Unwrapping the Christmas Puzzle…and revealing a second prize!

Faithful Fellow Ponderers,

My latest short blog series, lifting the curtain on the Christmas Puzzle was interrupted by a significant but successful surgery for my wife. I took a few days off of work to help her out and thought I might have time to blog as well. I probably did have time, but no energy. I appreciate your prayers for my Princess, as well as our children.

So I apologize for the delay, but without any further, here are some thoughts regarding the Christmas Puzzle, for the faithful puzzle solvers.

As a thank you for your patience I have a Christmas Puzzle Quiz on the bottom of this blog which will give some of you disappointed solvers another chance at a prize. Albeit a smaller one. I will send a ten dollar itunes gift card to the person who answers the most the questions accurately in the next seven days.

1) How I chose the authors. I knew from the outset that the plan was to encode some sort of mystery or puzzle into a collection of Christmas themed short stories. I further wanted to explore different genres as I did these short stories. My daughter and I had recently been discussing the Canterbury Tales in which Chaucer tells a story about people telling stories, and this struck me as an interesting idea for our purposes as well. Somewhere about that time the idea took shape that the puzzle itself would be to identify the main authors telling the story. So I knew I needed reconizable authors, and I knew I needed a variety of genres within that. From there, honestly I picked authors I liked and knew a fair amount about so the clues wouldn’t be hard for me to come by.

Doyle was not a tough choice for me. I knew I wanted a mystery and I already wanted to bring back Merlot and Otis (whom I had created on my blog and now immortalized (pretentious much?!?) in A Little Serial in the Morning.) and these two are already a tribute to Sherlock and Watson. Merlot, is in my mind, a “what if” characterization of Sherlock. Specifically, What if the great talents of Sherlock Holmes were in a man with a different personality, one more emotional and whimsical. It’s more complicated than that but that would be for another blog. Anyway, Doyle, therefore was a no brainer for my mystery author. For his story, I emphasized the Sherlockian aspect of Merlot more than usual, managed (to my delight) not to spoil the surprise in the previous Merlot story for those who hadn’t yet read it, and even based the story on one of my favorite Sherlock Holmes short stories (one of the quiz questions below!).

C.S. Lewis was a shoe in for the fantasy as one of my very favorite authors and partly cause of the jack connection which I knew would be less obvious to many people. Clive would have been too unique, but Jack worked well. It only occured to me later that the potential confusion with John, for J.R.R. was a plus.

H.G. Wells or Ray bradbury were my selection for SCi Fi and I chose H..G. mostly because nobody knows what H.and G. stand for and like Jack gave me a more deceptive first name choice. Ray would have been pretty unique, I suspect.

I needed a recognizable poet for the poetry genre and Emily Dickenson’s moods and poetry were an excellent fit for the feel of the frame narrative I wanted to create. Plus I know a secret about her poetry which is like an inside joke which I scattered mostly only for my amusement throughout the book. (this secret is also referenced in the quiz questions below.)

I wanted a comedy genre among the short stories and if you are looking for comedy writing, you really can’t beat Oscar Wilde. I considered Shakespeare, Woody Allen, and Neil Simon, but ultimately decided on Oscar, because I liked the first name, the easy characterization (only Allen would have been as recognizable in caricature (But the name woody was way too unique) and basically he’s my favorite comedic writer.

But there was one more author I wanted to include. As this unfolded, I realized that I wanted to include myself in the story as one of the authors. Chaucer, for example, is one of the travelers in Canterbury Tales, at times mocking himself. However, I did not want to presume to put myself in the league with these incredible authors I was abusing so horribly by thrusting them without permission into my story. I also did not want to be seen as trying to imitate the styles of each of these authors, because that was a task I felt ill equipped to do. That’s when the idea of an obvious, but hidden force, the shade, began to take shape. How about an author who moves among the other authors, so that their stories in some sense cease to be their stories. What they tell is partly them but mostly me, freeing them from having to claim blame for my inferior execution of their mastery, and freeing me from having to appear to take credit for writing like them (which I don’t really do.)

From here, it was a short hop to the realization that the entire thing was a nice metaphor for Christmas, with the author infusing his own stories, and so I decided to let the whole shade thing speak metaphorically for God’s interaction as the muse in our lives as well. I did, however, take care to make sure the Shade was not God, just another level down the line to God. In a way which my kids always identify by adding the suffix “ception” (from the movie inception) I decided to leave hints and ideas that this story within a story was iteslf only reflective of my own story within that story—storyception. Then I decided to do away with hints and let Jack tell the metaphor as part of his fantasy at the end. This, I decided would also, give a hint to the very idea of the puzzle–find out who the authors are, including me.

