Review of the Mystery Experiences Company
Today I’m going to review something that isn’t a book, but is definitely a story. Welcome to the Mystery Experiences Company!
“Each month, you will receive a mysterious black package in the mail. The package will be filled with items, puzzles and clues you will use to solve a new mystery. Use your wits and powers of observation to follow the trail of clues and solve the mystery. Each new monthly mystery is also given additional storyline and clues on the internet for you to follow. The deeper you dig, the more you will find! Subscribers may also be able to interact with story characters through email, phone or text depending on their level of participation.” —From the website
I will be reviewing two mysteries: The Raven: Annabel Lee and Coraline—not only the quality of the mystery and the experience of solving it, but also the production value and presentation.
It’s a lot of fun to receive these in the mail and go through them! The first one I received, the Raven, was presented as a well-detailed FBI case file about a series of murders that took place in the fictional town of Forest City. There were photos of the victim (not graphic) as well as dossiers on the victim and the suspects. The file contained a Forest City newspaper, a map of the town, an autopsy report on the victim, evidence from the scene (in evidence bags!), clues left at the crime scene, and more.
The production value of the mystery materials blew me away. The manila folder actually had the FBI seal printed on it (or one that looked official enough to me). The layout of the dossiers and autopsy report, let alone the newspaper, was slick and professional. It’s obvious that someone with a graphic design background is working on these; although he or she could use an editor as I noticed several typos in the materials.
But it’s not just documents; there are also “things.” A zip tie in an official-looking evidence bag. The contents of the victim’s purse, including business cards, a page from a daily calendar, a note from her mom, and a nail file, all in a small paper bag with official “chain of evidence” markings on it. Photographs left at the scene of the crime and a black feather — the calling card of The Raven.
And there is the Internet. The adds in the newspaper, the newspaper itself, and even the town of Forest City have websites. These sites contained background information and clues to help solve the puzzles left by the Raven at the crime scene, including a video made by the Raven himself.
Not being familiar with the way the Mystery Experiences Company works, the first mystery was something of a challenge. I get the feeling that puzzles and codes are the primary tools in these mysteries; but since my first one was presented as an FBI file, I was looking for forensic evidence. For example, one of the pieces of “evidence” is a blood stain found at the site. The evidence tells you that the blood is Type A, but none of the dossiers on the victim or suspects contained a blood type. What you really needed to solve this mystery was a working knowledge of the poems of Edgar Allen Poe and a brain for cryptography.
Solving The Raven; Annabel Lee seemed to rely a lot on what could be accessed from the internet rather than what was received in the package. Or maybe it just felt that way because I was totally stymied by all the puzzles and had to get a lot of clues.
In the end, I felt this first mystery was a bit weak. I read the FBI’s suspect profiles and chose the murderer right away, thanks to more-than-common knowledge of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Then I had to find evidence to back up my claim, and because of the struggles I’ve mentioned before, this being my first mystery, it was a little frustrating. Also, the murderer got away and I didn’t really learn WHY he was killing his victims to begin with! However, I think the Raven will be paying Forest City another visit this year, so I may get some closure with this mystery yet. 😉
Though somewhat frustrating, my experience was intriguing enough that I wanted to try another mystery.
The second mystery is about a haunted Doll named Coraline. Coraline belonged to the daughter of one of Forest City’s wealthier residents back in the 1930s. The mystery is to discover the connection between the haunted doll and the daughter’s untimely death.
This time, the mystery is presented more like a game of role-playing Clue. There are postcards representing different buildings, rooms, and people you can visit. On the back of the postcard is text describing the environment and any clues you find or conversations you have. There is also a modern Forest City newspaper, a newspaper from the 1930s, telegrams, pages from a diary, children’s drawings, and more. Again, the production value on the materials is extremely high and it is a pleasure to sift through it all.
The only “things” included with the mystery this time is a rosary bracelet, a wooden cross necklace, and a bag of a yellow powdery substance that often found around the doll. Again, these things weren’t really pertinent to the solving the mystery, but were interesting nonetheless.
The second mystery was much more self contained, which I liked. There were a lot of word ciphers to decode and once I figured them out, it was fun. However, the need for an editor was made more apparent. Words were misspelled or missing all together and the ciphers had some critical errors. I missed one aspect of the mystery completely because of such an error. I got the general idea but missed the specifics that were important.
However, I had more fun with Coraline than I did with The Raven, partly because I had a better idea of what to expect. I like that all the mysteries take place in the same town and the same characters, companies, and locations appear across mysteries. It will be fun to look back on the mysteries after were a few in and find all the nuances and foreshadowing that is put into the materials.
Overall, I rate the Mystery Experience Company a three based on my two experiences. The mysteries are a fun diversion for a few hours and it *is* fun having physical things to look at and handle while solving the mystery. I liked the story behind both and recognize that a lot of time and thought was put into creation.
As with any mystery or riddle, though, if you aren’t thinking the same as the person who came up with it, the mysteries and puzzles are either really obvious or completely mind-boggling. That’s the unfortunate nature of a mystery, it seems. Also, there is no replay value; however, several family members have called “dibs” on being the next to solve the mystery.
Note: A subscription to the monthly mysteries is roughly $30 a month, with small discounts for a 3- or 6-month subscription.