Well, since the prizes have been awarded, it seems like maybe it’s past time to provide a walkthrough to our Chronicle of Sorrows game.
The game itself will stay up indefinitely. So, if you’d like to take a crack at it by yourself, or if you’d like to play along with the walkthrough, feel free! The links above provide some useful tips for getting started.
You’ll notice that appears to be a broken link. It points to this website’s 404 error page. It also happens to reveal part of somebody’s journal for 4 April (4/04) 1919. You’ll probably also notice that below the missing pages, the phrase chronicle of my sorrows is emphasized. If you ask the homunculus about this, he’ll give you three of the missing pages. This is where the game begins.
The rest of the missing journal entries are arranged into three separate threads, one for each of these journal entries. Below the cut, I’ll describe the path through the game for each thread. I’ll also try to mark things clearly, so that people who need a hint but don’t want the entire game spoiled for them can scroll through to the troublesome journal entry.
Thread #1: 18 August 1919
The imporant clue in this entry is helpfully enclosed in quotes: Ancient Aryans of Lost Atlantis. But what to do with this? Well, the reference to Ouija boards seems like a good place to start, right? Send that phrase to the spirit world, and one particularly helpful spirit (more on this below) will give you two more journal entries. Which takes us to—
26 November & 15 December 1919
These are both quite short, but again the clue word is written a little more heavily than the rest of the text: godsend. But what to do with this? Again, the helpful spirit of the Ouija board comes to our rescue. If we ask her about godsends, and she’ll give us another page:
22 December 1919
This time the entry is a little longer, and the clue isn’t set aside with quotes or heavier printing. But the reference to Nietzsche might have caught your attention. And, for those who might have read the prologue to Bitter Seeds, the phrase “Will to Power and human enlightenment” might seem conspicuous. If you ask the homunculus what he knows about these things, he’ll reward you with another journal page.
1 January 1920
Happy New Year! Another very short journal entry. (I guess the anonymous author was busy—New Year’s Day and all. ) That reference to the celestial clockwork sure seems odd. And surely somewhere we’ve seen something that fits that description… Why not spin the orrery back to January 1, 1920, and see what happens?
Yes, we’re sadistic bastards. But not without reason! Hitting the magic date on the orrery brings up another missing journal page.
15 September 1919
Nothing particularly informative or provocative in this entry. Just that strange reference to Schiller. Try rewinding the orrery past his birthday, November 10.
His actual birthday.
(A minute ago I said we’re sadistic bastards. But that’s not true. We’re extremely sadistic bastards. I, for one, derive sustenance from other peoples’ pain. I season my dinner with salt harvested from the tears of anguish caused by carpal tunnel syndrome. Richard actually had his pager set to ping him whenever somebody screamed in frustration. If we could have derived a puzzle that required players to renounce their love for their families, we would have done it in a hot second. Don’t think we didn’t try.)
But hey, the pain doesn’t go unrewarded. Spinning the orrery back to 9 November 1759 brings up the last entries in this thread:
16, 19 September 1919
And here we learn how the seed for a very fateful idea was planted in the mind of one Doctor Karl Heinrich von Westarp. This is the only place in the journal where the doctor’s full name appears. It’s emphasized for a reason! The underlined text is the “signature” password for Stephenson’s desk.
And that’s the end of this thread.
Thread #2: 10 September 1919
This journal page contains a name that is written a little more heavily than the rest of the text. And, like the mention of Ouija boards at the beginning of the previous thread, we have another conspicuous reference here. So what are we to make of von Westarp and “postcards to the beyond?”
Perhaps if we were to search the website we could find a means of sending such a postcard. But we don’t have an address for Doctor von Westarp, so we can’t send a card to him. We could, however, send a postcard about him to somebody else.
In fact, if you send a postcard to anybody with the text “von Westarp” included in the body of the message, your friend will receive your postcard… and Doctor von Westarp himself will contact you from the beyond to give you another journal page. (Don’t ask how or why. He has magical ghost powers, people. Seriously. Would you expect any less of a mad scientist on the Nazis’ payroll?)
The bars of music at the bottom of this journal page are a red herring.
22 June 1919
Here the phrase “apple blossom” is written more heavily than the rest of the entry. If we poke around the website long enough, we might eventually discover that “apple” and “blossom” are two keywords for the Aetheric Electro-Imager. “Apple” requires the red humor (blood) and “blossom” requires the white humor (phlegm).
The device might bring up a succession of strange images while turning the dials to the appropriate settings. But once you get “apple” on the left and “blossom” on the right, one particular image should come up. Ask the homunculus about fairies, and he’ll give you another journal page.
29 June 1919
Hmm. Another short one. Something about the signing of a treaty and a Great War. What treaty was signed in 1919? Who would know about this?
Von Westarp might. If we send another postcard, this time about the Treaty of Versailles, he’ll chime in with more missing entries.
