‘A time machine sends sparks flying across a small storage room. It begins to shake, with smoke escaping from a gap in the door. The vibrations are so fierce that a board game falls from a nearby shelf, spilling onto the floor.
As the time machine powers down, a scientist opens its door, only for a brand new, seemingly identical board game to fall out too.
Both board games fell at a similar height and angle, yet the scientist was relieved when the game from the time machine did not spill.
This was not by chance. Why was this the case?’
Puzzles and brainteasers such as this are common in today’s game, but can you solve it? Read until the end to discover the answer!
A Revived Quizzing Classic
Originally released in 1991, MindTrap has baffled players with hundreds of logic puzzles and lateral thinking questions for more than three decades. Unfortunately, players weren’t always baffled for the right reasons, with the multitude of spin-off and expansion releases from the 90’s receiving mixed reviews. Despite this, Cheatwell brought MindTrap back to the UK in 2021, featuring well over 500 conundrums for teams to solve; but does this traditional party game format hold up to the ever-rising standards of modern gamers?
Open To Interpretation
MindTrap is a game played in teams, which can be as small as a 1 vs 1 puzzle battle, or as large as the playing room will allow. In each round, a player from Team A will pull a question card out of the box and read it aloud (whilst making sure they aren’t showing the other team the answer on the back; that would lead to a rather short game). The styles of question include murder mystery puzzles, riddles, logic questions and lateral thinking puzzles. After reading it, the player checks the answer, before passing the question card to Team B. They can now re-read the card as many times as they wish to help them find the solution. However, the team may only submit one answer from their deliberations. If they are correct, they get to keep the card! If they are wrong, the card goes back into the box. Team B then has a turn asking a question, and the first team to obtain 10 cards wins.
So, we have a fairly standard party game rulebook, but in the same way that questions in the game can be vague and open to interpretation, the rules are light on rigid certainty. It even admits that players are free to set time limits on answers “as you see fit.” This might be something you’d want to consider, with some questions being so complex that, during my playtesting, up to 10 minutes could be spent on debating one answer. Thankfully, there is a bonus mechanic to balance the tougher questions; the ‘enquiry card’ system.
Your Best Jonathan Creek Impression
For the most difficult questions, which are often in the murder-mystery category, the team can make one enquiry, directed at the reader who asked them the question. The team can ask anything they choose, but the reader may only answer with the words “Yes”, “No” or “Irrelevant”. The skill here is in asking a question that gives you as much information as possible, but this proves to be challenging if you aren’t already on the right track. If you do ask a question that isn’t related to the answer, the other team can just sit there like Jonathan Creek; fully understanding the answer and quietly enjoying seeing us agonise over it.
That is, of course, if they understand or remember the answer themselves. Since the reader had to give the card to the other team, they might need to ask for it back to answer an enquiry, which can cause laughter and a break of immersion. Even when using a pencil and paper (which I would recommend for both asking and answering questions), the reader has to re-call a lot of information on the lengthier cards.
Such cards often follow the adventures of Detective Shadow, who repeatedly decodes the crimes and plots of Sid Shady, whilst failing to actually have him sent to prison for 50 separate counts of robbery. Shadow’s presence adds a small narrative arc to a set of otherwise unconnected puzzles, which does pull players into the lore of the game. Other characters, which have amusing names like ‘Theory Quantum’ and ‘Sir Arthur Braggs’, add light humour to some mysteries that would otherwise be quite grim or dull. If anything about MindTrap stands the test of time, it is the humour and writing, which players will find just as amusing as they would have 30 years ago, whatever that means for you!
A Dog On The Road In A Town Painted Black
(This is technically spoilers for Question 508, so feel free to skip this section if you want to avoid discussion of a particular question).
Riddles have never been an expert area of mine, but I must admit that there were a couple of times where I read the question, then the answer, and I still didn’t quite get it, or said “Hang on, that doesn’t make sense.” Riddles like those in MindTrap rely on the use of small pieces of information that seem irrelevant at first, but are vital when you come to find the answer. Unfortunately, there were a couple of cases where one of those pieces of information seemed to disprove the answer, or take you away from it, rather than guiding you towards it. Of course, red herrings and misleading statements have their place in such puzzles, but they can ruin the puzzle if they are done wrong.
As an example, I point to Question 508:
“A black dog stands in the middle of an intersection in a town painted black. None of the street lights are working due to a power failure caused by a local storm. A car with two broken headlights drives towards the dog but turns in time to avoid hitting him. Without moonlight, how could the driver have seen the dog in time?”
I’ll give you a moment to ponder this one...
The answer to this riddle is, “Luckily for the dog, it was daylight.”
The second the answer was read that on the card, I immediately frowned and shook my head. If there was a storm going on that was bad enough to take out the power, surely it would be dark outside, even in the daytime? Yes, the ‘without moonlight’ line implies that it is daytime, but that doesn’t mean that there is light.
You could discuss these points until the black dogs came home, and while there is a good chance that there is a definitive argument that I haven’t found here, the fact that there is discussion takes a lot of the joy and satisfaction out of the experience. In situations like this, there is no “Aha!” moment. There is confusion and debate, which is especially bad if there are competitive players and a close scoreline. Say what you want about my puzzle-crafting skills, at least the one from the start doesn’t contradict itself!
There is a clause in the back of the rule book that acknowledges this problem.
“In some cases, there may be more than one possible answer or solution to a question. When playing this game, however, only MindTrap’s answer is acceptable for the purposes of scoring.”
I understand the need for this rule, since players could start making real logical leaps to justify their answers, but this hardly seems fair to a team that stated a valid answer, but scored no points because it wasn’t the one that the game had come up with. In my games, we did bend the rules, and allowed people to have another go, or a different question, in situations like this. If we had kept getting things wrong, then the game would have gone on for a very, very long time...
MindTrap was not lauded as fantastic when it was released in the 90’s, but became popular with good marketing, relative accessibility and casual customers like families picking it up for a bit of fun. Extremely mainstream games like Monopoly often have ‘house rules’, which normally make the game faster, or get around problems that are baked into the game’s design. Therefore, if players are using house rules as a default, that’s normally a sign that something has gone wrong. For MindTrap, that issue is questions which vary in difficulty, have debateable answers and (unless you are playing in some very clever teams) take too long to solve.
This isn’t to say that I had no fun playing MindTrap, and I’m sure that the family audience that sustained this game originally still exists. However, it now shows its age in an industry that has evolved far beyond a box of questions. Player interaction came about from discussing the game itself, rather than what was going on in the questions, and while 500+ questions is enough to sustain many matches, I struggle to see it coming out of the box enough times to answer them all.
Speaking of board games coming out of boxes, did you solve my puzzle? The answer is below!
Answer to question:
The game from the time machine was an original copy of MindTrap from 1991, while the one on the shelf was a modern copy, part of the scientist’s research. As the copy from the time machine was brand new, it was still factory sealed, so did not spill.