Thursday, 29 January 2009

Usborne Puzzle Adventures

In the mid 1980s, books had become boring. All the kids wanted were either robots that turned into cars, computer games that CORRUPTED (such as Trapdoor) and drugs. The booksellers were desperate - how could they combine robots, corruption and drugs?

Well, they couldn't, so Usborne instead ripped off those Fighting Fantasy books and created...

These things were the greatest - 44 pages of glory in which little kids had adventures where you had to help them! On every page was a puzzle, which you had to solve before you could turn the page. Failure to do so would render the story unreadable and useless, unless it explained what happened of course. Only problem was, was that the puzzles they gave were usually insanely difficult - and then they released an 'advanced' series that was even harder. I'm not sure what age they were aimed at, probably graduate students come to think of it, the bright, colourful drawings would appeal to their drug-addled minds.

In the back of each book before the answers, would come clues, cunningly written in mirror writing to fool anyone stupid enough to think "put yourself in Agent Arthur's shoes" would help solve a cunning logic problem. In World War 2, it took many years and lives to crack the Enigma code. Here, they're asking little kids to work it out from first principles. And I thought education standards were declining...
It's not that they didn't try though. Above are images of the first book in the story, Escape From Blood Castle in which a small boy is sent on his own to a place called BLOOD castle (did his parents have no morals. Or just wanted to knock him off?); and one of the latter books in the series, featuring Agent Arthur, who features in many of these books for the sole reason that he's so inept that he needs the reader to solve the puzzles for him.

Other books in the series (or should that be novels - Dickens, watch out!) were on such adult, mature subjects as Time Trains to Ancient Rome, and woo, spooky ghosts. A generation of children grew up believing that books were hard to read for the sole reason that they required a mental effort to turn every two pages and solve the cunning riddle. Books shouldn't be fun, they should incur stress!

The puzzles were in two categories:
a) Insanely difficult
b) Easier than a 19 year old cheerleader on drugs and up to her eyeballs in cheap vodka
Let's have a look at some examples…

1 - Pathetic
Agent Arthur has been tied up and trapped! In an attempt to be lazy, the writer has left it up to the reader to devise a believable way for him to escape by the next page. There are three main ways in which he could have made his break for freedom

1 - Arthur was pretending to have been beaten and tied up, and was just kidding with the reader. He walks out the open door / the cut-away section.

2 - Arthur takes the jug and wears it on his head as a helmet. Carefully he smashes his head against the crate until he wears away a jagged rectangle. He melts down the chain by breathing on it to create molten metal, which he applies to the wood to create a makeshift circuitboard. Hooking up the broken bottle, he makes a Boolian Vibration Device, to phase reality and smash down the door. He thusly escapes.

3 - Talking on his mobile phone, he orders a pizza, to be delivered by a crack whore (the elite of prostitution). Desperate for money to feed her habit, the delivery girl breaks into the hut, taking care of the door. Pretending his chains are simply for bondage purposes, Arthur is able to trick the girl into releasing him, before smashing her over the head with the jug and using her as a human shield to dodge the guard's bullets.

Now what does the book say he did?

I see.. I still believe my solutions to be the real ways - after all the book itself makes no reference to his escape, so you never know.

2 - Impossible…
Annie's adventure was over - but can you guess the identity of the bloke. Go on, that's as much information as was in the actual book. No, you can't? Well, you see it was actually a boy who was a schoolfriend of Annie and was in the same class! Well, thanks for telling us, because that was easy to guess using MAGIC.

3 - F*ing stupid

We're back to our old friend Arthur again. After his adventure with the crack whore, he escapes, only to be faced with another impossible problem! Can you solve it?
Well NO SHIT SHERLOCK, there are suspicious men with guns!

See how violently this thing swings?

4 - Hello, I have a PHD in nuclear physics.. this is too hard!
The scene - Intrepid Ivor is trapped in a room with a spotty teenager, who won't let him leave his messy room unless Ivor gets a score of 208,361 on the pinball machine. Firstly this is a pretty lame threat, but secondly it's a pretty lame puzzle too. Let's see if you can do this and trace the movement of the ball without breaking the laws of physics
Done it? No, well let's see what the book says:

Note how the ball curves at points, as well as bouncing almost 180 degrees off a non-bouncy wall. What a stupid, stupid puzzle. Obviously Ivor thought so too, since he failed to do the task as well, and instead poisoned the teen. Yes, the puzzle didn't matter. This goes against what these books stand for, and as such I am sickened and disgusted. Good-bye!


  1. Cor, glad I only had a couple of 'Choose your own adventure' books rather than these. I got the 'own adventure' one's from an offer Weetabix was doing at the time, you know; collect 37 tokens and send in.

    The only problem was it took 37 boxes of weetabix to do it and the offer was painfully close to expiring by the time you did. Still, I got them and they were ok. Not a patch on Transformers comics or The Beano, but significantly different to be worthy of a select respect (that could not be applied to anything else).

  2. Usborne was forever destroyed for me by discovering the Usborne Book on the Fact of Life on my desk a few days after my 12th birthday. I mean, they could have not used the same fucking artist.

  3. Oh gods, tell me you're joking. Still. Loved these books. Absurdities and all.

  4. Oh god, I have been searching for what these were called for ages. I had that Pinball one. How could a kid figure that out without the temptation of just turning the page?