EXPRESS YOURSELF

The Manufacture of Mystery

Writing the unexplainable

Leo Cookman
Human Parts
Published in
6 min readJul 11, 2022

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A wooden cube with a question mark on a table
Photo: Liudmila Chernetska/Getty Images

A puzzle has a solution and wants to be solved. A mystery has a solution but doesn’t want to be solved. An enigma doesn’t have a solution and doesn’t want to be solved.

As children we love a puzzle. Be that a wooden one with slide-together pieces or one of the puzzle books with fun stories and fiendish conundrums inside. The result of completing a puzzle is the satisfying ‘click’ of logic, the ringing chime of a solution as the elements come together to create the whole picture and reveal an answer. Because fundamentally this is what we want, the bell-like ring of an answer. Like Pavlov’s dog the ringing bell is what we crave, not the nourishment. Puzzles are designed this way. The answer is in mind when the puzzle is created, and you want people to arrive at the solution as if finding it naturally but there will always be the guiding hand. The shapes on the edges of the pieces, the clues that are connected by a gossamer thread of reason. The design of the puzzle implies reason, leading to an end that is ultimately curated. Like a magic trick that you are privy to the working of, there is an excitement to the conclusion of a puzzle as you glimpse the thread as it catches the light and you tumble toward its end. In the end, it is a game, a blueprint of another’s mind. A puzzle is a mode of empathy.

A mystery is a puzzle born out of nature. Be that the elements of life or the nature of a person. There is weight to a mystery. A mystery does not seek to entice, there is no deliberate design to unravel, but entice us it does. There is nothing quite so intriguing as a real mystery because a mystery has stakes, consequences. Their solution bears with it, not just the satisfying conclusion of order, but the more material rewards of acclaim. Solving a mystery means gifting the knowledge as one package to another, the joy of seeing comprehension on their face knowing they now appreciate YOUR mind. The mystery is not created so you know someone else’s mind or the workings of nature, the mystery is only to be solved so others may discern yours. A mystery is inanimate without a person to imbue it with the need for a solution. It is absent any need to be solved. We assign it that need so it becomes about OUR logic and offers a map of our mind. A…

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Leo Cookman
Human Parts

Peripatetic Writer. “Time’s Lie” out now from Zero Books.