transcends any preconceived notion of what genre is. It’s a hefty, pentagonal hunk of text and image, but it’s also a puzzle/treasure hunt. The storyline is simple. The great detective Roy Dodge teams up with his assistant, Gus Twintig, to solve the mystery of 12 missing emerald-studded numbers from an ancient clock. But here’s where things get interesting: the numbers, designed and hand-crafted by Anna Sheffield, can really be found buried in twelve holes across the country (“an extra bonus for especially energetic or greedy readers”). We interviewed one of the book’s three co-authors, Eli Horowitz, who is also an editor at McSweeney’s, to find out how they came up with this crazy idea.
Flavorpill: Are you a puzzle person?
Eli Horwitz: I like the idea of them, but I don’t normally have the persistence to carry them out. One of the things we tried to do was make it so you didn’t have to carry the puzzle out to enjoy it. I definitely loved reading puzzle books as a kid, but I always wanted to read the answers rather than figure it out myself.
FP: How did you get involved with this project?
EH: It was a collaboration. Mac Barnett is an old friend and old intern of mine. One night we were bonding over
, which is an English book that was a big sensation in the ’70s. In it, the sun and the moon are in the love and there is a golden rabbit or something, and Kit Williams (the author) made this golden rabbit and he buried it. It was huge. Every English person born between ’64 and ’73 will know the story. People were digging all over the country trying to find this thing. No one found it for three years, and then someone dug it up. Six years later, some other person found out that the finder was a friend of the ex-girlfriend of the author, so it was a scam… well, a sham. But the idea was brilliant. So Mac and I, we bonded over a couple of other books,
. We wanted to do something like these books, but better. We wanted to take what we liked about these books—
FP: —and make it your own?
EH: Yes, but there would not be a scam. And it would not take 12 years to solve.
FP: How is The Clock Without a Face different?
EH: Well, in Masquerade and subsequent puzzle books, the object is to solve the riddle, send in the answer, and then you’ll win ten-thousand dollars! It is very openly a marketing gimmick stuck on top of the book. Whereas, with The Clock Without a Face, you are finding the thing that was stolen in the book. Very commonly, you can find a code written around the page; there is a plot reason for there to be clues [in the pages of the book] to where the things are. The art, the whodunnit, the structure, and the treasure hunt have an organic link; you’re taking part in the overall project.
FP: If you were a reader, not one of the writers, and you bought this book, would you be able to solve it?
EH: I think, maybe. On every floor there are multiple things to solve. I could definitely get some different ones. I may be able to even crack a whole floor. But the tricky part is I’m in San Francisco… but it’s in a spot in Nebraska. It’s not just about cracking the clues, it’s about having the commitment to go find the number. Or make a friend in Nebraska.
FP: Is this a children’s book?
EH: I’m trying not to think about [genre] too much. I want it to be enjoyed by children but also in the puzzle perspective, in the art perspective, in different perspectives. I want it to be enjoyed as a children’s mystery, an art book, and this weird kind of building squashed into a book format. We aren’t trying to choose one. It’s a buffet. I want everyone to think it’s their book.
FP: Historically, alive or not alive, who do you think would be into this book?
EH: Me, as a nine year old, would be really into this book. The ones who wrote the books that inspired us, we would want to read the book. Daniel Pinkwater, Roald Dahl. Even though he may have been a little bit of a dick.