When Albert Einstein died in 1955, New England pathologist Thomas Harvey removed the noted physicist’s brain without asking the family permission. Upon learning of the theft, Einstein’s son Hans Albert gave Harvey permission to keep the brain as long as it was used for scientific research. Over the next few months, Harvey carefully preserved, sectioned, and mounted the brain on thousands of slides, with chunks of the brain periodically getting sent off to researchers around the world from its new home under a beer cooler. Slivers of Einstein’s brain are currently on display at the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia. As unbelievable as it might seem, this is all true.
This is where the Gray Matter Sodality comes in. The secret society is looking to reassemble the scattered pieces of Einstein’s brain for unknown purposes…and they could use your help.
A Subscription Service for Hunting Brain Fragments
The Gray Matter Sodality is a narrative puzzle experience put on by Traipse, with monthly mailings introducing subscribers to their new role as Inquisitors with the organization, chasing down clues to the locations of Einstein’s brain for subsequent reclamation by specialized teams. Every mission comes with a letter from Gray Matter Sodality Executive Director Artemis Shoal introducing the month’s assignment, along with physical artifacts useful in locating the next fragment. Typically, solutions are a word or phrase appended to the GMSodality.org website, with the GMSodality.org/solution telling investigators the results of their sleuthing efforts.
The puzzles are self-contained, although there are hints of a larger meta-puzzle in the three mailings I received as a preview of the experience.
Elegant Challenges for Beginning Puzzlers
There are quite a few mail order mystery companies in the market. And for many of these services, like The Mysterious Package Company and L Delaney’s The Haunted Dollhouse, the focus is on delivering meticulously crafted custom display pieces to bring their fantastic worlds to life, with the expectation that the physical objects might serve as display pieces. The Gray Matter Sodality’s focus lies in using the physical objects as a vehicle for puzzling, using ordinary objects to hide puzzles in unexpected ways.
The puzzles in the Gray Matter Sodality are designed to be accessible to entry-level puzzlers. Textual clues planted in every month’s letter from GMS headquarters nudge puzzlers towards the right solution, and redundancies are built in so that it’s not necessary to catch every single clue to solve the final puzzle. For each of the three puzzles I attempted, I missed a key detail. Instead of being necessary to the solve, these details would have made the process of solving the puzzle easier by providing additional nudges in the right direction. As a last resort, an email support line is provided to assist in the solving process.
The puzzles I experienced were the ones intended for months 1, 3, and 7 – for the first two, it would have been possible to create a digital version of the puzzle, but the tangible nature of the clues added considerably to the experience. The final month’s puzzle was gambling themed, and could not exist in a satisfying fashion online. It was also the most satisfying puzzle of the lot, and the fact that such a beautifully designed puzzle comes so late in the experience is a shame, since it’s the best example of the game’s potential and ultimately the reason why I signed up for the full year.
To Buy, or Not to Buy?
The Gray Matter Sodality costs between $17 – $25 a month, depending on how many months puzzlers pay for up front. If what you’re looking for in exchange for that kind of money is something to proudly display on your mantle after a solve, there are probably other experiences you should consider first. Similarly, if digital puzzles are more your area of interest, games like The Black Watchmen will introduce you to the world of narrative puzzling at a slightly more reasonable price point.
But if the thought of chasing down fragments of Einstein’s brain across the globe strikes your fancy, or you’re intrigued by the idea of working through puzzles in the real world but feel intimidated by some of the challenges at major puzzling events like the MIT Mystery Hunt, the Gray Matter Sodality could be a great way to test the waters.
To learn more about applying for membership with the Gray Matter Sodality, check out GMSodality.org.