Cookie Fonster’s Problem Sleuth Commentary Part 2: Puzzle Soup for the Drunken Soul

Introduction

< Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 >

Chapters 2-3

Pages 84–229 (MSPA: 302–447)

Chapter 2 opens with Problem Sleuth leaving his main office and entering his secret chamber. This allows for worldbuilding typical of pretty much any story while avoiding him actually leaving his office. It also matches up with Act 2 of Homestuck starting with John leaving Earth.

Then he reads a note from Ace Dick. Seems like these two guys (currently) just pass papers with insults to each other. It’s like they’re two kids in school who hate each other, and who know curse words.

I find it interesting how the recurring motif of the kids in Homestuck playing haunting refrains and all that with their instruments originated from a joke command early in Problem Sleuth that was not followed through with.

I didn’t notice earlier that the hat slot was added to the freely-expanding inventory, keeping the theme of an improvised story going even once the initial stages are over.

Problem Sleuth boards a little elevator called a “dumbwaiter” and uses its slit to send Ace Dick a card. This is a little clue that Ace Dick’s office has a similar thing going on to Problem Sleuth’s, with things not being as they appear. I also just realized that Ace Dick has a way bigger gun than Problem Sleuth, matching with how he appears to be way better than our protagonist. I guess I’ll see for myself if it transforms into a bigger key or what.

Turns out that Ace Dick is also a video game character, just not the one we’re following, as evidenced by his inventory, which is empty because we’ve just started checking out through a cut scene what he’s up to.

When Ace Dick calls the phone number on the card, he once again does something infuriatingly right: some whores come in to his office. Not to mention that he has a working phone in the first place.

I believe this is the comic’s first animated image. Problem Sleuth has a notable escalation in art style from the beginning to the end.

Problem Sleuth drinks some whiskey, boosting his imagination and making him too drunk to do regular things. It seems that Hussie decided to make alcohol boost his imagination independent of reader commands.

He then enters a fort, an action that is entirely independent of reader commands. This is notable because it shows us that the author now has some ideas of his own regarding how to advance the story, and will no longer base everything on reader commands.

Hiding in the fort leads Problem Sleuth to the imaginary world, a realm where the majority of the comic takes place. This parallels Homestuck, which starts on Earth but takes place mostly in the world of Sburb.

You answer the phone in the best Depression-era fast-talking way possible. On the other line is a hysterical dame. 

You tell her to calm down and give you the skinny on what all hubbub is about. Her answers are vague and one-dimensional. The case is quickly going nowhere. 

It turns out your imagination sucks!

This bit of narration seems to indicate Problem Sleuth’s frustration at trying to do his job as a detective. This means that it’s still early enough in the comic for there to be some trace of a detective theme going on.

Turns out Problem Sleuth’s steak dinners are spoiled, which basically proves to us that in the comic, imaginary world is just as infuriating and trollish as the real world.

However, his gun remains a gun, rather than flipping back and forth between being a gun and a key. This is an actual convenience that we don’t get in the comic’s real world.

Problem Sleuth exits his office in the imaginary world, which once again allows for worldbuilding while still keeping him stuck in his office. I must say, it looks truly mystical seeing him out of his office like that.

When Problem Sleuth enters Ace Dick’s office, the office is empty because Ace Dick isn’t using his imagination. This suggests that multiple people can be in the same imaginary world, making the imaginary world parallel not only the world of Sburb but also dream bubbles.

Problem Sleuth listens to what’s going on in Pickle Inspector’s office. It appears that this third detective has a vivid imagination, which suggests that he, too, is aggravatingly better in some way than Problem Sleuth.

Now comes an interesting reveal: as his imagination wears off, Problem Sleuth walks out the building, leading us to a familiar image, the one we saw out his window. This suggests that the mysterious realm the window is connected to is actually the imaginary world, making two strange story concepts connected all along. This is also another parallel between the imaginary world and dream bubbles: in Homestuck, there are windows which, when unplugged, will take people to the Furthest Ring, which is exactly where dream bubbles are.

After returning to the real world, Problem Sleuth finds himself in a puzzling situation: he has to reassemble his phone by bringing parts from the imaginary world to the real world. He first tries turning the window upside-down and shaking it, but that doesn’t do anything. It’s almost as if the player forgot that nothing works the way you expect it to in this comic.

Problem Sleuth then tries to retrieve his stuff with a video film lasso tied to cinderblocks. This is once again actual interface experimenting, with trying to solve tricky puzzles, the second stage of figuring out how this world works.

