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Enigmida - Why Puzzles?

Enigmida - Why Puzzles?
By Matthew Stein • Issue #3 • View online
Welcome back to Enigmida-land! This week, I’ll be sharing some of my design goals for the puzzles in Escape the Plagues, the social justice Passover puzzle game I’m launching on March 1.
Make sure to read to the end for the Puzzle of the Week! 🧺

I guested on the Room Escape Divas podcast!
Earlier this week, I had a lovely conversation with Errol and Manda of Room Escape Divas about empathy-driven puzzle design, my “puzzle origin story”, and some of my current work. You can listen to the episode here.
As they put it: “Huzzah! This is a pretty deep talk!”
A peek into my bedroom, featuring copious amounts of origami and LEGOs
A peek into my bedroom, featuring copious amounts of origami and LEGOs
Escape the Plagues: Why Puzzles?
I’m beyond excited to be releasing Escape the Plagues in just a few weeks (follow @escapetheplagues for more updates and tell your friends!) This game is a collab with my sister Lisa Stein and artist Adrian D. We’ve been describing this project as a “social justice Passover puzzle game.” But what does that really mean? And what do puzzles have to do with social justice or Passover?
The puzzles in Escape the Plagues are somewhere between those you’d find in an escape room and a light puzzle hunt. The answer to each is a recognizable phrase, and the answers from the first four puzzles are used together to solve a final metapuzzle. The puzzles are accessible to younger solvers while still fun for all audiences.
The Passover story is one of oppression, resistance, persistence, and liberation, universal themes which are all too relevant today. The narrative in Escape the Plagues is structured around modeling community solidarity - standing up against injustice by taking local actions which subvert systems of oppression. But the question remains - how do puzzles fall into all this?
Puzzles guide participants to…
  • Experience wonder in their own hands. The “aha” of figuring out how a puzzle works is a satisfying adrenaline rush, and having fun makes us more receptive to learning things which may otherwise be outside our comfort zone.
  • Discover what actions they need to take. Whether it’s saying a sequence of words out loud, arranging pieces in a specific order, or solving a clue, the process of a puzzle requires active engagement with the puzzle content. In Escape the Plagues, the actions you take in each puzzle reinforce the themes in each scene.
  • Work together! The puzzles, dialogue, and discussion questions in Escape the Plagues all prompt participants to broach serious themes together through serious play.
  • Question why they’re solving puzzles. Escape the Plagues is framed by the questions: What does it mean to “escape”? What does it mean to be free? What does it mean to be free when others are not? Is “escaping” or “solving” something about the process or just the end state?
Puzzle of the Week
!! Prize Alert !! If you solve every weekly puzzle from now through the end of February, you’ll be entered in a drawing for a chance to win a custom puzzle of your choice!
This week, I’m bringing SALAD, CHEESE, KIWI, POPCORN, and FUNGUS to a picnic. Think of something else that fits this pattern, and submit your answer here.
Solution to last issues’s puzzle:
(rot13) Rnpu jbeq gnxrf n ahzrevpny cersvk gb znxr n arj jbeq: (hav)ba, (ov)qra, (gev)hzcu
Congrats to everyone who solved it: Yossi Fendel, Ben Rosner, Summer H, Joe K, Jennifer Love, Andrew E, Tammy McLeod, Andrew, Merrilee W, Stephanie Blumenstock, and Jessica Lauer
Cryptically yours,
Did you enjoy this issue?
Matthew Stein

Enigmida is a San Francisco-based puzzle design studio. We create puzzle hunts, escape rooms, and ARGs which guide participants to discover wonder in the mundane through aha-driven play.

Escape the Plagues, a print-and-play social justice Passover puzzle game, is available now at!

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