Ducktectives in Action: Solving Tokyo’s Underground Mysteries

That should be our new tag line! Because, even when we’re not actively trying to solve puzzles, we are constantly trying to debunk the mysteries of life in Tokyo (and acting like normal human and duck-y(?) beings). However, this is not what this story is about.
This story is about the former: solving puzzles – and I’m writing professional ones, almost like the ones solved by real literary detectives! To be honest, as a kid I wanted to become a detective and solve exciting cases like the infamous Sherlock Holmes and his not so well-known great-grandniece Shirley Holmes; in fact, in 5th grade I wrote my first play – a very badly structured murder (non-)mystery; and a year later I started my very own detective club with two friends – we had a cool logo but not a single case. As I grew older I found out that being a detective isn’t as adventurous as I had always imagined it to be because, strangely, most real-world detectives don’t seem to emit gangster pheromones that mysteriously attract criminals the way Detective Conan does, so I gave up my dream of becoming a detective and, instead, solved crimes and puzzles vicariously through Holmes, Dupin, Monk, Conan, Professor Layton, and their puzzle-solving pals.

Ducktective - ready to solve riddles!

When the duck and I, on one of our fun subway journeys, discovered an ad for the Tokyo Metro Underground Mysteries, an exciting game that sends you through central Tokyo solving puzzles, our Sherlock-sense began to tingle; we quickly assembled the Shinjuku City Pals (our Baker Street Boys) and set off on an all-day mystery adventure through some of Tokyo’s Metro stations:

Let’s solve some puzzles!

What is this game about?
Tokyo Metro Underground Mysteries is a game event spanning over four months that has you solve puzzles throughout different Tokyo Metro stations.
Because the game stays the same within those four months, participants were asked to not share any spoilers online. But, because (1) the game for 2017 has ended in January and (2) our audience on this blog is pretty manageable, we’re not too worried about spoiling anything with the little (incoherent, diary-like) insights we are giving.
With Tokyo being the international city that it is (well, compared to other Japanese cities and villages anyway), in addition to the Japanese version of the game that you could play whenever, there also was an English language version you could play on weekends and holidays. With our almost non-existent Japanese language skills, of course, the duck and I made our friends play the English version with us on the last possible date – big crowds of fellow players and pressure to finish in one day included.

The kit
Before beginning to play, of course, we needed a game kit. The kit consisted of a cute little plastic case in the Underground Mysteries design with a metro map printed on the back, a guidebook, three puzzle sheets, a mysterious envelope, a semi-transparent sheet of paper with lots of letters, numbers and symbols on it, one of those funky little museum pencils and a cool 24-hour metro ticket in the same design as the bag. Usually, because each kit comes with one 24-hour metro ticket, the event organizers recommend getting one kit per person, but, because we’re cheap, we shared one kit among the group and instead just bought an extra plain 24-hour metro ticket for each of the pals. However, even if you’re paying the full price, it’s definitely worth the 2160yen, considering that you’re getting a 600yen metro ticket and a day full of adventure (compare this to the price of an escape room which usually doesn’t last for more than an hour or so – and, in our singular experience, can end up scoring pretty badly on the fun-scale)!

Game kit

The duck professionally posing among some of the contents of the English language game kit

The Journey

13:15 Easy beginnings
The Puzzle Guidebook came with some information, instructions and five missions (or, rather, four – one of the missions was hidden somewhere else within the kit), each with their own set of puzzles. The first mission, for example, consisted of three puzzles in the guidebook (yellow, red and blue) that would each spit out two stations out of which we could choose one each where, in turn, we would have to solve two puzzles on each of the color-coded puzzle sheets to get a total of six keywords which in the end would lead to an overall keyword that would give us a hint as to where we would have to tackle the mysteries of the second mission.
‘Pretty straightforward’, we thought, and because the first few puzzles in the guide book were a breeze, the duck and I soon felt like the master detectives we had always wanted to be who could tackle any problem without any problems. But some of the subsequent puzzles soon brought us back to reality. See, the first three puzzles were pretty simple word association and attentively-familiarizing-ourselves-with-all-the-material puzzles so that we knew within minutes what stations we had to go to first. But there soon were moments when we looked at one or the other puzzle in disbelief, wondering how anyone would be able to make sense of it, reading and re-reading the instructions (and still not really reading them), scribbling notes and ideas everywhere and questioning our wits. Fortunately, the Shinjuku City Pals proved to be great, clever and pleasantly cheeky companions in our puzzle-solving adventure!

