Dungeons & Dragons Online

Zebra/Einstein puzzle — an adaptable puzzle blueprint

You may have heard of the Einstein/Zebra puzzle, where you have to match a list of distinct traits to a group of people based on a list of clues. I thought this could be adapted to a DnD puzzle pretty easily, but you'd have to change the clues around to make sure that your players don't cheat with prior knowledge of the original puzzle. I used a Python program to verify that there is precisely one solution to this riddle:

The players are hunting for the Mcguffin of Death, which they need to avert some catastrophe. The Mcguffin of Death is part of a set of five. The players have an approximate location for the Mcguffin from each era, but it would take too long to search all of them individually, so they have to figure out which one is the Mcguffin of Death before they can go looking. The Mcguffins are shrouded in mystery, but tidbits about each one have been scattered around in ancient texts and whatnot. The players do some research, and find out these clues about the Mcguffins:

There are five Mcguffins, and each one was created in a different era (i.e. 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th).
The Mcguffins represent five pillars of creation: Energy, Matter, Motion, Life, and Death.
Each Mcguffin was made by a different race: Dwarves, Elves, Halflings, Humans, and Orcs.
Each Mcguffin is made out of a different material: diamond, emerald, glass, metal, and stone.
Each Mcguffin is a different color: red, yellow, green, blue, and purple.
Each Mcguffin has a different shape: cube, prism, pyramid, sphere, and starburst.

  • The pyramid followed immediately after the cube.
  • The red Mcguffin was made near in time (i.e. in an adjacent era) to the metal Mcguffin.
  • The metal Mcguffin was also made near in time to the Mcguffin of life.
  • The purple Mcguffin was made near in time to the glass Mcguffin.
  • The yellow Mcguffin was made near in time to the Mcguffin of matter.
  • The Mcguffin of life is a starbust.
  • The Mcguffin of matter is made of stone.
  • The Mcguffin of energy is yellow.
  • The emerald Mcguffin is green.
  • The diamond Mcguffin is a prism.
  • The dwarves made the Mcguffin of motion.
  • The humans made the pyramid-shaped Mcguffin.
  • The orcs made the red Mcguffin.
  • The elves made the blue Mcguffin.
  • The prism was made in the 2nd era.
  • The halflings made the final Mcguffin.
Read more:  Start Session Zero by Rewarding Investment in the World and Other Characters with the Interactive Backstory Session

Additional clues would make the puzzle easier, perhaps as a result of a good investigation check, or you could hide extra clues in a side quest exploring an ancient ruin. If you wanted to make the location of the Mcguffins part of the puzzle, you should switch out locations for materials, because I think that's one of the last things to resolve when you do the puzzle.

This could be adapted to any set of 5 things with multiple, varying characteristics, as long as you put the "hidden" variable in the same position as the death element. I did a version of this puzzle in a murder-mystery type adventure, where instead of Mcguffins it was suspects. My puzzle-hating players solved it, but they complained the whole time about how much they hate puzzles. Your mileage may vary.

Here's the solution:

1 2 3 4 5
color blue purple red yellow green
race elves dwarves orcs humans halflings
material glass diamond stone metal emerald
element death motion matter energy life
shape sphere prism cube pyramid starburst


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