The Witness does not explain how the puzzle panels are solved.

Instead, it offers a few easily-solved tutorial puzzles from which you can reverse engineer the rules. Sometimes it even makes sense to backtrack a little and test out your rule theories. Puzzles need rules. But, first, the rules themselves are the puzzle.

Now imagine a puzzle game that is just that: have you played Understand (Artless Games, 2020)?

Nutshell: Hard but addictive, replete with punch-the-air moments of victory.

This is the first puzzle of set 3-9. The first puzzle always tells you how to solve it. Well, ain’t that lovely. Just draw across the circles, from left to right.

Cool, the puzzle is solved. The three circles at the bottom of the screen are filled in. It appears that the rule might be “connect the circles”. But this is puzzle 3-9. I’ve got the battle scars and the bloody T-shirt already. I’ve seen enough of Understand to know it is never this simple.

Oh look, Understand continues to troll me with the second puzzle. My first stab-in-the-dark guess was to connect the circles together and that’s the puzzle solved. Ha ha, but no. The rule isn’t “join the damn circles”. Fool me twice, can’t get fooled again, as a great man once said.

But the third puzzle continues the trend, gaslighting me on an industrial scale. I actually begin to think that maybe… maybe the puzzle really is this simple? That can’t be right, surely. But it definitely seems like connecting circles is part of the solution?

Motherfucker. Understand rolls like a troll. Here’s the fourth puzzle and its batshit solution.

If you want to know why you can’t just juice your way through every puzzle with random squiggles, let me introduce you to the eighth and final puzzle in the sequence.

And even once you’ve figured out the rules, solving this boss puzzle is sweaty brain time. Breaking news, just in! I wiped the solution so I could share a non-spoilery puzzle screenshot with you, but now I’ve forgotten how to solve it. Screaming emoji.

Understand is a laboratory of logic and I am its chief scientist. You can’t simply scratch out the solution to each puzzle and infer the rules; that’s not enough work to earn wisdom. These black boxes need to be tested to destruction. Solutions are rarely unique and only by sifting through both solutions and non-solutions across multiple puzzles will inspiration eventually find you. Understanding seldom hits like a lightning strike but coalesces gradually through moments of maybes and pauses of perhaps. You will test your hypotheses. You will make your science.

Understand might look a little austere but it compensates with the colour and beauty in its puzzle structure. Not all of the challenges are winners and there have been a few moments where I’ve questioned the design. But there aren’t enough of those questioning moments to undermine my relationship with Understand.

I’m in love with this game. While puzzle games are usually about displaying a mastery of the rules, Understand never lets you feel like that. Every foothold on its puzzle mountain is unique and each stage of your ascent will feel like your first. How can you possibly call yourself a master if the knowledge you acquire is never used?

Understand is available on Steam for Windows and Mac.

Previous Puzzlework: The Confounding Calendar

Next Puzzlework: The Looker

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11 thoughts on “Puzzleworks, 7: Understand

  1. Started playing this thanks to you. Very satisfying when it’s going well and then occasionally very, very irksome! Loved the first weird ? sequence of levels.

  2. Hello Pippin! It’s been awhile since you last made an appearence down here! I’m someone has taken a look at Understand after I started enthusing. I’ve since discovered Jonathan Blow streamed playing it last year, he spent about three hours on it, so I guess that probably put the word around a bit. (But obviously not as much as you’d expect.)

    I agree on the irksome: there are definitely moments where I think it’s being too coy and it feels like it’s “adding” extra rules that you cannot test on earlier puzzles. I haven’t completed many of the ? myself yet but they all have that kind of weirdness.

    Hope Dadhood is treating you well!

  3. Indeed – it’s a good one for sure. I’ve run into just one puzzle that I solved without understanding – generally speaking it’s very fair/clear and difficult to blunder into a solution without getting it.

    Daddery is going just fine – the child is a good one! Yourself?

  4. Ah, Child A has entered the teenage years. As far as I’m aware, no one has parented a child this far before – or if they have, they never survived the journey. I have successfully hooked both children on watching Babylon 5, which is fine, but no one is asking for Star Trek TNG anymore. I guess we’ll move to The Wire next 🙂

  5. A teen. I can only wave goodbye to you with a fond tear in my eye, saying sotto voce “Bonne chance, mon ami, bonne chance.”

