Cookie Fonster’s Problem Sleuth Commentary Part 4: Liquor Explosions and Skull Puzzles


Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 >

Chapter 5 + part of chapter 6

Pages 328–422 (MSPA: 546–640)

NOTE: Next time I’ll try to release a Problem Sleuth post only slightly late rather than this. Sorry about all the delays.

10/1/2019 NOTE: This was my final Problem Sleuth post before I shelved the project, deeming it a failed experiment. Past the first few chapters, I couldn’t remember enough about the comic’s plot to write much meaningful about it; as such, this post isn’t really up to my quality standards. I do want to pick up my Problem Sleuth posts again someday, perhaps if I’m on a hiatus with my Homestuck posts.

When Pickle Inspector wakes to see his office flooded, the area with the elf is flooded as well. I’m kind of confused again—is that area part of the material world or not?

When Pickle Inspector is commanded to save the drowning elf, the narration says:

It is too late for him. There is nothing you can do.

First death that’s actually kind of sad.

Problem Sleuth reads an apology note of sorts from Ace Dick. As with earlier notes, this one begins with “Problem Sleuth is ___”, almost as if it’s a predisposed permutation of words; perhaps this is a parody of the repetitive way NPCs tend to behave in video games.

This reminds you, now that Pickle Inspector’s safe is closed, you can go read that note again.

Sure enough, there is the note. You can now remember the sequence STAR – HEART – HORSESHOE. 

Dammit, I don’t remember that Pickle Inspector’s safe being closed or whatever has to do with his star-heart-horseshoe note. I don’t want to lose track of the story like this; it was kind of the point that I wouldn’t do so this time around.

This image is (probably) the first of several up until a few hundred pages later that stays at its last frame for quite a long time before looping back. I guess the author eventually decided that looping animated images in a faster way would be better.

Oh wow, I really didn’t see Pickle Inspector’s candy corn act coming. As with Ace Dick, it’s kind of subverted, maybe because Tootsie Rolls are actually supposed to be Ace Dick’s candy?

You topple backwards and crush your fort.

Another action independent of reader commands; a bit weird considering that I thought we were past the stage of the detectives unwittingly destroying everything. Maybe we aren’t after all?

From left to right, the elves are Ropo, Zobo, Foko, and Blod.
Probably going to be hard to remember.

With Pickle Inspector meeting a quartet of elves playing a card game where a weasel is the enemy, this story has now officially reached places that don’t remotely have to do with detectives, or anything from the prohibition era at all. Even though fantasy stories existed during that time, it’s not in the scope of things that existed in that time.

The four elves seem analogous to super-generic NPCs, like a group of several people who are all exactly the same. Homestuck sometimes has such a thing going on, with masses of identical Prospitians and Dersites, and occasional background people in chat programs who are all exaggerated stereotypes.

Not shown: Pickle Inspector doing some more stuff.

Problem Sleuth dials star-heart-horseshoe on his phone and it reveals a secret opening. I totally didn’t see that coming; I thought for sure it was the number of Hysterical Dame or someone. The whole comic does a masterful job at things you don’t see coming, especially when they seem obvious in retrospect.

The opening inside the phone is the sheet music for Moonlight Sonata. As with a real video game, the story uses vague familiarity to clue readers in on what to do next.

After entering the speakeasy, Pickle Inspector tries to move stuff around to solve puzzles, but he can’t because his vim is too low. Given that plus his failure to do much with the four elves, the guy sure seems pretty useless now. I suppose this is the thing of balanced and unbalanced characters in action.

When Problem Sleuth plays Moonlight Sonata, this happens:

This is sort of similar to how some objects in video games can’t be moved by hand, rather through other means. But I really don’t understand how a fan would be able to move a big heavy object that a human cannot move. Video game weirdness, perhaps?

Next, Problem Sleuth and Ace Dick swap weapons and load them with each other’s bullets. Whoever submitted this command either wanted something that’s quite a daring move in terms of video games or just decided to follow through with something I forgot about; maybe the two had each other’s bullets in their inventories or something? Man, I’m really starting to forget stuff.

Not shown: Pickle Inspector tying the rope to the bust, pulleys, and oboe, and Ace Dick making candy corn liquor.

Problem Sleuth fires Ace Dick’s gun at the target but consistently misses. Though I’m pretty sure Ace Dick did the same with that gun, I’m tempted to think this is because the detectives aren’t good with using each other’s weapons.

As the narration states, nothing seems to happen with Problem Sleuth failing to hit the target. I’ll make a mental note to remember this when I see what turns out to happen thanks to missing the target.

These two pictures demonstrate something I really like about all MSPA-style webcomics. The suggestion for Ace Dick to make candy corn liquor was obviously a silly joke, but it turned dead serious due to the author’s trollish ways and set a fire in his office, blowing up its wall as well. Now he is free to leave the office, or he would be if he was actually inside. I’m almost certain there’s no way he can get in his office now, and not just because it would be too easy for him to finally be able to leave now.

Apparently Ace Dick’s office has a sprinkler as well. I thought that was specific to Pickle Inspector’s office, but I guess I only thought that because it was an unexpected convenience.

Well, the inevitable thing that would happen thanks to Problem Sleuth shooting the ceiling happened sooner than I thought it would. Maybe I should continue making these mental notes.

We saw Ace Dick’s office destroyed, but Problem Sleuth only gets to see this after being commanded to see if his office is OK.

Though it was obvious the explosion was going to block access to Problem Sleuth’s and Ace Dick, I didn’t expect it to happen this way. I guess I kind of assumed there was no way they’d be able to get in their offices regardless?

Allies are united for the first time on the material plane. You eye each other with suspicion.