One of the reasons I decided and was able to do this is due to the incredible possibilities of the whole e-book publishing phenomenon these days. Not only could I self publish but I could do it very quickly. The book did a two month turn around which is pretty amazing. However, it quickly became apparent that this was not going to happen that quickly if I had to write all the stories myself. I was getting bogged down in the msytery which I decided had to make at least a little sense and not be complete parody. I had some vague idea of the Wilde story borrowing from the importance of being earnest with people impersonating Santa, but was completely stuck on that. I had Jack’s story virtually finished in my head, thanks to its connection to everything, and the sci fi was frankly something I had already written in my head as part of a larger collection of short stories called TSKS, which I’ll publish someday soonish. But I still had the frame narrative as well, and the actual writing of these “finished in my head stuff.” Anyway, I read the introduction of the frame narrative to my family and Lorien figured out all the authors right away, so I invited her in to the project and asked if she wanted to write a story or two. She did indeed!

Now I had seven authors, so I decided Lorien had to be included in that as well. I also watched how quickly she (and my brother, for the record) figured out the authors, and realized I needed another layer to the puzzle. That’s when the email idea came to me. Create an email based upon their last names. The easiest way to require an order would be by birth date and would require people probably do a modicum of research into these authors to find that. I even made sure that Lorien and my birth orders were clear in the Author’s note although this was both unnecessary and irrelevant (unnecessary because clearly I was born before my daughter, and irrelevant because our last names are the same initial so the order of those two in particular doesn’t matter) mostly as a clue that birth order mattered somewhere.

So that’s how it came about. It was a lot of fun, and I strongly suspect we’ll do another one some day soon.

A few stray clues no one has mentioned yet which are perhaps worth noting:

A. Regarding the email

1) It’s worth noting that I was careful not to claim the code on the web page was a cypher to the email itself. Instead I stated that a) the email was encoded in the book itself, and 2″The December 25th hint (below, named “the rules”) cannot be deciphered without the book, and when deciphered will give you the final rules of submission, including how to find the email address.

2) Also note in the language above (and on the day I first posted the hint) that I clearly stated that the hint from December 25th was named “the rules.” This was to point you to the right place for deciphering the code. In the book, just before Emily starts writing her final poem Jack asks what’s left and Emily says, “Oh! The Rules!”

B. Regarding George and Jack. Because I figured these would be the difficult names, I left more clues for these two in particular than for any of the others. I won’t share them all here. However, I came as close to just stating the name for H.G. as I dared in the footnote (or as Kindle turns them into: endnote) during the Merlot story. Check it out if you missed it. As others pointed out, the names of the characters in Jack’s story, as well as the mention of the wardrobe were pretty overt.

C. Regarding the trailer: The characters were in birth order in the trailer; the clues were as follows. American Lit for Emily (I figured her clue could be vaguest as she was probably easiest to identify in other ways, Jokers (Wild) for Oscar Wilde, There is actually a bust of Sherlock Holmes in plain view (though right behind the act of misdirection I perform with a different ornament) for Doyle, Orson Welles, for H.G. Wells, Lewis and Clark epic journey for C.S. Lewis.

And, here’s the quiz and a second chance at a prize and bragging rights! Send your answers to dwdwlmm at gmail.com. (replace the “at” with an @. I’m just avoiding scammers taking over my currently pleasantly almost unused email address.) This is, of course the email which won the prize originally, so it seems appropriate to use for this secondary purpose. In one week, I will post the answers here, so that’s your deadline.

1) What does the title of Emily’s main poem (The Yellow Star of Christmas) have to do with anything? (One point)

2) Where is Doyle’s name itself embedded within his story? (4 points)

3) How many other authors can you find directly referenced in the book who are not included in the main seven? (one point per)

4) On what Sherlock Holmes Short story is the Extraordinary league of Santa Clauses in A Christmas Puzzle based? (1 point)

5) Where do the names Ernesto and Algernon in Wilde’s story come from? (1 point)

6) There are three characters in Jack’s story who are not named after Narnian characters. Where do there names come from? (1 point for one; 5 points for all three)

7) What is Merlot’s last name (20 points. I have to warn you, although there is a hint to this in each of the two stories about Merlot I’ve thus written, I am planning on revealing this in a later story so it’s intentionally unlikely, though not impossible, that you would yet have been able to figure this out. Thus the high point value.)

Extra Credit (5 points): Share with me one clue which has not yet been mentioned by me or anyone else on my blog that you discovered.

The possible total is, as far as I remember (and not counting number 7) 20, but I have to admit that I may be forgetting some viable answers for number 3, so it’s possible there are more.

Have Fun!

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