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  • Writer's pictureAnnekatrin Baumann

How to become a puzzle designer? - biographical clues of a puzzle designer.

When I tell someone for the first time about my freelance work as an author and puzzle designer, the question usually comes up how I come to develop puzzles.

Or how I managed to find a publisher for them.

In fact, it was the other way around. The publisher found me. And it was while I was baking pancakes.

With my red cooking apron I stood at our gas stove and was slightly annoyed at the pancake baking. Of course, according to the old family recipe with the formula of three.

I was slightly annoyed because my guest, who came over to visit and have dinner, talked incessantly about his day at work instead of helping to cook or set the table. He told me about his research for a new puzzle book. I knew he was in charge of Escape Adventures at frechverlag, and we knew each other from the fact that I designed and built a personalized Escape Room for my best friend for her bachelorette party (a story worthy of its own blog post). The side dish to wrap the pancakes around was carrots in cream sauce. Quite excited about the puzzles he had discovered, he described some of them to me. Managing the various meal components, even in time, required much of my concentration due to the high heat of the gas stove. My guest was a mixture of amazed and disappointed that his puzzles made little impression on me and that I knew the solution to most of them directly.

"How come you already know all of these?"

I stir the carrots, shrug, and flip a pancake.

"Well, I just like to puzzle."

"Uh-huh, and do you know any better puzzles?"

"Yeah sure, they were pretty standard puzzles now."

The pancake is done and goes on the ever-growing mountain next to the pan.

"Uh-huh, and can you come up with better puzzles yourself?"

With precision, I pour half a ladle of batter into the hot pan, holding it at as much of an angle as possible to get extra-thin pancakes.

"I don't know. Never tried it before. Maybe."

"We're looking for new puzzle writers right now. Would you be interested in applying?"

Yes, I did. With two sample puzzles, both of which, from my current perspective, were too bad to publish here, I applied to be a puzzle author and was then asked if I would like to take on a new puzzle book series.

A follow-up question, of course, would be how I came to like puzzles so much. Since first grade, math was my favorite subject. In high school, I financed my pastimes by tutoring math to young girls who had been told by someone/society that women were worse at math and were so because of this attitude, but at the same time didn't want tutoring from 17 year old boys. I also regularly bought math practice books because I particularly enjoyed them. Even though it probably didn't make much sense at the time to practice the most powerful subject of all instead of perhaps vocabulary, it probably contributed to the fact that logical-mathematical questions accompanied me even beyond school.

For a vacation at the beach, there was definitely an old edition of the Math Kangaroo: an annual competition with particularly tricky questions for different grades.

And of course a current issue of PM Logiktrainer. The magazine that still makes all my friends roll their eyes when I unwrap it.

To this day, the number of people I know who also enjoy solving puzzles from that magazine remains in the low single digits.

And it wasn't until I was writing this blog entry that I noticed that there is a question mark on the cover every time.

In thinking about whether there might have been other hints in my past that I would eventually work as a puzzle writer, I remembered the following story from a vacation in Greece:

We were in a small coastal town in Crete and I was about 12 years old. While I sat reading on the balcony of the small hotel in the evening, my mother was still in a bar with some friends. At some point she came down the narrow path towards the hotel and called out something to me in a muffled voice. In front of her friends she had claimed to want to look after her child. In reality, after a few rounds of beers, a mystery was being discussed in the bar. There was a bet that the one who could solve the riddle would get a beer.

So my mother, who was much more concerned with winning per se than the free beer, whispered a riddle to me over 2 floors. Absolutely sure that I either already knew it or at least could solve it.

And sure enough, it was the familiar "lamp in the basement - three light switches" riddle:

a lamp hangs in the basement, out of sight of three light switches. With only one walk down the stairs, how to figure out which is the correct and corresponding light switch?

Satisfied with the solution I whispered to her down the balcony, my mother went back to the bar and won her beer.

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