16:00 A coffee and some headache later…
After finally having finished the first mission and a much-needed cup of slightly overpriced coffee, there were only four missions to go and we were slowly losing hope of ever being able to finish this game before the last train. The quiz that would lead us to the location for the second mission, in particular, took a lot of trial and error and wrong conclusions until we finally had an epiphany when we decided to re-inspect all parts of the kit instead of wondering about the ambiguous wording of the instruction card and the not really satisfying early results we got out of our attempts at solving the riddle.
But, let me tell you, after having gone to the wrong station just to not be able to find the passageway that the second riddle had asked for and even asking some Japanese players to let us examine the Japanese equivalent of the instructions card (gosh, those bags and puzzle sheets were everywhere, so, when we didn’t see many players at that station we went to in error we already had a feeling that we must have done something wrong), the sense of accomplishment after actually having solved the riddle was wonderful! It really felt as if the gear wheels in our brains had finally meshed and created a beautiful little answer to all of our questions (excluding that about the meaning of life) and some extra dopamine!

18:00 Creepy dark hungry times
After finishing the (comparatively simple) fun little board game-like puzzle that would lead us to the third mission we had already lost all hopes of ever finishing – if it had taken us five hours to complete the first two missions, there was no way we would be able to finish the remaining three in less than five! But when we finally made it to the location for the third mission, we felt a bit better upon seeing all those other puzzle-solvers spread all over the atrium that hosted the automata that would spit out the puzzle we needed to solve to learn the location for the next mission. And I mean that literally! The third mission had us get a drink out of one of the spooky Underground Mysteries themed vending machines lined up in a tiny corner of this big hall offering a great selection of the same mini bottle of water illuminated by this creepy vending machine light that really had the duck and me shudder for a moment (the darkness and cold temperatures outside did not help).
The water bottle did indeed come with a little puzzle attached to it and we decided that we would be able to solve it much more effectively on a full stomach! Indeed, a meal, a few scribbled-on napkins and a phone joker later we actually did manage to make it to the fourth mission with exactly the same feeling of accomplishment the puzzle for the second mission had given us, despite the little bit of outside help we had gotten!

19:30 A game of Bingo and the last puzzle
All that food and hard thinking had made us pretty tired so that the fourth mission that required us to be attentive and cross out sights on train journeys with unknown destinations and walks through rather empty metro stations (because we were pretty slow with all those vital coffee and food breaks, especially taking into account what annoyingly slow eaters the duck and I are) turned out to be pretty straining. We had hit our lowest point even though we were so close to finishing the puzzle before the subway would stop operating for the day!
After the Bingo game had actually led us to the station that the Shinjuku City Pals had suspected all along, it was time to wait in a line that, in typical Tokyo fashion, led from a fenced-in space on the restaurant floor of one of those station shopping centers all the way past three restaurants and down three flights of stairs, so that we could get our final hint that came in form of a stamp with one last instruction for obtaining the last puzzle…

Blog Shots-142

“Answers, materialize in front of us… pretty please~”

20:45 Case Closed!
Against all odds and the fears and worries we had experienced throughout the day we did, indeed, manage to solve the last riddle over a nice sour drink in a relatively short amount of time; all the puzzles we had solved that day (and throughout our lives – we had been preparing for this moment from a very young age!) were a perfect indicator for how we were to interpret and execute the last instruction.
We watched the credits to the game (similar to those of the handheld games of our childhood) with a sense of relief, incredible happiness and an indescribable feeling of accomplishment. Case closed!

Even though it was exhausting and frustrating at times, this game was the perfect day-filler for the duck and me; and it catered perfectly to all the desires of our little detective hearts! The difficulty of the riddles was spot on as some really had us think for a while until the solution appeared to us in form of a little detail we had missed out on earlier (or a telephone joker). I don’t know how they did it, but the organizers of this event created one of the duck and my absolute favorite (and so well-balanced – in terms of difficulty and rewards) experiences in Tokyo! At the same time, we are pretty bummed out that we will probably not be able to find such a perfect match of a puzzle again in the near future (I don’t even want to start on our disappointing escape room experience last year…). Maybe we’ll have to plan out our next trip to Tokyo so that we can play another installment of this amazing game!

Accomplished duck

If you know of any other games like this, don’t hesitate to let us know – we would be forever grateful!

The ducktective, the Shinjuku City Pals and me

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