  6. I’ve taken a look too! I did all the 1 levels including the ? but I am utterly banjaxed by some of the level 2s. I solved at least two levels by having my mouse slip.

    I wanted to say something about getting a similar vibe of mercilessness as with Yugo Puzzle but Yugo Puzzle is really the opposite, it has one mechanic (though it takes a little while to understand that mechanic) and it introduces another mechanic whose workings are pretty transparent and I can think of like one edge case? But also everything is impossible. I wound up getting a hint for level 30 and it was a very good hint, I looked at it and said “that’s still impossible” and then I realized what I had to do, and I felt bad for not seeing it as a possibility. I forget whether I’ve solved one level since then or not. Anyway the levels I currently have left are all impossible.

    It seems as though Understand gives you more feedback than The Witness’s “guess what Blow is thinking” levels in that it can tell you which rules you’ve violated, but boy, I have solutions for everything in 2.5 I think it is and I couldn’t begin to tell you what the last rule is.

  7. I still haven’t finished all my 2’s! Oh wow, I remember 2.5. I was ecstatic when I figured it out. As you might expect, it’s pretty simple. But it is maddeningly difficult to see it.

    Hopefully gonna hit up Yugo soon. I remember going through Jelly no Puzzle and thinking “WHAT!?” every level.

  8. Oh, I haven’t finished all my 2’s either. I’ve gone on and done some other things but I have a distinct feeling of not having learned my lesson, if my initial hypothesis doesn’t work I feel pretty flummoxed. I’m not even sure what to do with 2.5 now that I have the solutions and don’t understand them. Ooh, title drop!

    “I remember going through Jelly no Puzzle and thinking “WHAT!?” every level” and so we want more of them. This is what I meant about these games being here to make us realize that it is we who are torturing ourselves!

  9. So I was just rereading the post before bedtime and I looked at the screenshots from 3-9 and I said to myself, “Self, the rule for 3-9 is fucking obvious” and I immediately went and blasted through the puzzles from 3-9 I had been unable to solve, though it took me a little while to do 3-9-8. I can screenshot it for you if you want. How do you rot13 a screenshot?

    Anyway, getting to the mindset where I can even begin to describe anything about that as obvious is a sign that my brain has been eaten. It’s like a story my wife told me about a grad student she knew whose career was absolutely made when he sat in on a seminar of a prominent philosopher and asked, “But wait, what if there are two wizards?” and the prominent philosopher was gobsmacked and impressed, and when my reaction to the story was “That is an extremely good question.” (But if you had followed it up with “What if there were three wizards?” everyone would have stared at you until you moved to another state and changed your name in shame.)

  10. When you say “not having learned my lesson” I’m not sure Understand ever has lessons to learn aside from forcing you to examine the clockwork nature of each level closely? If you skip a level it rarely has any implication for future levels.

    Don’t worry about 3-9-8, I solved it shortly after this was posted! Are we wizards, Matt?

  11. I feel like there must be some lessons to learn, like what kind of rules the shadowy designers think are reasonable. There’s a Wittgenstein thing here too; he talks about teaching someone to count by 2s and then they go “OK, 998, 1000, 1004, 1008…” and you say “No do the same thing” and they say “I did.” And you never told them what happens after 1000 either. But they’re obviously being unreasonable. But the only reason we can say they’re being unreasonable is that the rest of us manage to agree that that’s not the same thing.

    And this is something that can happen in games because the rules are in the software. Bonfire Peaks taught us the rules but it never taught us that when I did that one specific thing in Adversity the boxes wouldn’t go flying across the level they way they did in my glitch solution. That exact configuration never appeared anywhere else! Except of course we know that’s unreasonable, and we recognize that as a bug, and as soon as Corey and Alan saw it could happen they fixed it. (Though I’m curious what the underlying rule that was triggered it.)

    But then Understand teaches us the rule, and it trains us to the rule, and it yanks the rug out from under us because the reasonable understanding of the rule doesn’t work. It was never the rule we thought it was.

    More specifically, I have a solution for every level of 2-5 and I couldn’t begin to tell you what the rule is. There’s another one where I worked out the extremely obvious rule and got to the last level and it is mathematically impossible, so I’m banjaxed.

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