The MAZE Inside UFO 54-40

An article on i09 is the post on that blog that I’ve been waiting for for 30 years. It’s about Inside UFO 54-50, my favorite Choose Your Own Adventure book from childhood, and also the single one that was actually thought provoking.

You see, Inside UFO 54-40 is an odd beast in that it has an "ending" that you can’t actually reach. I kept reading it and reading it, and each time I read it, while flipping through to the specified page, I would see this great illustration and think "Man, that looks interesting, how do I get there?" And after I’d played it probably a hundred time and never gotten there I just got obsessed.

So I did what I knew I shouldn’t do: I cheated. I just flipped straight through and read it.

Turns out – that’s the only way to get there. The text makes that perfectly clear.

Even at that age, I took it as a lesson in Zen. Which, I think it was intended to be. You transcend by doing nothing – except possibly thinking outside the box.

Of course it’s a valuable lesson: you don’t have to limit yourself to the choices you’re given; you can make your own choices.

But it’s also a little disturbing for a kid that age – because you won by cheating.

I always wonder whether Little Me didn’t take the wrong lesson from that. Perhaps the lesson really is the obvious one: you win by cheating. Maybe if that’d been my take-home, I’d be a millionaire by now. Call it the "Nietzschean option."

Anyway, it’s really nice to finally start seeing some other people for whom this book made an impression at a young age.

The other cool thing about this post is that in the comments is a mention of MAZE, another mysterious book from my childhood that I’ve been waiting years to stumble across on the internet. This one laid the structure of Choose Your Own Adventure bare by being a literal maze – just illustrations with numbered doors. You go through the "door" by flipping to the page given that exact number. There are only 45 pages, and your goal is to reach page 45 – which I never managed to do. Supposedly, there’s also a visual riddle going on as you trace your way through – that is, you accumulate clues (not all of which are reliable) that will help you solve a riddle posed to you, should you ever make it to room 45.

There was an actual contest – worth $10000 – to solve the riddle. According to Wikipedia, no one ever actually did – but 12 people did find the optimal path through the book (the actual contest is to get to Room 45 and back to Room 1 in only 16 steps) and so the reward was split between them.

Anyway, as you might imagine, you can now play this online. Which I will now do. Wish me luck!

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