7, 30 April & 6 May 1919
This time, there are no quotes and no boldfaced printing to highlight the key phrase on this page. But the homunculus knows a thing or two about Teutonic antiquity…
2 June 1919
Is it possible there really is a connection between the Runic Circle and bodily humors? Probably not, because Rudolf von Sebottendorf was a notorious wackjob. But that mention of humors might put us in mind of the imager again. Fire up the imager with a yellow humor on the left and a black humor on the right. When properly tuned with the keyphrase “runic circle”, the imager shows us an image of the World Tree, also known as Yggdrasil.
But this is the first of the multi-part entries. Obtaining another journal page requires a second step. But if we ask the Ouija board about Yggdrasil, that helpful spirit takes us to—
6, 10 July 1919
And here’s the end of another thread! Another keyword is underlined on this page. The underlined text is the “department” password for Stephenson’s desk.
Thread #3: 8 January 1920
Once again, the clues start out easy. Here we find two words emphasized: “pure” and “noble.” These happen to be keywords in the Aetheric Electro-Imager. Fire up that diabolical contraption with two vials of phlegm (the white humor), and we receive the image of a gravestone in return. How macabre. Oddly, the inscription contains the phrase “pure and noble”.
If we ask the homunculus about this, he encourages us to look more closely at the tombstone.
A second look shows it also contains the phrase “eternal immortality”. This is the answer to the question posed by the homunculus. He rewards us with a new journal entry:
16, 19, 21 January 1920
There’s that wacky von Westarp, nattering on about human willpower again. Actually, what he said was, “She could easily conquer the illness if only she wills it so.” But, like the later clues in the other threads, this phrase isn’t offset with quotes. We didn’t want this to be too easy.
If we share the doctor’s opinion with the homunculus, he wisely keeps his thoughts on the matter to himself. But he does give us another missing page.
3, 19 October 1919
This one is a gimme: a mention of postcards immediately after a strange reference to “hydropsy”. Send a postcard about that medical condition and von Westarp, being a doctor, will chime in with another missing page.
3, 5, 8, 9, 15 February 1920
The anonymous author of this journal has a lament for his recently deceased wife: How will I raise our daughters alone? And everybody knows the proper way to ask questions of the dead is with a Ouija board. (SCIENCE!)
And thus we discover that the helpful spirit behind the Ouija board is Ilsa herself. If we relay the question from her grieving husband, Ilsa responds with a few more journal entries.
24, 25 October & 4 November 1919
Nothing underlined or out of the ordinary here. Only one phrase stands out, and this by virtue of the fact it finally gives a name to Ilsa’s suffering: pre-eclampsia.
For those of us who aren’t medical doctors, a few seconds with Google tells us that pre-eclampsia is a potentially serious medical condition during pregnancy related to blood pressure. Blood, pregnancy, fetus… Give the Aetheric Electro-Imager a red vial on the left, a black vial on the right, and tune it to the keywords “blood” and “fetus”. The resulting image shows a map of the human head as described by a quaint branch of medical quackery.
The homunculus, being no stranger to quackery, has some interesting thoughts if we ask him about phrenology. He tells us that Ilsa’s “brain organs” (quaint, I tell you) were overdeveloped in regions 1 and 21.
For those of us who aren’t phrenologists, a few seconds with Google tells us that brain organ #1 controls the instinct for reproduction, while organ #21 controls one’s sense of metaphysics.
Since the homunculus specifically mentioned Ilsa, it seems logical to ask her about “reproduction” and “metaphysics”. By typing these words into the Ouija board we get a disturbing response from Ilsa. Is she watching her twin daughters from beyond the grave? Hmmmm.
But if we hit the Ouija board a second time, Ilsa gives us the final journal entries.
21 February & 2 March 1920
The date on the very last entry in the missing journal pages is underlined. With a little bit of reordering, this date is the “authorization number” password for Stephenson’s desk.
And there you have it! That’s the complete solution to Chronicle of Sorrows. This game was designed and implemented by my friend Richard Mueller, who is the mad genius behind at 3232 Design. Richard and I worked together pretty closely on this. I tried to write a story that touched on some interesting Milkweed backstory while also providing some useful “hooks” for the game. Richard took what I wrote and tried to find a “puzzle path” through the journal entries. It was an interative process that took about 4 rounds of back-and-forth before we both had something we liked and which would work for the game.
While several people have successfully logged in to Stephenson’s desk, nobody has yet translated the old man’s Easter Egg file… Send me a note if you do. 🙂
A couple of people have asked me if the twins referred to in these journal entries are the same identical twins who appear in Bitter Seeds. Indeed they are! It was fun coming up with backstory for the Twins. They popped up quite early in my brainstorming for the Milkweed universe, back around 2004 or so, when I was exploring the world through disconnected short stories. They’re not on stage much in the first Milkweed book, but they play a very important role in The Coldest War.