The lowly difference puzzle. I may have begrudgingly mulled over two nearly-identical, typically banal, illustrations to suss out the discrepancies when I was a kid, but it certainly wasn't because I wanted to. No, I often only did it as a last resort to try and desperately savor the comics page, to put off acknowledging that fun time was over and that it was time to move onto more serious sections of the newspaper, and ultimately, the day.
I've since relegated the difference puzzle to the lower tiers of puzzledom. While I may be content to whittle away extra time on a crossword puzzle, a Picross, Sudoku, or even a Jumble, I normally wouldn't dream of diving into a difference puzzle. Except that recently, I was desperately looking for a unique diversion, a break from a particularly stressful deadline, and the Flash-based 6 Differences fell into my lap.
6 Differences is a truly modern difference puzzle. Instead of cartoonish scrawls developer Ivory Boy sets a mood. He starts with startling vibrant and evocative, and lovingly retouched, photography, then he adds slight, but nevertheless haunting, ambient sounds (as well as an optional piano-laden soundtrack). He tops the frames off with some minor but effective animations: a moon perpetually rising and setting, the pulsing of a distant tower's lights, the blur of a train passing in the background. Sometimes the pictures are unnervingly serene and sometimes they're absurdly surreal but they're always memorable and they always suck you in, which is paramount with a difference puzzle (at least with a good one). You shouldn't be examining the frames as a chore, you should be doing so because you want to explore them.
But exploring is only half the story here – there's also the interaction, the feedback. As you go through each of his scenarios, the difference count is reflected in the environment, counting down as you click and discover more and more discrepancies. And each clicked discrepancy evokes a higher pitched piano strike, a clueful but unsatisfying tone that leaves you hunting for all six differences, resulting in a gratifying chord, signaling the arrival of a new scene.
Each scenario in 6 Differences evokes a deeper story, a motive behind the moment, be it captured in the original photo itself, implied by the added animations or by the ambient sounds, but they singularly feel substantive. While some scenarios feel conceptually weaker than others (personally, I feel the game's on surer footing while exploring desolate urban landscapes instead of picturing mirrored surrealist frenzies, but that might just be me) 6 Differences is more than the sum of its parts. It's more than just two almost-identical images paraded out for your inspection. It transplants you to a different place, one with its own rules: the differences themselves aren't animated, nor are they doubled-up on an object, nor are they always immediately visible. And as you delve deeper, the rules of his difference universe are slowly revealed, until you're finally able to expertly read all of them, thus completing the entire puzzle. You look to the sky, the heavens open and all is right, serene and aligned, and you're prepped and equipped to confront the rest of your day head-on, ready for any discrepancies and errors you might encounter.