The Puzzles of “The Batman”

Disclaimer: This post will contain spoilers for “The Batman” movie.

The Batman starring Robert Pattinson is DC’s latest Batman movie on the big screen.  There are many opinions about which Batman actors have been worthy of the cape and cowl, and there will continue to be discussions over which movies are actually good.  This post won’t be joining either of those conversations directly.  Instead, we’ll focus on..

The Riddler’s Puzzles!

Chaos is a big fan of The Riddler (as all people should be).  He was happy to see The Riddler on the big screen again, almost thirty years after Jim Carrey’s portrayal in 1995’s Batman Forever.  Sadly, the movie’s trailers and other ads lowered Chaos’ expectations of a comics faithful Riddler (have you seen that costume?), but the ads did bring excitement over The Ridder’s potential puzzles.

Advertisements for The Batman included hidden messages, secret websites, and cryptograms.  A blacklight revealed a secret message on the movie posters!  How cool is that?

So, this is not a review of The Batman: characters, plot points, themes, etc.  This is a look at The Riddler’s puzzles, their effectiveness and their designs.   EXPECT SPOILERS.

Two Quick Notes:

1) I should note that I’ve only seen The Batman once, so all of these thoughts are based on a single viewing.  If you’d disagree with any of my points or would like to clarify something I missed, I would love to hear from you.

2) It should be noted that this version of The Riddler leaves clues not to taunt Batman and the police, but to help Batman figure out what he should do next.  This Riddler is deluded and sees himself as allies with Batman, trying to clue him in on the big plan and get Batman to play his role.  That’s important because that means the Riddler not only wants Batman to solve his puzzles, but he also needs Batman to succeed in order for his plans to work.

The First Puzzle Sequence:

After The Riddler’s first onscreen murder, he decorates the crime scene with messages.  Those don’t matter too much.  Red Herrings?  Theming?  You decide.

The actual first puzzle comes in the form of a card left for Batman and a cryptogram made up of coded symbols.  Inside the card, there is a simple riddle: “What does a liar do when he’s dead?”  The answer is written out in the same symbols as the cryptogram.  Excellent!  Once Batman outsmarts everyone else in the room by answering, “He lies still,” we have a partial key!  This is puzzling 101 and The Riddler is off to a strong start.

After nobody does anything with the partial key and cryptogram for a day, Alfred decides to brute force the puzzle over breakfast.  He must have finished his daily Wordle already.  He plugs in what he knows and then tries to work on double letters and other likely replacements.  Smart man!  The writers clearly know how puzzling works.

Then, everything takes a turn.  Bad news: Alfred’s plan is too logical for The Riddler’s puzzles.  Good news: Batman is here.  He suggests just removing the symbols that they got from the card.  Eureka!  Blacking out either all the symbols from the card or the ones not on the card will give the word, “DRIVE.”  

Let’s pause for a second.  What was the point of the partial key or the riddle to get the key if the letters didn’t actually matter?  Bad puzzle design Riddler.  Steps shouldn’t be completely unnecessary and solving a puzzle shouldn’t require a leap in logic without more clues.

Speaking of a leap in logic, Batman correctly guesses that “DRIVE” means to visit one of the victim’s many cars.  Thank goodness Batman didn’t just go for a drive himself, hit up the driving range, or look in the victim’s disc drive. In the car, Batman finds a thumbDRIVE, with an actual thumb attached!  The thumbprint is used to unlock the thumbdrive, so at least the Riddler is having Batman use his resources and tools now. 

This chain of clues gives Batman some dirt on the victim.  Batman now has some motive for the killing.  He also is inspired to start investigating some people that will end up with him meeting the right people for the plot to progress, but that’s due more to his wanting to solve the murder than the actual puzzle design.  

More importantly, the incriminating evidence is automatically emailed to all the major news sites.  Batman has played his role!  Why was it important that he email about the corruption?  Because he’s Batman!  I don’t know.

So far, the Riddler’s craftsmanship is a bit lacking, even if his plan is working out so far.

The Second Puzzle Sequence:

Another victim and another puzzle sequence to solve.  A rat cage/maze is left behind along with another message for Batman.  The clue given is “Follow the maze until you find the rat. Bring him into the light and you’ll find where I’m at.”  Batman successfully guesses he needs to find a police informant or someone leaking information.  

