know they can look forward to the gift from you in the near future.

Again, this is intended for those giving the book to others. If you bought a copy for yourself, you can get the full experience just from printing the card or solving it online. But if you want a keepsake for that special someone, we're here for you.

Let us know what you think

We're trying to do right by you guys. We're pretty sure that you'll like what we come up with when we've finished making it as good as it can be. But we want to hear your feedback. Let us know what you think in the comments below, and we'll aim to help you with anything we can.

And now, back to proofreading. There's a moon zeppelin to free.

Mike and the Sharks

Extra Life

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Not much to report on the book front. We're busily proofing it and finishing the final layouts. Everything is looking good, and late. FYI: We are locking down the backer list this Monday, so if for some reason you haven't sent us a survey or put how you want to be credited into the After the Crowd site, please do so right now.

I'm mostly writing this update to follow through the promise I made for the Extra Life charity D&D campaign, which is sponsored by Wizards of the Coast. Like I said in the last update, I will be broadcasting some short D&D-themed puzzles today on Twitch TV, starting in about an hour. Here's my donation page; you can continue to support it during the broadcast, or even afterward till the end of the year.

But if you're a Maze of Games backer, and donate (or have donated) $25 or more my Extra Life page, I will send you a signed copy of my character sheet when The Maze of Games gets sent out. It looks like this.

Front of my character sheet
Front of my character sheet
Back of my character sheet
Back of my character sheet

But there's a catch! To get this signed character sheet, you have to follow through on Destiel "Slash" Fanfik's name, and write some fan fiction about him. We'll be using the NaNoWriMi (National Novel Writing Minute) rules. You have to write it in 60 seconds. You can’t start with any ideas in your head. Open a comment, and then write a title, a byline, and as much text as you can in one minute. When the minute is up, you can finish your thought, but for Pete’s sake, be quick about it. You’re not trying to write a complete novel. You’re just trying to see how far you can get in 60 seconds. So you don’t need a middle or an ending. I'm not looking for length either. Just start your fanfic novel about Destiel. My lawful good axe-chucking devilspawn maniac will be glad you did.

So tune into the broadcast, solve some puzzles which I post on the charity event's Tumblr page, write some Destiel "Slash" Fanfik fan fiction, and most of all, please donate to help Seattle Children's Hospital. That's why we're doing this, and I hope you'll help us out.

Thanks! Now, to get my axes and riddles together for a great game!

Mike

Many ciphers died to bring us these pencils

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We just bought a whole lot of paper. That's a good sign. It means we must be making a book or something.

But meantime, we thought we'd show off what arrived in the office today.

So this is what 3600 pencils looks like.
So this is what 3600 pencils looks like.
Some sort of mutant puzzle ninja.
Some sort of mutant puzzle ninja.

There's still a ways to go to put together all our cool add-ons, but getting in Eric Harshbarger's awesome code pencils was a very big step. I thought you folks would like to see.

Extra Life!

A lot of us game designers help out with a project called Extra Life, which is a full-day marathon of gaming on November 2 that benefits children's hospitals. One of the things I'm doing is a celebrity D&D game run by my old pals at Wizards of the Coast. I've just started raising funds for it, and I came up with a thing.

For every $25 pledge above my current donation level of $200, I'll tweet out a thematic puzzle during the game. If you want to solve a bunch of fantasy-based puzzles—you guys like those, right?—kindly head over to my Extra Life donation page and kick in. There's some kids who would really appreciate it.

And thanks for supporting The Maze of Games!

Mike and the Sharks

Maze of Games: done in layout

Hi, folks. Last time we wrote an update, I showed off some of the art. Now I'm going to show you the book's layout, by genius graphic designer Elisa Teague. The reason I can do that is that The Maze of Games' main section is finished in layout. With the main section done, now I know what the book looks like. That's an immensely cool feeling.

To get what Elisa brings to the project, I'll share something I never show anyone: what a puzzle of mine looks like before it's laid out. This is what I gave Elisa to work with.

So, okay, that's some nice text, a page number (the queen of diamonds), and a fun little puzzle. A few grids, a word list, some instructions, Bob's your uncle.

But this is what Elisa gave back to me.

Check out that page. There's a lot going on in there, and I'll let you process it on your own. The cards are built into the intricate border. The text follows an 1890s style, with double-line breaks between paragraphs and column lines between. And oh yeah, she put the puzzle on a wall of weapons. The clues are imbedded in metal plates among axes and swords.

And here's the crazy thing: Elisa did something different for every single page. Every puzzle has a unique background, an inventive font treatment, a physical object appearing to be built into the page. At every turn, you see something new that the Quaice children see.

There's never been any puzzle book that looked like this, of that I'm sure. Elisa has brought a style to The Maze of Games that makes it a journey well worth taking.

Further progress

The Conundrucopia still has a fair amount of work left in layout. The backer list is going to exported on Friday, so if you have any last orders you want to get in, you should do so ASAP before we close the ordering site. Once those pieces and the covers are done, we'll finish proofing and testing the book, and ship it to the printer.

The maze map is now done in layout. Eric Harshbarger and Corey Macourek created a sprawling work of puzzle art, which we think you'll like a lot. Eric's also been hard at work at making code pencils. And we've started in on the soundtrack planning and the ebook.

So we're getting there. But now...

