Help finding sci fi short story
June 9, 2010 2:15 PM   Subscribe

I need help finding the title and author of a science fiction story. The basic plot goes like this: A guy finds a graffiti-covered box (looks like a telephone box or a power box) in the woods and realizes it is a puzzle. He opens layer after layer of the box to find harder puzzles that involve high math and even chemistry. He eventually is stymied and gives up. Turns out the box is an alien test to see if we are ready for first contact.

Thanks for your time.
posted by parapilot to Writing & Language (15 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I would swear that's an episode of the new Outer Limits, but I can't find it.
posted by Gorgik at 2:39 PM on June 9, 2010

It is not "Mimsy Were the Borogoves," though that has some similarities.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:51 PM on June 9, 2010

Do you remember roughly when you read this story? And if it was in a magazine or an anthology or what?
posted by Justinian at 3:29 PM on June 9, 2010

If we are listing stories that it isn't but that are similar, it also isn't "Diamond Dogs".
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 5:13 PM on June 9, 2010

I thought of Diamond Dogs too, but no way.
posted by Max Power at 5:20 PM on June 9, 2010

Yeah, the only thing this has in common with "Diamond Dogs" is the progressively harder puzzles. Great novella.
posted by Justinian at 5:23 PM on June 9, 2010

Some Google searching led me here, where someone has apprently asked the same question about the same book. Still no answers, but clues:

"Please help me find the title / author of a great story I read a few years ago. It is modern (last 50 years at least). The synopsis is: Guy finds a grafitti-covered box (like a telephone cable box- bolted to the ground) in the woods. He fools with it and realizes it is a puzzle. He checks with local utilities, Forest Service, etc and nobody claims it. After repeated trips into the woods to work on the puzzle, he gets to a certian level and can go no further because it is too difficult. The last grafitti he sees is of somebody famous (Ben Franklin, I think). It turns out it is a test left by aliens to judge when they need to make first contact. Any help would be much appreciated! Thanks BH"
posted by oulipian at 5:26 PM on June 9, 2010

To follow up, a Google search for "science fiction" "short story" alien puzzle led me here:

"In Raymond F. Jones' "The Alien Machine" an incredibly complex electronic jigsaw puzzle serves as an alien recruiting test for the brightest human engineers. While the duplication of vacuum tube-like devices to complete the alien device rings a bit dated, the story does portray the single-mindedness of the engineer before a thorny problem quite well."

Is that it?

The Wikipedia article for Raymond F. Jones notes that ""The Alien Machine", first published in the June, 1949 Thrilling Wonder Stories, was later expanded into the novel This Island Earth".

This eventually led me to the Wikipedia article for Interocitor, which is pretty interesting in itself. Hope this is what you were looking for!
posted by oulipian at 6:05 PM on June 9, 2010

It's not "The Alien Machine" unless parapilot was badly misremembering the story. TAM is the first novella (or is it a novelette? I dunno, those distinctions don't matter much these days) that formed the basis for This Alien Earth. It's not much like what parapilot describes.
posted by Justinian at 6:16 PM on June 9, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, all. I have been looking for it for a while... and yes, oulipian, I posted that question on another site months ago. I read the story around 10 years ago and it is definitely fairly modern (last 30 years or so). More stuff I remember: The main character calls the forest service, local utilities, etc and gets the run around. No one claims the box. Some of the graffiti is from famous people.... Edison and maybe Ben Franklin, and it has been there a long time. The guy gets farther than anyone else, then it gets too difficult, so he gives up. The aliens decide we are not ready and classify us as an emerging life form worthy of further study. I love anthologies and am pretty sure that's where I read it. I think the story was less than 10 pages. That's all I can remember. Heck, maybe I made it up in a jaeger-induced dream. I think we're close. Once again, thanks.
posted by parapilot at 7:48 AM on June 10, 2010

Response by poster: One other thing I remembered... As each layer of the box opens, there is no perceptible change in the size of the box. It's as if the layers are paper thin. It also hints at the idea that the box has LOTS of puzzle layers. Still looking. Thanks.
posted by parapilot at 10:56 AM on June 19, 2010

Response by poster: One more thing: I usually buy old "Best Of.." anthologies, like Hugo or Nebula winners of a certain year. It may have been in one of those. I have looked at the Wiki article listing all the Hugo and Nebula winners, but nothing rang a bell. Still looking. Thanks
posted by parapilot at 11:45 AM on June 21, 2010

Best answer: The Monitor, by John Richard DeRose.

I'd love to take credit for this, but I'd never heard of the story before. Luckily, Mike Brotherton had.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 6:10 PM on June 21, 2010

Response by poster: Wow! I think that's it! I remember having that book, but I can't find it now. Is there anywhere on the web one can read the story? I guess I will have to buy the book again. Thank you It's Never Lurgi and Mike Brotherton! Thanks all for your time. Whew!
posted by parapilot at 11:10 AM on June 22, 2010

Response by poster: Got the book today. That's the story. Thanks again guys!
posted by parapilot at 8:20 AM on June 27, 2010

« Older Seriously sexy reads wanted for the beach   |   Who wants to be a music promoter (because I don't)... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.