The Riddler might want to work on a hint system because once again, it’s up to Alfred to move the puzzle solving along.  Blacklight reveals letters in the maze which gives Alfred, who gives Batman, “You are el rata alada.”  This translates in Spanish to “You are the winged rat.”  Alfred points out the imperfect use of Spanish.  Batman ignores him.  This surely won’t come back later.  Batman is too smart to miss a clue that is literally pointed out to him, right.  This The Batman, not The Alfred.

Can’t Spell Funeral Without FUN!

We interrupt the second puzzle sequence for a funeral and a car crash.  Who is in the car? The next victim! He even brought a bomb attached to him.  Never show up to an event without bringing something.  That’s just good manners.

This victim can only escape if he can answer The Riddler’s three questions in under two minutes.  The clock starts now.  

Question one: “It can be cruel, poetic, or blind. But when it’s denied, it’s violence you may find.”

Answer: Justice!

The correct answer is given and the game continues.  Unfairly, The Riddler eats up a lot of the two minutes talking and monologuing.  That would be more upsetting, but the next two riddles aren’t really riddles.  The Riddler simply wants the victim to admit how much money he’s taken in bribes and to name the person behind the corruption.  The guy doesn’t do that and goes boom.  He really bombed that test.

Not the best puzzle sequence, but we can be sure the player won’t be asking for a refund.    

 Back to Puzzle Sequence Two:

Batman and Jim Gordon try to figure out what The Riddle could mean by “winged rat.”  Pigeon?  Stool Pigeon?  Aha!  Penguins have wings and The Penguin has already been established as a character in this movie.  Sadly, this leap of logic doesn’t pan out.  After a lot of violence, property damage, and wasted time, The Penguin laughs at Batman’s poor Spanish skills.  “El rata alada” should be “La rata alada” in proper Spanish.  If only someone else could have pointed this out to Batman earlier!  What a shame.  

You Are El Rata Alada = URL Rata Alada.  It’s a website!

Batman goes to the site and is connected with The Riddler.  Despite knowing his Penguin answer is wrong, he tries it with the Riddler anyways.  It’s still wrong and the Riddler clearly didn’t expect Batman to be so bad at this.  Still lacking a proper hint system, The Riddler pushes Batman to solve the riddle and logs off, leaving Batman as puzzled as ever.  

Part of me feels for the Riddler because Batman is taking forever and still not making progress.  However, if The Riddler is simply trying to communicate with Batman and get him to advance, why not just use the direct line they’ve established to tell Batman what’s what?  As for the actual puzzle design, Batman’s failure is actually the Riddler’s fault.  His puzzle needed Batman to bring in outside knowledge.  Unless it’s common sense, common knowledge, a puzzle maker shouldn’t expect solvers to bring background knowledge in, unless it’s also provided somewhere in the puzzle or its environment.  Ridder’s assumption of what Batman might know (Spanish) makes it frustrating for the solver and leaves them feeling stupid when it’s really poor design’s fault.  

Riddler really should playtest his puzzles more to work out any kinks and frustration points.

Another Puzzle!

He might not have finished puzzle sequence 2, but Batman is able to figure out the answer to “I grew up from a seed, as tough as a weed. But in a mansion, in a slum, I’ll never know where I come from. Do you know what I am?”  It’s an orphan!

Once again, The Riddler relies on outside knowledge and leaps of logic, hoping Batman will go to Wayne Mansion, which served as an orphanage for a while.  Batman’s reward for figuring this puzzle out: getting a little more info about why the Riddler is doing what he’s doing and learning that Bruce Wayne is the next victim.  

All this comes a little late though, and the attempt on Bruce’s life is already over.  Don’t worry Bruce is fine.  Alfred however, learns a lesson about opening other people’s mail  

This puzzle works, even if Batman ends up with another lackluster prize.  Maybe The Riddler should stick to these one or two step puzzles.  Anything longer and he seems to lose his way.

Puzzle Sequence 2 again!

Batman and Gordon are still struggling, even when the movie and other characters try pushing them in the right direction.  Maybe they should find a third.  Oh, they already have Cat Woman?  Where’s Robin?  They could use a fourth or a fifth at this point.  

