Dear Holmes games offer amateur sleuths Sherlock Holmes-like mysteries to solve in the Covid-safe confines of their own home. / Courtesy of Letterjoy.
Foggy Victorian England is a great place for a Covid night in.
The TV is off. The dinner is warm. The libation is poured. You open the mail to find a letter from a man in desperate need of a detective’s help. And like that, the game is afoot.
For the next month, you’ll be engaged in an old school mystery, following clue to clue until the case has been solved. And, despite how devoid of life your living room might currently seem, you won’t be alone. Others are racing to solve the case too.
Dear Holmes presents a possible new way for gamers, escape room and interactive theater fans and lovers of mystery tales to beat their Covid blues. The Holmes in Dear Holmes, is of course Sherlock, and for the price of membership, a mystery adventure can be extracted right from you mailbox.
“I consider it an interactive fiction experience with some game-like/puzzle-like elements,” says Letterjoy founder Michael Sitver. Letterjoy is built around a love of history and the lost art of letter writing. But escape room and puzzle fans can find a new source of fun. Sherlock Holmes fans too.
Halloween Every Night talked with Sitver about his company and what mysteries Dear Holmes members can expect from their mailbox.
Halloween Every Night: This is a very old school idea, yet somehow very new. I’m immediately reminded of Little Orphan Annie decoder rings, correspondence courses and a lot of ads I saw in the backs of comic books years ago. How did the idea for Dear Holmes come about?
Michael Sitver: I came up for the idea for Letterjoy, our historic mail service, when I was in college.I was at my mailbox, and lamenting that nobody really sent mail to twenty-year-olds. I’m a huge history nerd, so I realized it might be cool to receive historic letters in my mailbox, as if I were the original recipient. I’m also a mystery nerd, so Dear Holmes was a natural extension, and we launched it about a year into Letterjoy’s existence.
HEN: Is it about using Sherlock Holmes to satisfy people’s love of puzzles or about using puzzles to turn people on to Sherlock Holmes?
MS: We launched Dear Holmes to provide detective-fiction lovers and puzzlers with a fun, offline addition to their weekly routine.
HEN: Explain the idea of competing with strangers to be a “featured detective.” Again, I think of older stuff like being a top scorer on a Space Invaders game at an arcade. But, ya know, cerebral. And also, how competitive do people get?
MS: One thing that sets us apart from just about every mystery business out there is that we offer a new mystery every month, and the mysteries play out in real-time. The Featured Detective program is our way of allowing detectives to engage directly with the mysteries as they progress, and to show off their solving skills to the world. People get really into it. Among other things, I’ve seen participating detectives write programs to solve ciphers, create intricate backstories and letterhead for their personal detective agencies, and hand-write their responses in secret code.
HEN: Who are the writers and how much time do they take in putting together the mysteries?
MS: We work with a variety of authors through our partner, MX Publishing. The time to write the initial draft varies, but once we select a draft mystery for publication, it takes 1-2 months of back and forth with our editorial team to get it ready to run.
HEN: Why are solutions by mail given a bonus?
MS: The first reason is to reward detectives for the extra time and effort required to mail their solution in, versus our online form (and for the advanced planning it requires to get us an accurate solution in a timely manner).
The second reason is that many of the detectives who mail in their solution put extra effort in to make the look and feel of their paper solution match the story they’re telling (through creative letterheads, paper choices, and various other touches).
HEN: I like the weekly letter and clue. What is the reason for drawing it out like that?
MS: Waiting and serialization is an under appreciated, and increasingly rare experience nowadays. TV shows come out all at once now. Books and news can be downloaded at the touch of a button. Waiting breeds anticipation, and receiving the mystery piecemeal forces more creative and deep thought than would be required if we sent it all at once. It’s also just nice to have something to look forward to on a weekly basis.
HEN: Dear Holmes was working remotely before it became a necessity. Occasionally, someone will have a question or problem, how can “detectives” in the middle of a mystery get an answer?
MS: For product questions, our support team is available to help at Dearholmes.com/support. For question about a mystery, I’d advise waiting until the mystery is complete (and Holmes has written you with a solution) and, if one still has questions, re-reading the letters you’ve received. The answer, though sometimes hidden, should be there for you to see.
HEN: What’s the value of a good mystery nowadays?
MS: I think everyone finds a different sort of meaning in a mystery. To me, a good story offers an escape. A good mystery offers, in addition, the opportunity to put myself in someone else’s shoes. To solve one of our mysteries, you need to understand both the language and the motivations of the characters writing you letters. It’s, as the saying goes, “an exercise in empathy.”
Halloween Every Night readers have an exclusive chance to win a free one-month membership to Dear Holmes. To enter for your chance to win, subscribe to our e-newsletter with the form located at the bottom right-hand side of the home page. The winner will be randomly selected on May 14.
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