On the other side of his office, there is another wall with holes to look through. The hole reveal an elf painting beneath a safe beneath another clown painting. This suggests that Pickle Inspector’s office has not one, but two layers of things not being as they seem. Combining this idea with how everything seems to go better for Ace Dick, one may deduce that the three main characters of Problem Sleuth correspond with different levels of video game difficulty: Ace Dick is easy, Problem Sleuth is normal, Pickle Inspector is hard. Or it could be the other way around, considering that Pickle Inspector is having by far the best time with the imaginary world.

While Ace Dick is portrayed as a much more competent detective than Problem Sleuth, Pickle Inspector is portrayed as even less of a detective. His office has already been remodeled to include an imagination fort and bottles of some alcoholic drink. This once again matches with the theme of the three main characters corresponding to different levels of skill, with Ace Dick on one end, Pickle Inspector on the other, and Problem Sleuth in between.

Problem Sleuth then looks inside the other office again, to see Ace Dick tied up with one of the busts cracked open. This provides quite a contrast against Pickle Inspector, who doesn’t even do any sort of work like this. He does a silly dance, gleeful to see something go wrong for his rival.

Ace Dick hears your shenanigans from the other side. He seems to be pleading for a way to cut the rope.

That Ace Dick, too, gets into bad predicaments is our first hint that the three detectives will start working together.

Problem Sleuth is commanded to get Ace Dick a piece of glass to cut the rope. At this point it’s clear that readers know Ace Dick is supposed to get help, so helping him cut the rope will definitely advance the story in some form.

And after Ace Dick cuts the rope, we switch focus to him. Let’s talk about his role in the story. Though he is introduced as Problem Sleuth’s more competent nemesis, now the narration says he is reconsidering this rivalry; since Problem Sleuth helped him out somewhat, he thinks he should return the favor by helping his neighbor out of his office.

Regarding role in the story, Ace Dick has some things in common with both Rose and Dave, the second and third main characters of Homestuck (Pickle Inspector has more in common with Jade). Rose and Dave are both first presented to us as John’s more competent friends, helping him out with the game mechanic stuff and getting through the early stages of the game; however, when we get to play as them, they mess stuff up just as often. More on those character similarities later.

The last line of narration on this page is: “You feel you should get some supplies from your safe first, though. If only you could remember the combination.” This is basically the author already giving readers a predicament for him to get out of, something that Problem Sleuth’s introduction doesn’t know.

Ace Dick is commanded to check behind the paper on his door for the safe combination, but it’s stuck tight. As with Problem Sleuth, the first command suggested to him turns out to be useless.

Unlike Problem Sleuth, whose stat bars are all fairly balanced, Ace Dick has one bar much higher than the other two. I think this represents how the three main characters correspond to video game difficulties, with Problem Sleuth being relatively balanced while the other two excel in one area while being bad in the others. Maybe video game difficulties isn’t as good of an analogy as the three main characters corresponding to different characters you can play as in video games.

Ace Dick throws the Owen Wilson bust at the paper, but it turns out to actually be a window, or at least covering a window; it’s not clear which. This is yet another example of previous instances of things turning out not to be what they seem to be being reversed.

Note that someone stole Stiller’s Chekhov’s sunglasses.

The bust knocks out the worker in the hallway, causing the scaffold to roll and stop at his door. This means that while Problem Sleuth started out trapped in his office, Ace Dick accidentally got himself stuck there. This is somewhat similar to something in Homestuck: John started off having to look for his Sburb discs, but Dave already had his discs and lost them through a series of mishaps. John is Problem Sleuth, Dave is Ace Dick.

Ace Dick is now also stuck in his office. The narration tells us that Problem Sleuth’s commands will be preceded with “PS:”, and Ace Dick’s with “AD:”. This essentially means that Problem Sleuth is now a two-character story.

Poor window repair skill is something Ace Dick has in common with Dave.

After failing to move the scaffold out of the way, Ace Dick is commanded to retrieve his gun, only for it to turn into a set of keys. Knowing the ever-shifting nature of Problem Sleuth’s key/gun, the fun is not seeing that the gun turns into a key, it’s seeing what it turns into.

Ace Dick picks up the phone parts and tries to give them to Problem Sleuth, but they land below the dumbwaiter. This is a really clever way to trick readers into thinking something will go right. Since at this point several item retrievals and transfers have worked out without a hitch, and this one started with Ace Dick successfully taking the phone parts, it’s exceptionally trollish for this not to work out.

Here’s the first time the story does a little weird thing: it gives two command options instead of one. The first one leads to Problem Sleuth dying, while the second one progresses the actual story. I bet this is Hussie’s way of incorporating ridiculous commands without ruining the story. This sort of thing is only done a few times early on in the comic.

