Puzzle Box 3: The Voyeuristic World

Posted on November 9th, 2009 at 9:18 pm by


[Author's note: This is the third post in a real-life story that ultimately took a full year and four chapters (1, 2, 3, 4) to tell. Read them all, then browse through the other surprising puzzle box stories that have popped up along the way.]

The puzzle box continues to generate lots of interest.  This week I encountered it in two different geocaching podcasts, a Serbian blog, and Daniel Soltis’ talk at Playful ’09 in London.  I’ve fielded calls from network TV channels, film producers, engineers, and machine shops all over the country.  Everyone seems to want to bottle up the magic that swirls around this strange little box.

I particularly enjoyed reading Soltis’ presentation, which focused on “the delight of physical objects connected to games.”  Tangible things like the puzzle box, he writes, provide “specificity, tactile pleasure, and possibilities for kinds of game play that multi-purpose platforms like phones and computers can’t.”  How true.  People love the connection to the physical, especially if there is a touch of mystery to it.  Would you even be reading this if I had just written some old GPS iPhone app?

Excerpt: Nick Marsh's Graphical Notes for Playful '09

From Nick Marsh's Notes for Playful '09

“Yes, yes, but have they managed to open the box yet?!”

As a matter of fact, I have recently been in very close email contact with Chris – that’s the newly-married friend who has unknowingly been at the center of this hullaballoo.  He writes to say that he has been busy putting finishing touches on his beautiful new film The Luminiferous Aether, preparing it for submission to festivals in the coming year.  I hope you get to see it someday– it’s a remarkable work, especially for a first effort.  This is the movie, incidentally, that led to romance with his leading lady those many months ago on the French island.  I was treated to a sneak preview shortly after I got back from their wedding, but I’m afraid the detailed appraisal I promised in return is dreadfully late.  There’s a whiff of irony here.  While Chris waits patiently for the thoughtful and sober review his film deserves, I’ve been too busy returning calls and composing articles about his puzzle box to write it.  He has no idea how much he himself, in some warped sense, is to blame for my slow response.

So to answer the question, no, I’m afraid I don’t have a single tidbit of new puzzle box gossip to share.  I haven’t heard a thing.  But isn’t it fun being part of the watching crowd?  I love it.  This surprising little adventure seems to be entering a third phase: first there was the creation and the presentation, then the unexpected storm of publicity; now we’re to the point where thousands of people – perhaps tens of thousands – are watching to see how it all plays out.  If you are reading this, you are now part of the story.  We are all initiates into what I am calling the “voyeuristic world”, reminiscent of the film The Truman Show, in which a young man inadvertently discovers that his daily life is being watched by millions on TV. The difference is that this reality show is real!

The Couple at the Wedding Dinner

The Couple at the Wedding Dinner (Kelly Neal)

I had a nice conversation this week with photographer Kelly Neal, who graciously gave me free rein to use pictures like the above to illustrate my articles.  If the puzzle box story is moving too slowly to satisfy your voyeuristic needs, perhaps you’d enjoy strolling through his official wedding site, imagining what it must have been like to have attended that little French village wedding.  You are, after all, a part of the story!  If you like the pictures, please give Kelly a call.

And now some answers:

“Why don’t you just ask about the box?”

Well, because I’m enjoying the adventure too much.  I fear that asking my friends for an update will ultimately help hasten the story’s denouement.  I intend to ride it as far as it will go.

“Why do you think they haven’t said anything?

I think they’ve probably figured out where to go by now.  But it is 400 kilometers away, and they are busy people.  A trip like that would require at least a long, unencumbered weekend.  I imagine they are just waiting for a convenient time.

What if the couple finds this web page…? Won’t that spoil it?

I think that’s part of the fascination.  Will they get to the island first… or find the web article?  I don’t know.  But even if they do discover the publicity, I’m not sure that will entirely spoil it.  They still need to get the box open, and there are still one or two things my article doesn’t reveal… the contents of the “overly sentimental card” for example.  I think there’s still plenty of mystery and suspense to go round.

What happens if they don’t figure it out in 50 tries?”

Ah!  It displays a painful little message indicating that the box is sealed forever, then suggests returning it to the manufacturer for help.

“How can I get one?”

The puzzle box is not just a thing, it’s an experience.  It’s personal.  It’s mysterious.  It’s an adventure.  I don’t want to see glossy plastic versions mass produced all over the world, because such things would only dimly reflect the magic of the box I built for my friends and subtract from its unique beauty.  The original was lovingly constructed by a human being and embodies the special relationship between three people.  I don’t think such a personal thing should be turned into a commodity. 

That said, I have a team of people considering how we might build a small number for special, personal occasions.  Many people have had the idea, for example, of using a ring box to propose marriage.  Bravo!  Or how about this?  A proud father gives a box to a beloved daughter leaving home for college.  The box eventually leads her to a car dealership, revealing a set of keys.  The possibilities for a rich experience seem boundless.  I hope eventually to help people realize experiences like these.  Just don’t expect to see them anytime soon.  Or on the shelves at Target.

“Can I commission one?”

I am making a very small number of hand-built boxes, either replicas of the original elephant box or custom designs.  If you are serious, please contact me at mikal (at) arduiniana.org.

Where can I see The Luminiferous Aether?

Stay tuned.  It’s not available yet.

How do you pronounce your name?

The same way ordinary Michaels do.  Mine is simply a creative spelling of the common name.  Thanks, Mom and Dad!

If you want to keep following this story, subscribe to the RSS feed (above). I’m also trying out twitter @mikalhart. Leave a note anytime.

[Next read the latest chapter in the puzzle box story.]