Mysteries do not need to be solvable

In the past year I’ve gotten into reading mystery novels, and this has reinforced one of my strongly held opinions about the genre. There is a mistaken preconception about mystery novels, that the reader ought to be able to solve the mystery. This simply is not true. There are some mystery stories that are meant be solvable, but it’s a minority of mystery stories that I’ve seen. Solvability is not the primary appeal of the genre, or at least it’s not the appeal to me.

The reason I know this, is because when I was young, we had a “complete works of Sherlock Holmes” book, which had all the short stories. I didn’t read them all, but I read enough to know that Sherlock Holmes stories were not solvable. Usually, Sherlock Holmes would pull some clue out of thin air, that hadn’t been mentioned before; or else there would be an event that led to the mystery being solved. It was unambiguous that most stories were not even trying to be solvable. The mysteries were trying, first and foremost, to be stories. There’s something the reader doesn’t know (rising tension), and then Sherlock Holmes explains it (releasing tension), and that’s a simple but effective narrative arc.

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The information theory of Mysterium

A question that keeps me up at night is “What is the theoretical best you can do in Mysterium?” I’m exaggerating a bit, but it is a pointless question about a silly board game that I nonetheless spent too long thinking about. I went so far as to watch a series of lectures about information theory–listening to it in the background while in dance class, as one does. I never solved the problem, but let me at least explain what the problem is.


Mysterium is a cooperative board game where the players are trying to solve a murder mystery via psychic communication with the victim. One player takes the role of the ghost, and the rest take the role of psychic mediums. The ghost is not allowed to speak, and may only communicate through cryptic visions. The visions are represented by cards with surreal artwork. For example, one card has two people climbing into a giant fish mouth, another has a tarantula-like thing over a chandelier. After the mediums receive their visions, they discuss what they mean and make their guesses; and the whole time the ghost giggles about how wrong they are.

Example visions: two people climbing into a fish's mouth; a polar bear and spirit owl read a book; a chandelier hanging from strings from a tarantula's mouth

Examples of vision cards.  Source: Mysterium rulebook.

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Link Roundup: May 2024

This month, the Ace Community Survey published a report on sexual violence.

The real story of Gamergate 2 (conspiracy theories, crybullying, and a consumer revolt) | NeverKnowsBest (video, 1:38 hours) – I’ve been loosely following the story of antiwoke backlash currently going on in the gaming community, but it’s pretty hard to take seriously when it’s founded on something so ridiculous and petty.  NeverKnowsBest clearly explains the sequence of events and issues of concern, and persuaded me to take it more seriously.  After all, the Gamergate of a decade ago also started with something silly and petty, but it snowballed into something bigger by galvanizing the alt-right presence within gaming communities.  Also, the media environment is very different from how it was a decade ago, with traditional games journalism being far less influential.

What these neo-gamergaters want is games that cater more to their political tastes, i.e. centering straight white men, dropping black & queer characters, making women sex objects again, etc.  That’s already hard enough to sympathize with, but then they add all these conspiratorial claims involving a tiny consulting company, and ESG investment.  When it comes to progressive politics in games, they can’t accept the more basic explanation that some game devs are pretty progressive, so instead they believe that investors of all people, are the ones pushing the progressive agenda.  This is so obviously wrong, just look at all the indie games, which are less beholden to investors and publishers than ever.

How Does Fiction Affect Reality? | Thing of Things – Ozy discusses the evidence regarding the real world impact of fiction.  There’s surprisingly little, although fiction can impact social norms such as norms around family size.  As a critic, when I criticize a work of fiction, the purpose is rarely to say “this work of fiction is causing harm and should not exist”.  Often, criticism is just an intrinsically fun and valuable activity, in the same way that fiction itself is just an intrinsically fun and valuable activity, independent of whether it has an impact on society.  Yes, there is criticism, such as feminist criticism, that wants to push towards positive social change.  But I think it’s more important for people to engage with criticism than to avoid engaging in the material being criticized.

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Origami: Coffee


Coffee, designed by Wang Shuo

A lot of origami paper is colored on the front, and white on the back, so you can make patterns by carefully exposing the front and back.  I’m vaguely aware of a subdiscipline within origami all about making shapes just with color change.  But I have very little experience with it, and don’t understand any of the design principles!  As far as I’m concerned, it’s basically magic.  Perhaps one day I’ll give a shot at designing something like this.

The instructions for this model are available on CFC.

I feel compelled to mention that I am not a coffee drinker.  I drink tea.