The unforeseen problem

The Maze of Games is progressing well, and we are so close to finalizing this book! We are excited by the quality of work we have seen in the art, the layout, the contributor puzzles, everything. When we sat down to update this book from my previous version, we realized there was much more to do than we anticipated. The story and puzzles took on a life of their own and led us down a path that is creating a book and story way beyond what we envisioned. I know you're going to love it.

However, it comes with a cost: These unforeseen additions have created delays in the process. The artwork and layout took the book to a new level, and is requiring us to find just the right paper and printing process to fully capture the amazing work by Pete and Elisa. We may end up printing this black-and-white book in color just to do the art justice. This might greatly increase our costs (not yours, just ours), but will add so much to the final product for you backers.

We had hoped to have this book out in November. We can't do it. It's important to us to create the best Maze of Games possible. With that has come some unfortunate delays. We chose to create a better book rather than rush it to meet our deadlines. We hope you understand and we apologize for this delay. We hope you think it's worth it.

Thanks for listening, and for supporting The Maze of Games.

Mike and the Sharks

The Maze of Games: edited and illustrated

As of late last week, we finished the editing and illustration on the main section of The Maze of Games. This is kind of a big deal. It means the story I started writing 18 years ago is now almost fully realized. We still have a ways to go in layout, and the Conundrucopia is not yet out of editing. But finally seeing the novel edited by Tanis and depicted by Pete is a dream come true.

One thing this allowed us to do was select our "Mystery Monster" for the triptych of prints. The minotaur is shown along with the Gatekeeper and the Quaices below. If you'd like to order some of those prints, head to https://mazeofgames.afterthecrowd.com. If you've already completed your order, you can change it by emailing support at afterthecrowd.com.

When all was said and done, I exchanged a few words with Pete about this momentous event.

Mike: We first talked about this project at PAX Prime, and now it's coming on PAX Prime again. A year ago, I had written exactly one paragraph that described the Gatekeeper: "From the smoke stepped a black-robed skeleton. His eye sockets burned with an eldritch fire, yet the air around him chilled the Quaice children's skin. He reached out one bony finger, and the Dracula book flew into his hand." You obviously saw something I didn't.

Pete: I think I was focused on the Victorian period so much that "black-robed" was less about a robe and more about being dressed in black. But the look of the Gatekeeper coalesced many months later when we were talking over the shape of the book and the puzzles and it occurred to me that the Gatekeeper was very much a trickster. And so his Victorian clothing gained a bowler set at a jaunty angle and there's a rakish quality to him. He puts me in mind of the type of showman that's working the front of the tent trying to draw the punters inside. And giving him form fitting clothes is so delightfully creepy on the Gatekeeper's exaggerated skeletal form. Then there's that chin...

Mike: You could cut glass with it. The kids also developed over the course of the book. For example, their clothes got distressed and they gained new gear as they went deeper into the maze. I like that there are visual references to them becoming more imbedded in the fantasy world.

Pete: I'm a stickler for continuity so ensuring their appearance didn't cause confusion or contradict the text was very important. The tricky part about the increasing distress to the Quaices' clothes was to ensure that it wasn't so overt that it helped the viewer figure out the page sequence. One of the things I liked was that you can see in the images how Colleen gets very acclimatized to the Gatekeeper's world. Sam, being Sam, much less so.

Another challenge was adapting to the shifting nature of the book. After the Kickstarter, you upped the ante on the whole book and some pretty significant changes — and, of course, improvements — happened in the fundamental structure of the book.

Mike: Truth. The card theme, the addition of a new chapter, the inclusion of an amazing new and appropriate setting — which you pulled off masterfully — all made the project much deeper than we both originally thought it would be. What was your favorite story element to illustrate?

Pete: I don't know where to start. It's like asking which is my favorite child! I have a soft spot for the first shot of Sam & Colleen together near the start of the story. That image just has a nice ambience of dusty books and buried treasures about it. 

But I think my favorite has to be the Minotaur. He's surly and huge and somehow refined. He's a scholar and a gentleman. With an axe. And possibly a dislike for kids who interrupt his Sunday morning crossword...

And he made Gaby happy and it's always nice to know you lived up to the expectations someone has about their favorite character.

Mike: I spend a lot of time making sure the puzzle ninja is happy. After all, she could sneak up and kill me with a sudoku.

Pete: Might be merited. What was your favorite piece in the book, Mike?

Mike: Hydra. By a million miles. It's so far from where Collie and Sam start out: nicely pressed, proper young people. And then Sam is leaping off a hydra's head swinging a mace while Collie slices between the snakes. So good.

Pete: I think one of the achievements of the project is the level of cohesion; from the narrative to the images, to the puzzles to the graphic design to all the wonderful hidden REDACTED REDACTED in the REDACTED. I'm going to be seriously impressed with anyone who gets all the way through to the last puzzle. I know they're out there but man, they're clearly a lot smarter than me! Some of these puzzles made my brain cry for mercy.

Mike: I hope you're not alone in that. So, okay, we're done with the main book. Quite a load off our chests, if I do say so. But it's one hell of a story, eh? Thanks for making it come to life, Pete.

Pete: My pleasure. It really was great to sink my teeth into telling a story again. I look forward to people being able to read and experience the final book. The phrase "mind-boggling" has never had a better home.

Finishing up the surveys

We hope to ship this off in early September, so if you haven't completed your backer survey or an order at https://mazeofgames.afterthecrowd.com, you're in danger of not having your name in the book. So, y'know, go to.

Pretty exciting stuff over here. Thanks for reading along.

Mike and the Sharks