Batman assuming the Penguin was the answer based solely on the fact that penguins have wings proved to be a dumb idea.  It’s okay though.  Turns out the correct answer is Carmine Falcone.  Falcone sounds a bit like falcon.  Falcons have wings.  Isn’t it obvious?  We’re lucky Batman didn’t start going after every other bird he could think of first.  However, a movie of Batman just chasing down birds to see if they know about Gotham’s corruption could be an entertaining romp.  Wait… Robins have wings!  We should establish a Robin character so we can accuse him of crimes too.  

Anyways… Boom Falcone is behind a lot of Gotham’s corruption. Yay answers!

He is arrested and then sniped by The Riddler.  Turns out The Ridder’s puzzle needed Batman to bring Falcone outside underneath a specific street light.  The riddle did say to bring the rat, “into the light.”  Yeah, this is truly awful puzzle design.  What if Batman took Falcone out a different exit to the building?  What if they didn’t happen to stop under the light because Falcone and The Penguin needed to argue?  What if the arrest happened elsewhere?  Did The Riddler really sit by his sniper rifle every second just waiting for Batman to solve the puzzle?  What if the shot wasn’t clear?  So much could have gone wrong.  

Leaps in logic.  Poor cluing.  Need for outside knowledge.  Ambiguity.  Reliance on coincidence.  This Riddler might need to look into a new gimmick.

Also, The Riddler’s plan then leads to him getting arrested.  Sniping someone from across the street leaves you an easy target for the police and Batman.  The Riddler deserves to go to jail for all those murders, but more importantly for his poor puzzling designs.

The Riddler’s Hideout

In his secret lair, The Riddler leaves more clues for those that explore it post-his arrest.  Batman gets another card saying, “See You in Hell.”  This means they’ll see each other in Arkham Asylum because they are totally friends working on this scheme together.  Not true, but it works in The Riddler’s head.  Again, this is why we should get people to playtest puzzles, so they can point out when our answers don’t work.

The murder weapon used since the beginning of the movie is a tucker, a carpeting tool.  Thankfully, a police officer whose dad used to use a tucker points this fact out to Batman.  Batman immediately rips up The Riddler’s carpet.  Ugh, more reliance on outside knowledge and leaps of logic  (Also, if you’ve ever done a real escape room, they usually frown if you rip up the carpeting.  If you do though, blame Batman).

With that, The Batman gets the final clue, “A Real Change,” needed to open up The Riddler’s streaming channel.  Blah, Blah, Blah.  The puzzles mostly stop here unless you count the after credits one or the riddle during the Joker’s quick cameo (What’s worth  more the less you have?  Friends! Maybe The Joker can help The Riddler playtest and work out a few of his puzzles).

The movie then sends Batman on clean up duty as The Riddler’s men literally flood the city and attempt to enact a mass shooting.  The puzzles suddenly seem a whole lot less important and more to fit a madman’s gimmick than anything else.  

I would also like to mention that phrases like “Real Change” are used a few times in the movie around puzzles, but they never directly time those clues to the mayoral candidate Bella Real who is established and referenced often throughout the movie.  Seems like a missed opportunity, but I’ll be nice and assume it was all a red herring to keep viewers guessing.

Final Thoughts:

I like the traditional character of The Riddler.  The Batman itself was actually pretty entertaining and definitely worth seeing.  I look forward to potential sequels.  However, I don’t love this version of The Riddler and I especially frown on his puzzle design.  My final points of advice to The Riddler or any other puzzle makers out there:

1. Playtest all puzzles and get others to playtest them as well

2. Avoid having puzzles rely too much on outside knowledge

3. Think about how to incorporate a strong hint system

4. Avoid having your puzzles actually kill people

5. Make sure your puzzles lead somewhere and that each step feels necessary

6.Avoid leaps of logic and too much ambiguity (playtesting will help fix some of these issues)

7. Iron out frustration points.  We want players to having fun, not driving around Gotham swearing vengeance

8. Strong theming pulls everything together. 

9. For longer puzzle sequences or experiences, vary the types of puzzles you use (Riddler actually did well here with ciphers, riddles, real world and digital elements, blacklights, severed fingers, etc.).

10. Don’t mess with Batman

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