One of my favorite shows on TV right now is ABC’s Castle, a fun crime drama with an emphasis of mystery starring Nathan Fillion (of Firefly fame) and Stana Katic. Richard Castle (Fillion) is a best-selling murder mystery novelist looking for inspiration for his next book. He begins shadowing Detective Kate Beckett (Katic) on her murder investigations and models the protagonist of his new books after her. Castle’s creative thought process as a mystery writer often helps the investigative team make connections they would have missed, and he proves to be a useful addition to the precinct, in spite of Beckett’s initial doubts.
The show mostly follows a Mystery of the Week format, so it’s easy to dive into the series at almost any point in the season. This week’s episode, The Blue Butterfly, was especially accessible to new viewers and featured a really cute series of flashbacks to 1940 New York, where the main characters of the show were re-imagined as the suspects and victims of a 70-year-old cold case. This episode also helps highlight one of the most fun aspects of Fillion’s character– since Rick Castle is a huge mystery fan himself, he often outwardly displays the same excitement and enthusiasm over unexpected clues, unlikely suspects, and strange developments that you, as a mystery-loving viewer, are feeling while watching the show. I really recommend checking out The Blue Butterfly episode over at Hulu if you’re at all interested in the show.
Well, well, well! It looks like I’ve got a soul mate in both Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson from NBC’s comedy series Parks and Recreation. Last week’s episode, Operation Ann, involved Leslie sending her boyfriend on an extremely extensive wild goose chase/treasure hunt for Valentine’s Day, while Ron got caught up in the fun thanks to his secret love of riddles. Fun episode, I never thought I’d find a kindred spirit in Ron’s character!
If you’re a fan of mysteries, if you’re a fan of beautiful cinematography, if you’re a fan of well-written television, you should be watching the BBC’s Sherlock. Having just wrapped up its second season and gearing up for a third, there’s no better time than now to become a fan of this award-winning crime drama.
Sherlock is a modern-day adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s infamous Sherlock Holmes character and stories. The characters in Sherlock use modern technology–cell phones, computers, DNA testing–to solve crimes and advance the plot. John Watson keeps a blog of the duo’s adventures, and even Holmes’s arch nemesis Moriarty often corresponds to the hero via text message.
But what really makes this show stand out isn’t some “modern Holmes” gimmick, it’s the incredible standard of excellence that each episode exudes in its writing, character development, and cinematography. The first season won the 2011 BAFTA for Best Drama Series, and more accolades seem inevitable after last Sunday’s dramatic Season 2 finale. Seasons are made up of only three episodes, but each episode runs 90 minutes long. This gives Sherlock the freedom to explore complex storylines that a shorter format might make difficult. A single episode can span anywhere from six days to six months, character relationships can be established, broken down, and built back up again, and the mysteries and puzzles can be woven in the most intricate and interesting ways.
Episode 10 took place in Switzerland, in the shadow of the Matterhorn. Teams were given the choice to Search or Rescue, and were flown by helicopter to the location of their challenge. In Search, teams had to locate a mannequin buried under the snow using some type of beacon detector. The device beeped and displayed numbers as the teams got closer to the correct location. Then, they had to use shovels to free the mannequin from underneath about 4 feet of snow.
I really like the idea of a puzzle that makes you find something that is buried. I suppose it’s the romantic idea of buried treasure. I think I’d rather re-create this kind of puzzle on a beach with metal detectors!
Episode 6 gave us one of the most grueling puzzle challenges so far in Season 18. Before leaving for India from China, teams had to visit a traditional tea shop and sample some tea. Though the task seemed pointless at the time, its purpose was revealed once the teams arrived in India. Teams were lead to a large room at city hall where a ridiculously long table had been set up, with hundreds and hundreds of bowls of tea resting on top. One member from each team had to find the tea they had tasted back in China (papaya-mango) amongst the hundreds of different bowls and flavors. It seems there must have been additional rule that when testing out a tea, or taking it to be verified, players had to drink the entire bowl (since no players were simply taking a sip of each kind). When a player thought they had the right bowl, they took it to a tea auctioneer for verification.
Needless to say, the players with a bad memory or bad luck suffered, forced to drink cup after cup of tea, to the point of nausea for some. Players commented that the more tea they drank, the more all of the flavors tasted the same. Several seemed to find the correct tea simply by luck and brute force.
One member of each team had to search through thousands of wooden charms, searching for the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac. Once they found all 12, the had to hang the charms on a mobile in the correct order. This challenge reminded me a lot of the paper plane challenge from Episode 1, and a few teams really got frustrated in their search.
No real puzzles this week on Amazing Race. Just lots of being lost and cold in Japan!
My take on this week’s challenges… if you have the choice between:
A) A challenge where you have to search for something, and it is unclear how long it will take you to find that thing
B) A challenge requiring you to do something physically exhausting/difficult, but you will likely be able to complete the challenge in a fixed amount of time
…pick B! Don’t pick the one that leaves you searching in cold mud for hours and hours until the sun goes down, frustrating you more and more as each moment passes! I can understand it for teams who didn’t think they could handle the physical challenge, but I guarantee you those people out in the mud for hours ended up much colder and much more mentally exhausted than the ones who chose the physical challenge (a sort of exercise ritual, and then standing under a freezing cold waterfall).
Last week’s episode was finishing up the first leg of the race in Australia, so there weren’t as many puzzle-like challenges as in episode 1. The Detour of this leg had teams making Aboriginal art pieces (a rock mosaic or a traditional spray-painting), but those were more exhausting than puzzling.
Periodic Table Map
This was the one challenge that included any puzzling. Teams had to dress up in kangaroo costumes (complete with bouncy shoes) and hop to the location of their next clue. In order to find the next clue, they had to decipher a map: a copy of the period table of elements, with two elements highlighted. Once teams identified the two highlighted elements, they then had to recognize that the nearby street names were named after elements, and then find the intersection where the streets named after the two highlighted elements cross.
It was fun to see which teams knew their periodic table. It looked like the first bunch of teams simply asked a woman with a smartphone to look up the symbols online. The group working with Kent and Vyxsin were in luck, as Kent was able to remember the elements instantly. The rest of the teams basically followed the ones who were already on their way in the right direction.
Hopefully with a new leg of the race starting on Sunday (in Japan!) we’ll see some new puzzling challenges.
(P.S. Puzzles could be a great way to help a young student memorize the table of elements!)
Hello puzzle-lovers! I’m going try my hand at blogging this season of The Amazing Race (U.S.)! I’ve actually never watched an entire season of the show, but the few episodes I’ve seen have always seemed fun and exciting, with a couple of cool puzzles thrown in each week. I won’t re-cap the entire episode, just the puzzle-like challenges. Even if you don’t watch the show, maybe these posts can inspire you for your own puzzle adventures. WARNING: These posts will obviously contain some spoilers for the show, so read at your own risk! I will probably stick more to puzzle details, though, and not which teams did well, or poorly, or got eliminated.
The Amazing Race is a reality TV show where teams of 2 race around the world, completing challenges in the hopes of winning one million dollars. Teams get ahead in the race when they complete challenges and find destinations quickly, or win immunities by finishing a challenge first. Teams get behind when they take too long on a challenge, get lost on their way to a destination, get penalized for being the last to complete a challenge, or are sabotaged by other players. The last team to complete certain legs of the race are eliminated from the race.
Season 18 is titled “Unfinished Business” and features 11 teams who already participated in, but did not win, previous seasons of the show. Episode 1 aired last Sunday (you can watch it here), and the teams had their first challenge on a wind farm in Palm Springs, California.