This interview with Rami Hansenne, author of the wonderful MAZE-inspired Daedalian Depths, was originally posted in June 2021. Thanks very much to Rami for sharing his thoughts and insights with Mazecast! After reading the interview, check out this review by Andrew Plotkin.
1. Please tell us a bit about yourself, whatever you feel comfortable sharing. What’s your day job? Where are you from? What are your interests, aside from puzzles?
I live in Belgium and have worked in IT most of my life—initially as a programmer, later as a software architect and eventually a project manager. So in a way, creative problem solving has always been my bread and butter. In my free time I like to dabble in all sorts of creative arts, from (physical and digital) painting to model building and 3D printing. Away from my desk, I also enjoy Kendo training.
2. What got you into making puzzle books? How did Codex Enigmatum come to be?
My main inspiration was undoubtedly Journal 29: it was unlike any other puzzle book I had tried before; fascinating and enigmatic in both its design and its puzzles. It was also self-published and financed by means of a crowdfunding campaign, which motivated me to start working on a book of my own. I chose to give Codex Enigmatum a clearly different style however, as well as opt for a mechanic which avoids the online component in order to make the book fully stand-alone. It really started out more as a hobby project and I didn’t really expect it to take off, until the Kickstarter campaign made evident how much public interest there was.
3. What’s your personal philosophy and approach when it comes to constructing puzzle books in general? What did you learn from your first few books?
My personal philosophy is that it should be as much fun to create a puzzle book as it is to solve it. It takes a tremendous amount of dedication and effort to produce and iteratively refine such a work, but inspired by the ceaseless support and enthusiasm of friends, family and backers it remained a wonderful and educational experience throughout and I believe this passion also reflects itself in the end result. From the first books I learned how important it is to have sufficient people playtest a book upfront and how hard it is to balance out the difficulty. The hardest lesson in this context is that sometimes you simply need to throw out or completely rework specific puzzles (sometimes over and over again) in order to improve the experience, irrespective of the amount of time and effort you’ve put in them so far.
4. Can you tell us a bit about your process in constructing Daedalian Depths, in terms of determining its structure and story? How did you make the images?
Without giving away too much, I wanted a certain progression to be noticeable in the environment and story so it feels more like a journey towards a specific (though initially unknown) goal rather than aimlessly wandering through a maze. The main theme and imagery were selected to support this. Myths, legends and fairy tales have always fascinated me and they were fertile ground for both devising clues and incorporating an outlandish atmosphere. For several images I based myself on 18th and 19th century etchings of crypts, ruins and rooms, which I adapted to the offbeat, mystical and unearthly feel I was aiming for. While I initially started with rough sketches on paper, I eventually completed all the rooms digitally in Photoshop.
5. When did you first pick up MAZE? Can you tell us about your history with MAZE in general and the MAZE community?
I received MAZE as a gift when I was 12, as what seemed like a fun way to improve my English. While I was too young at the time to fully appreciate the book’s depth (and I also did not have access to online resources or the MAZE community to help figure out certain puzzles), and even though it was at times frustrating not to succeed in unraveling the clues in a rooms on my own, I was thoroughly fascinated by the journey through the otherworldly setting and its cryptic clues. I revisited it several times since, gaining new insights each time around.
After completing the two Codex books, I was looking for a different format for my next book and MAZE immediately came to mind. To my surprise I did not find any other book which had adopted its ingenious mechanic, so it seemed like a fun challenge to work around this concept.
6. There are lots of similarities between MAZE and Daedalian Depths, some obvious (layout and core puzzle mechanic, themes such as Alice in Wonderland, the work of Dante, Greek mythology), and some less so—specific imagery and phrases that are reminiscent of MAZE, for example. What are some key ways in which DD differs from MAZE and why did you make those choices?
MAZE claims to be the “World’s Most Challenging Puzzle” and it very well might be :). With DD, I aimed for a more accessible experience however, which more casual puzzlers (including a generation which may not be familiar with MAZE) would be able to solve themselves. So certain clues are less ambiguous when compared to MAZE, even though fully resolving the book will likely still pose quite a challenge to most readers.
In terms of theme and tone I wanted to make sure DD stood firmly on its own. It took finding a balance between paying homage to MAZE while at the same time incorporating a sufficiently different story, set of puzzles and setting. As with the Codex books, I opted for an eccentric, dreamlike and at times somewhat unsettling aesthetic. The story in DD is written from a first person perspective so the reader is placed front and center, rather than feeling like an outside observer.
7. What do you hope people will take from Daedalian Depths?
In the first place, I simply aim to bring some enjoyment to people. Additionally, I hope it may inspire creative souls to pick up the (digital) pen and start working on their own creations. Self-publishing has never been easier, so I hope to see many more unconventional puzzle books (which traditional publishing houses might not otherwise greenlight) come to be.
8. Any puzzle recommendations? What are some of your favourite puzzles or puzzle types, other than MAZE?
I enjoy a wide variety of puzzle types, but have always been captivated by more unconventional puzzles as well as puzzles which are incorporated in some type of narrative. Some puzzle books I really enjoyed (besides MAZE and Journal 29) are Nick Bantock’s The Egyptian Jukebox, Kit Williams’ Untitled and Masquerade books, James Hamer-Morton’s Escape room puzzles and more recently puzzle books by fellow self-publishing authors such as Roy Leban’s The Librarian’s Almanaq and Charlie Wheeler’s The Paper Labyrinth. If you’re into classic logic puzzles, the ‘Montague Island Mysteries’ series is also a real treat. In terms of physical puzzles, I spend way too much time disentangling Hanayama puzzles :).
9. Is there anything else you’d like to share with Mazecast’s audience?
I would like to thank my readers and backers for their unceasing support and constructive feedback! It’s what really motivates me to continue working on new creative enterprises.
… MILD SPOILERS AHEAD …
10. Why did you decide to segregate the three main parts of the maze numerically as well as thematically? It’s interesting that in navigating the maze, you stay for the most part within a range of numbers until you progress to the next section. Why did you decide to make 46 and 47 outliers?
The idea was to give the reader a sense of progression by moving (numerically) through the book, though with enough local randomness to ensure choosing a door does not become a matter of selecting the highest number. Initially there were 45 rooms. Rooms 46 and 47 were incorporated at a later stage as the result of a major restructuring, based on feedback from initial playtesting. At that moment in time it would have had too great of an impact on the puzzles to completely revise the numbering of existing rooms, so the new rooms indeed became outliers (well spotted!). I wish there was a more meaningful answer ;).