The next command given to Problem Sleuth is a bit confusing: he’s commanded to check out the clown poster, but there is no clown poster in his room, so he looks at the one in his secret chamber instead.

Under the paper he finds a hidden game code which he can later use to return to an earlier point. It’s a pretty random place to find such a code, which matches with the idea that in video games you’ll find lots of important things in random places.

Ace Dick’s next command is to pounce on his keys before they disappear. This is the point where the player tries to elude the whole thing of objects switching back and forth between two different things. And the command is so silly and ridiculous that it actually works! This seems to me like exploiting a video game glitch.

However, the success of going against the insufferable weapon/object transformation is quickly destroyed with a film noir weapon panel, calling back to the panel with Problem Sleuth holding his gun that I said looked like film noir.* I think the badass appearance of this picture only makes this even more frustrating.

* Looks like Problem Sleuth also likes to sometimes use callbacks, but not as much as Homestuck.

Not shown: Ace Dick using Problem Sleuth’s locker combination to open the safe, revealing three keyholes.

Ace Dick looks through the eyes in his pig painting to see Problem Sleuth doing ridiculous nonsense, the kind of nonsense that might be done following a joke command submitted. This suggests that Problem Sleuth followed some silly commands that nobody actually submitted—ghost commands, if you will—offscreen. It’s not too long into the comic and the story is already parodying not only regular video game mechanics, but its own command-based adventure mechanics as well.

Ace Dick, after falling backwards into his table, finds a smaller Snoop Dogg bust and throws it at the window, only for the bust to break because the window is plugged in. This is yet another example of things surprisingly not working the way you expect them to when we’ve already gotten a heavy load of exactly that sort of thing, because we’ve already gotten a feel for the window mechanics.

Ace Dick unlocks the safe the same way Problem Sleuth (technically) unlocked his door: by shooting the keyholes with his gun. This is yet another example of unorthodox game mechanics starting to legitimately work out.

Ace Dick throws his hammer out of the window, and for some reason, Problem Sleuth’s corpse from, for lack of a better word, the “doomed timeline” where he halfway climbed out the window is there. Maybe the imaginary windows have some kind of time properties? I think the story does indeed feature some time travel; if at one point some of the main characters go back to an earlier point in the story or something, and if I remember right that’s how Fiesta Ace Dick came to be.

Here’s yet another example of things being subverted. At this point, the player knows that characters are gonna follow through with various patterns (something Homestuck is known for), and Ace Dick prepares to try his own candy corn act. Problem Sleuth looks into Ace Dick’s office only to see that he ate the candy corn.

After building his own little fort, Ace Dick tries to look inside the safe, and narration says the following:

You can’t reach the opening! 

You would stand on the chair, but you don’t think it’s quite high enough. Besides, it is now built into your fort, and there’s obviously no going back.

The phrase “there’s obviously no going back” suggests that building a fort is an early stage of the game, like a mission you’re supposed to complete in a video game to allow the rest of it to progress. As we saw earlier, Pickle Inspector had already completed that part of the game before he even first appeared.

It’s like jumping to place blocks underneath yourself and build a tower in Minecraft.

This image is something of a step up in art: I think it’s the first time someone does something in a picture that’s animated, and while it’s not too sophisticated it’s definitely something.

Though I’ve covered about 100 pages now and the next page is the start of Chapter 3, I’ll go on till the end of the next chapter since it’s not that long (less than 50 pages) and the next one after that, Chapter 4, starts with focusing on Pickle Inspector so it’ll make a good starting point for my next Problem Sleuth post.

Chapter 3 begins with Ace Dick entering his secret hideout, just as Chapter 2 began with Problem Sleuth doing the same.

Ace Dick goes up the dumbwaiter, which reveals Problem Sleuth’s phone parts that he lost earlier. It looks like successful actions now start happening accidentally, through commands that aren’t anything unusual.

Note the leprechaun romance symbols, wait I mean the Lucky Charms symbols, on the phone rotary or whatever it’s called. Sorry, I’m too young to be familiar with 20th century phones and how they work.

When he connects the phone parts, his phone is now 2/3 complete, which is similar to making partial amounts of progress in video game puzzles.

I forgot to mention Ace Dick swallowed a key along with the candy corn.

Ace Dick is commanded to open the door lock with his tommy gun, but the response is interface-screwy nonsense that leads to him throwing the keys. Although in-universe this would be analogous to a weird programming glitch that makes no sense, and only starts making even less sense until you get to the bottom of the problem, in real life this is just the author doing whatever screws with readers’ heads the most.