Here, the story explicitly remarks a notable story event: two main characters meeting each other in person for the first time in the story. Problem Sleuth has a lot more definite of a first meeting moment than Homestuck does. Barring any dreaming scenes, there are several such moments in Homestuck that could qualify as a first meeting moment:

  • John sees Rose in person but she’s asleep.
  • Fighting a uranium imp, Jade comes across Dave in three different places due to him traveling through time, but each time he only sees her briefly.
  • John meets Rose in person again but this time she’s grimdark so it only kind of counts.
  • Dave and Jade meet in person to do frog breeding but it only happens in the top banner, as a side story shown alongside two other storylines.
  • When Dave and Rose meet up with the trolls, such in-person meetings have happened to enough of an extent that it doesn’t have the “first meeting” feel.

See what I mean here?  

You [Pickle Inspector] equip the HANDGUN, a weapon more suited to your physical strength.

It’s weird that each of the three detectives has his own key/weapon, but apparently some are more fit with each other’s weapons.  

Confusingly, Ace Dick’s next command is to step outside his office. I thought he couldn’t get there or something. Well, the important thing is that he still can’t really escape because of all the fire.

This door looks kind of like a game of Tetris.

Or I guess he can leave his office? He just can’t leave the building, because:

The exit is locked! You will need the fabled MEGATON KEY to open the door. Legend has it that only the strongest man on Earth may lift this key.

I guess I need to correct all the times I said the main goal of Problem Sleuth is for our heroes to leave their offices, since I guess it’s really to leave their building.

Also, the line quoted above sets up a major story arc: getting a hold of the Megaton Key. Only now, after almost 400 pages, do we finally get an idea of how our heroes will achieve their main goal.

What’s with the dead elf? Was that elf, and the water for that matter, from the other side of Pickle Inspector’s office or something? I’m confused again.

Ace Dick is commanded to remove the trombone blocking Pickle Inspector’s office, which is an obvious thing to consider because it’s finally achieving an object removal that seemed impossible. But because the story never cooperates with the player, it’s obvious that something bad will happen. However, by now the bad things that happen usually have already clear explanations.  

Using your advanced political acumen, you PERSUADE the party on the other side of the door to let you in. 

The door unlocks.

Here Problem Sleuth is once again shown to be able to make people do stuff, which pretty obviously matches with his role as the leader of the group. I’m pretty sure that’s still meant as a video game ability sort of thing.

Beginning of chapter 6.
This chapter opens with our heroes meeting other people in the real world for the first time in the story.

There is a large door guarded by two SURLY THUGS. 

The door is locked. It looks like it will require more weird puzzle shit to open it. 

There are three skull-shaped grooves on the wall.

By this point, the story already knows our heroes will solve puzzles, and remarks the start of such patterns accordingly.

The puzzle turns out to be a particularly strange one: it requires the skulls of the three main characters, through their dead imaginary projections. This story really seems a lot like a game that relies on remembering stuff, like many old adventure games.  

Ace Dick retrieves Pickle Inspector’s skull and brings it to the elves. It’s an open question how he knows he’s supposed to do that; the only explanation I can think of is video game logic, which forms about half of the logic behind the comic’s plot points; the other half is making things as screwy as possible.

Problem Sleuth summons the weasel emissary with elf tears and must choose whether to align with weasels or elves. Upon the reader’s command, he chooses elves and the weasel flips the fuck out. I think this command was deliberately chosen to screw with the story, probably because readers at this point know that the story is more interesting when everything messes up completely, and plus that’s how this video game story works.

Ace Dick is commanded to go through Pickle Inspector’s window and flip a switch, and the room turns out to be an elevator. I think I get it now: going through Pickle Inspector’s window takes you not outside his office like you would go by opening his door, but to a special elevator room.

Problem Sleuth aligns with the weasels and chooses Pickle Inspector as their savior, which is the obvious choice because the weasel demands a savior with a high height characteristic. As far as we can tell, this works fine, which I think is because now the video game elements of the story are more or less set in stone.

But everything changed when the weasel nation atta—never mind this reference isn’t that funny.

Note that the order of the offices is Ace Dick, then Problem Sleuth, and then Pickle Inspector, just like in the video game difficulty order I keep talking about.

Ace Dick enters a control room and sees a map of four nations at war and a control panel showing the detectives’ offices (god it feels SO WEIRD NOW calling them detectives). It heavily reminds me of the exile monitors from Homestuck; maybe those were inspired by this control room?

When Problem Sleuth sees elves and switches his allegiance accordingly, the narration says:

The elves are pacified by your gesture of good will. 

ROPO, their leader, briefs you on a CRITICAL MISSION. You exhibit signs of being the chosen hero for this mission, of which has long been prophesied by elven lore. 

Here’s another parallel between Problem Sleuth and Homestuck this page made me notice. Both adventures seem to have their main characters be “chosen ones”, which is especially true in the latter case.

The elves are grateful for your bravery. ROPO instructs you to first leave behind all of your material possessions. You cannot be burdened by such things on this quest of the spirit. 

You dump everything from your inventory into the skylight, including your HAMMER, ELF TEARS, BUSINESS CARDS, and GAME CODE SHEET. 

You drop your TOMMY GUN on the floor. You leave your CANDY CORN where it is, though.

I think it’s amusing that Problem Sleuth keeps the candy corn when he empties his inventory for Ace Dick or someone to pick up. It’s like he just knows that candy corn will come in handy.

Problem Sleuth enters the hatch and starts falling eternally. I would go on to the end of chapter 6 but I’ve already kept delaying this post so much so it’s best I pick this up in the next post. My next Homestuck post should be released in a few hours.

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