Room-in-a-box, Jan 2020
Written by a Bournemouth-based author who kindly sent me a copy to try, Music Shop is a slim and I believe entirely self-published book with a series of ten puzzles linked by narrative. The story is that you’re a detective investigating a murder in a music shop, and is there to set the scene for the puzzles – don’t expect any dramatic twists.
Most of the books in the new ‘escape room’ genre use some kind of online verification system, but Music Shop is entirely self-contained, which makes it well suited to a train or plane journey. Its system is for the last two digits of each solution to be the page number where you should turn to next. As with the other couple of books I’ve seen that use this approach, it works fairly well but somewhat limits the variety of puzzles that can be used, and it’s sometimes possible to end up in the right place by accident without having quite solved the puzzle as intended. That actually happened with one puzzle in a way that left me unsure whether it had been coincidence or clever design allowing two alternative solutions to take you to the same place.
While the format makes it suitable for passing the time while travelling, it probably won’t keep you busy for a long trip – experienced puzzlers will find these ten puzzles straightforward, and will finish the book in little time. If you do get stuck, hints and solutions are printed at the back of the book, though you may need to take care to see only one hint without accidentally reading others.
As you progress, you may need to refer back to information you’ve encountered previously. Since you’re hopping from one page to another in no well-defined order, that could be a massive pain. At the start of each puzzle the book lists all the previous page numbers you might need to reference, which helps a lot. Even so it would rapidly become a chore in a longer book, but as it is, just at the point you’ve accumulated enough clues on previous pages that flipping to them would be annoying, you find you’ve reached the end of the game and it no longer matters.
In fact, I quite liked the way puzzles sometimes needed information from previous pages. Although I usually find murder mystery style puzzles unsatisfying, I thought the later puzzles that revolve around identifying the culprit were the strongest in the book, partly because they connected to the narrative better and partly because of the way they drew together elements encountered at earlier points. (The puzzles I disliked were, unfortunately, the very first one; plus one that just felt like unnecessary hard work.)
The main downside of this book for escape enthusiasts is that it’s just a bit short and easy. Still, at its current price it’s one of the cheapest escape-themed books available at the moment; and despite a couple of wobbles it’s a pleasant option for a quick scratch of the puzzling itch.
Disclaimer: We played this game on a complementary basis. This does not influence the review or rating.