Here’s where things start getting confusing. Ace Dick is commanded to use rope to escape his office through his window, but he can just use the fire stairway. Although the window is electronic, apparently this one is also a real window or something? I knew Problem Sleuth was a confusing story, but not like this.

Ace Dick lands on an adjacent building and looks through the skylight window on the roof to see Pickle Inspector’s office, apparently? Since the three detectives’ offices were clearly established earlier to be next door, I can only presume this is another weird portal window.

You suddenly feel weird about standing on the other side of an unpowered window. You feel as though there will probably be metaphysical consequences.

Apparently the area Ace Dick is in is really just the imaginary world or something? Now I feel even more like an idiot for not understanding that.

A frightening beast appears!

This image is the first appearance of an enemy character, which I think further corresponds to different stages in video games.

Problem Sleuth entering the imaginary world again not shown.

Also not shown: the alternate option of Ace Dick doing a truffle shuffle and getting eaten by the beast.

Ace Dick tries to shoot the beast, but it’s unharmed, causing him to go back upstairs. I can only presume finding a way to kill the beast will lead to more weird puzzle shit.

After being commanded to vomit the key, Ace Dick’s narration says the following:

You can’t just vomit things on command! That’s ridiculous. 

On the other hand, when there’s liquor in your system, that’s a different story…

I wonder if this is trying to get readers to command Ace Dick to enter the imaginary world, the place where most of the comic takes place.

When Ace Dick enters the imaginary world, his office is very crudely made because of his poor imagination. I can’t help but notice that the busts kind of look like Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff.

In the imaginary world, Ace Dick and Problem Sleuth look into Pickle Inspector’s office, and see that he has an incredible imagination—so incredible that it’s made from these weird pure black-and-white stock photos. I think this serves largely as a visual demonstration of the statistical differences between the comic’s three main characters.

Pickle Inspector uses his strong imaginary powers to replace the broken door with a steel door. Given how powerful his imagination is, I can only assume Pickle Inspector is ridiculously weaksauce in other areas. I guess I’ll see what that’ll be fairly soon.

The two currently playable detectives (it already feels weird now calling them that) go downstairs. Problem sleuth releases the tape, bringing the phone and hammer into his office, but causing the hammer to unplug the window. This is yet another annoying shenanigan that seems to have been done of the author’s own volition, which may indicate the story’s progression into more of its own tale.

Another frightening beast appearing not shown.

Ace Dick is commanded to get the dog-walking guy to help him out, but he turns out to be a brainless nonentity. Presumably this is a parody of some NPCs in video games turning out to be completely useless. If the dog-walking guy was referred to in commands earlier on, perhaps that would be different, but now it seems that the story has moved past that entirely.

Animated images are starting to become more prominent in this comic.

Ace Dick tries to shoot the monster with his terrible gun, but it blows up, damaging the beast and making Ace Dick lost an imaginary life and wake up from the imaginary world nauseous; soon after, the same happens to Problem Sleuth. Extra lives are yet another video game feature that is suddenly introduced and then proceeds to always keep being a thing. The feature of waking up from the dream world after being killed there is more or less the same in Homestuck, since killing someone’s dream projection wakes him or her up. It also may be similar to waking up from a nightmare in which you’re killed.

After reassembling his phone, Problem Sleuth is commanded to call Pickle Inspector, but can’t for multiple reasons: he doesn’t know his number, and his rotary dial has symbols instead of numbers.

You vaguely recall seeing somewhere the sequence of symbols, STAR – HEART – HORSESHOE. However, you can’t quite remember the symbols STAR – HEART – HORSESHOE. You will need the piece of paper with STAR – HEART – HORSESHOE written on it if you wish to remember the sequence STAR – HEART – HORSESHOE.

This paragraph starts to get repetitive because it keeps saying “START – HEART – HORSESHOE”. I wonder if this is based on video game narration sometimes being weirdly phrased. Also, it’s doing a thing done a lot in Homestuck: bringing old bits of foreshadowing and stuff to light.

Problem Sleuth is commanded to use his hammer to pry the wooden boards off the door, but the door simply swings open because the boards didn’t actually obstruct the door,. This is the interface-screwy nonsense in reverse: rather than a simple convenient thing turning out to be ridiculously frustrating, something that looks like a challenging task does not actually need to be gone through at all.

I’m now finished with Chapter 3, which as I promised will be my stopping point for today. See you next time as we get to play as Pickle Inspector who probably will do even more confusing nonsense.

Next – Part 3: Imagination Cooperation Station

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