Do You Prefer a Puzzle or a Mystery?

Is there a God? How long do I boil these pierogis for? How you react to a mystery is different from how you react to a puzzle. You may not feel sure how to recognize more subtle differences between one or the other right now, but by the end of this article, you should have a good understanding of what they entail and their differences.

This article will start with an explanation as to why there are differences between puzzles and mysteries. The article will then transition into how mystery is related to curiosity and what mystery has to do with satisfaction. Finally, it will describe the individualistic aspect of mystery and why mystery makes us human and present the danger that ease of access to information poses to our ability to ask questions as humans.

How are they different?

            Puzzles are different from mysteries in that they always have a solution or answer. If a person spends enough time thinking about a puzzle, they can usually figure out the answer to it. Mysteries, on the other hand, usually have no answer or solution and mystery is typically a temporary state of mind. Generally speaking, mystery cannot be solved in an expedient way because there is no easy fix for mystery.

            In addition to being unable to solve mysteries by searching for a quick-fix, mysteries are murkier than puzzles. A mystery is an emotional or psychological state of confusion, bafflement, curiosity and wonderment. Puzzles are mechanical problems requiring rigorous reasoning to find a solution. Mysteries often require more than pure reason because mystery deals in the realm of intuition and feelings rather than just cold logical thinking.

Mmmm, feels so good…kind of.

            Solving puzzles typically satisfies human curiosity, or what psychologists call ‘specific curiosity’ because the answer to a mystery can be life changing and very hard to work through even once you figure it out. This is because mystery involves ‘global curiosity,’ or an overall fundamental human desire for understanding, which sometimes requires psychological work on the individual, event after the mystery has been solved.

The greatest mysteries can make us challenge what we find comfort in holding as absolute truth, and thus challenge our identity.

            We are wired to solve puzzles. When we are presented with something that doesn’t quite add up or have an answer that is not immediately apparent, it piques our curiosity. When we solve the mystery, this gives us a sense of agency and makes us feel in control.

            The difference between puzzles that can be solved quickly and mysteries that are more nuanced, complex and intractable is mainly that mysteries are more challenging, but more sustaining. On the other hand, puzzles are easy to solve and provide instant gratification.

Refer to this List if You Get Stuck

  • 1.    Puzzles can be solved quickly with a minimum of effort on the part of the solver. Mysteries take more time and energy to solve or understand even with a lot of effort on the part of the solver.
  • 2.    Puzzles only require one solution. Mysteries don’t necessarily all have a solution.
  • 3. The mystery of human origins isn’t resolved in six days; we still don’t know how the universe came into being, much less what lies beyond it.
  • 4.    Puzzles are usually made solely by humans for humans to solve, while mysteries permeate life and have no identifiable creator.
  • 5.    A mystery doesn’t allow us to grasp its solution, but a puzzle can be solved by anyone.
  • 6.    Solving mystery is not the same as mastering it; solving a mystery requires an understanding of what’s behind and beyond it.
  • 7.    Mysteries require patience and contemplation; puzzles only need time and effort devoted to them to solve them.
  • 8.   Mysteries inspire long-term curiosity whereas puzzles only bring immediate fulfillment.
  • 9.    Another mystery, about the mystery of mystery, pops up when we start to try to resolve why humans love to solve them so much.
  • 10.    While a puzzle can be a mystery too, a mystery cannot always be a puzzle. (A popular example of a puzzle that can be considered a mystery is the Rubik’s Cube).
  • To understand mystery and its relation to our curiosity, we must first remember that there are two different types of curiosity: Diversive and Epistemic. Diversive curiosity refers to the desire to learn about the world in general, whereas Epistemic curiosity refers to the desire for learning.

Do You Mean Long-Format Puzzle, Agatha?

True mysteries are mysterious because they are not easily solved. The mystery of mystery is that mystery itself is not well-defined due to its widespread use across different cultures and time periods. Mysteries inspire long standing contemplation, though the word gets tossed around when really we mean puzzles. Sure Agatha Christie novel may be labeled as a “Mystery”, it is in fact more of a puzzle, that eventually leaves very little mystery about the culprit.

Mysteries are often perceived as frustrating, because most mysteries will never be solved. This is where curiosity comes into play, because one can create conjectures based upon mystery inciting this sense of “unsatisfied curiosity .” We may wonder why some things are not easily solvable due to mystery and the lack of information.

On the other hand, there are puzzles that can be solved within a reasonable amount of time. A puzzle, such as Sudoku or crossword, holds an answer that is solvable with enough effort in most cases. Solving puzzles requires us to make sense of things in order to solve it. Puzzles rely on our more immediate basic human need for survival.

That being said, mystery in literature does not equal complexity or confusion, as the mystery story is actually very simple: Someone does something purposefully and leaves hints for us to find; we find the clues and solve the mystery. The mystery hinges on how quickly we can piece everything together. Time is what slows down our ability to solve mystery stories. The mystery story is wrapped up in time, most puzzles, especially with the developments from Google and other technology have no such constraints.

Pass Me the Banana.

Puzzles exists to be solved, whereas mysteries majorly just, exist . It satisfies our curiosity with regard to how things are made. Puzzles are about following a set of rules and coming out at the end with something surprising by following them, and yet the significance of the reward at the end is largely dependent on how invested you really were when first approached the puzzle.

Puzzles and mystery both hold value, but mystery holds more value than puzzle.

If we remember we’re not like other animals, we can see why mystery holds more value. As humans, we feel a certain satisfaction being unsatisfied. Our monkey brains will always respond positively to any stimulus that makes us feel like we are surviving. Sure, technology has made our survival easier, but easier is not without cost. There is a lot of hidden value in difficulty. Difficulty means we understand what we’re surviving for: it can mean fulfillment.

Hey Siri, is Apple better than Android?

What troubles me about the ease with which any query can be solved, is that they are in danger of becoming perceived as less mystery and more puzzle. To clarify, if we truly wanted to understand “What is beauty”, but we aim to resolve this search with a modern day interpretation of the word…

…We’d be presented with hundreds of thousands of versions of answers, and we’d be fooled into believing one of them was right, when really we’ve willfully ignored that the answer we chose as right, will depend on an incalculable amount of variables, which if explored, could likely help us get closer to solving what beauty is, for us, as an individual.

In conclusion, mystery and puzzle are two different beasts. Mystery: what is the best path to success? Puzzle: how long should I boil these noodles for. At some point not so long ago, we could hold court in a debate with a friend, not necessarily having the privilege of immediately knowing who was right. Now, whomever pulls out their phone the fastest is seen as the smartest. Answers are becoming so accessible, we’re forgetting how to ask better questions.

Thanks for reading this far, just to be an annoying contrarian I relied on Jarvis AI to generate a large portion of this blog post. It was an experiment to see if what I wanted to talk about in this post rang true for me if I went against my own opinions and relied on technology to help me share what I wanted to with you.

In the end, it wasn’t awful, but part of me feels dirty or like I cheated not just you, but myself. I’m sorry, please forgive me. Won’t happen again.

Stay Curious.

Thanks for believing,


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P.P.S. I’m launching a magic camp via Zoom that will be live on a weekly basis, these will be recorded and eventually accessible as a video-course series right here on my website. If you’re interested in learning more, send me an email: