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Getting Started Playing Migong 《谜宫》

About a year ago, a friend of mine very thoughtfully gifted me a copy of 《谜宫》, or "Mystery Palace" in English. It's a wildly successful kickstarted "mystery book". If any of you got the Highlight's Top Secret Adventrues puzzle books as a kid, this is kind of in the same genre. You have some books, some additional maps and doodads, and it's entirely in Chinese.

I'll admit, when I got this book, I took a look, was blown away by the production values and the artistry of it, couldn't figure out how to start, and then put it away. I would take it out from time to time, look at everything and be like "man, I wish I knew how the hell to play this game." One night, during quarantine, I decided that I was going to figure it out, once and for all... by cheating, and googling 怎么玩谜宫?:how to play "Mystery Palace"?.

All these months I had been missing the fact that on one piece, there was a QR code that gave you a link to download the app, which helps get you started and guide you through the book.

Installing the Game

So, to get started:

  1. Use a QR code reader to scan the link, which will take you to a place where you can download two different versions. The top was for "mainland" and thus simplfied characters, so I assume the bottom must have been for traditional.
  2. That will download an APK. You may need to allow installation of applications from Chrome in your settings.
  3. That app is not actually the application itself. Instead, it's the Tencent Store app – which frankly, is super sketchy. I don't fault you if you want to bow out now.
  4. That will download the 《谜宫》 app and also try to trick you into downloading a bunch of other stuff. You may also need to allow the Tencent Store app to install applications in your settings.
  5. When it's done downloading, it'll likely ask you something about restarting your phone and auto-installing. I'd recommend saying no, cause I assume it's doing something fishy, like every app on Android.
  6. Eventually, you'll get it to install, which allows you to open it and see that you've downloaded an app for a specific game which seems to contain a bunch of other mystery games. 《谜宫》 should be the first one on your list, under the heading 推荐:recommended.
  7. Click on the bottom button to "start playing".
  8. Psyche, you have to log in, because this is a Chinese game and the government wants to know who you are. Since I'm in this deep, I'm just going to connect my Weixin account. This is "to avoid losing your progress". Shrug.
  9. It will ask for permission (hopefully) to use your camera to rescan the QR code.
  10. That will approve your account, which will require you to redownload the app. Or maybe you never downloaded it in the first place. Probably a good idea to go remove permissions to your camera while this is going on. While you're waiting, you might notice a few things in the game description: 1. this should only take you 4 hours. 2. it's easy. My guess is that if you're reading this along with me that is probably overly optimistic.

The Tools of the Trade

Let's take a look now at what else that first sheet tells us.

First, on the outside, the cover says 玩法说明:explanation of how to play. The circle on the top, going from inside out are the 天干:Heavenly Stems, then 地支:Earthly Branches, and then finally, repeating, 初:1st hour of a classical Chinese block of time and 正:2nd hour of a classical Chinese block of time. I'd recommend checking out the appendix of A Student's Dictionary of Classical and Medieval Chinese by Paul Kroll for more information.

As you unfold the sheet, there are lot of small drawings with vertical text next to them. These list the things you have with you and shouldn't lose:

If you don't have all that, find the person who ~sold you this fake game~ lent it to you, and try to get all the pieces back. I assume it will be hard without all of them.

Now, finally, on to the inside. First page, publication information.

Second page contains two sections, 玩法说明:explanation of how to play and 推荐语:words of recommendation.


  1. Take the box of stuff and make sure everything's there.
  2. Scan the QR code on the following page.
  3. Solve the puzzles one-by-one, the number of 解 characters represents the number of characters in the answer.
  4. Put your answer into the app.
  5. Keep exploring until the truth comes to light; there are more things for you to reveal!


This is left as an exercise for the reader, since it's just some nice words from the people who made it.

OK! WOW. We are finally almost probably ready to begin actually doing a puzzle. I'll admit, this last page in the how to play manual was a bit difficult: it's a bit literary and the calligraphic shortcuts taken in the font make some uncommon characters hard to read. Hopefully you're having a better time of it than I am.

Let's take a crack at it, shall we?

Dear 朋友

I'm like maybe 95% sure this is what the letter says. It's a good exercise in a) a more literary style letter and b) trying to read relatively consistent calligraphy.

The gist of it is: here's a really pretty book from the Qianlong period, which has a bunch of mistakes in it. They probably point to the rumored treasure. I hope that you can fulfill my dream of following the clues and seeing the mysteries uncovered. Here's a QR code to help get started. Please don't lose any of the myriad of other papers that game with this book. Yours truly, Jeff.







Attn: now that we're on the phone, I can't use Pleco without switching back and forth a lot, so bear with me as I don't rigorously translate everything. Plus, all good adventures are done with your guts, rather than an overabundance of planning and caution.

When you open the app you're prompted with a screen with a bit of setting. You're hanging out with your best bud, 周本:Zhou Ben. You hear some music: would you like to stay in the 太和殿广场:Plaza of the Hall of Supreme Harmony or 仔细聆听:respectuflly listen to the music? Everyone knows that in a horror film you shouldn't a) split up or b) respectfully listen to music, so we're going to stay in the plaza.

It scrolls down and there's more Chinese for you to read. I'll admit, I'm tempted to skip it, but there's a poem (which is SUSPICIOUSLY misaligned in the bottom row) and the last line says that 周本 is listening carefully to the poem sung by the mysterious man who disappeared into the mist, in order to discern a placename.

I'll copy it down just in case this isn't some trickery.


A mediocre translation might be

Intermittent cold fulling block¹, intermittent wind,

A broken rainbown on the waterside, listen to the playing of the zither.

The water (under) the bridge flows east to the sea,

Many tears fall with the first three notes.

¹indicating the dreary autumn

The button at the bottom says "click to enter answer". It's time to break out a map! Ok, we got an anvil., some wind, water's going east. Wait, I totally said the poem was misaligned... reading the left-most characters, we get 断虹桥 and that looks like it could be a place. Let's check the book to see. Yup, it is, let's enter it!


Now that you're at the bridge, you can scroll left to see a lad looking at 快雪时晴帖 and a badge on the tree that says 蝉:cicada.

周本 is at it again, finding a bunch of stuff on the ground or tied to the trees. The key thing here is that he also found a sheet of transparent paper with a bunch of chuck marks around the edge. Seems like they might align with that calligraphic masterpiece tied to the tree. Line up the transparent sheet of paper with your copy of 快雪时晴帖. Voila! 4 characters are aligned. 琳琅宝(traditional form) and... what the hell is that character. Turns out it's 藏. I had to cheat for that one. What the heck!

Go click to enter in your answer – 周本 will tell you to scroll back up and click on stuff, but eventually, after clicking on it enough times, I think, he'll let you enter the answer.

Our boy 周本 starts freaking out. 惊s flying everywhere. What could the treasure be! Is it Jay Chou tickets?! I sure frickin' hope so, those things are impossible to find unless you're a 富二代, and you know I'm not, cause otherwise, this would be an Instagram and you'd be my 4th crashed Bugatti.

But I digress. As you scroll down, you'll see a dead dude holding your book (ok, the 惊s make sense now. How many books do you have that have been touched by people now dead?). Suddenly, – well, as fast as you can read, I guess, – some literary-ass wind rises up (I see you, 狂风四起) and scares away the bird holding the cicada badge from before. Time to follow another vine to get that sweet sweet melon at the end.

Looks like 周本 saw some stuff on the back of our haphazard literary masterpiece. Flip that bad boy over, and we got a 京 尤 在 吕 宀 止 匕, all in different shape outlines, and those outlines then aligned in the center. So, matching all the shapes correctly, but more importantly suddently thinking about how weird of a character 就 is, you get 就在此宫:right in this palace.

Boom! Enter that in and we got the...didn't get the treasure, but we do get to scroll that cloud at the bottom up, like a literary Chinese pull down to refresh, and start Chapter 1. A worthy alternative, indeed.

Chapter 1

I just opened up the app to get going on this and there's a sequel out. Lordy, people need to stop being productive during this quarantine and let me feel better about sitting on my butt not doing anything.

Click on the first link for 卯时三刻:5:45, which pops open to describe how the classical Chinese day was divided into twelve 2 hour blocks. These chunks are further divided in to 初 and 正, 初 being the first hour of the block, and 正 being the second hour. Further, as you may know from standard Mandarin, 刻 is a 15 minute block of time. Thus, 卯时三刻 is 卯 o'clock's 3rd 15 minute interval, aka, 5:45am. Remember the front page of our instructions manual?

Let's set the scene. Your boy 周本 is up to shenanigans again. He's sitting on your bed and pulling out a bunch of old books. Oh wait, he's pulling out one specific book, 《哈利波特》! It's been nine years since the prologue (which is about how long it feels in this quarantine, too).

周本's flying around your room, rolling of the bed, flipping open copies of the book, and he gets to a 词:type of classical poetry. People debate about whether or not it means there treasure, but there's one thing we can all agree upon, when 中本 says "this poem is certainly not easy", that's a fact. Actually, turns out this one's pretty straightforward: it's an acrostic that says "look for treasure in the palace". Seems pretty open and shut to me as to what the meaning is.

Upon this discovery, which took 9 years (always pays to have a 2nd set of eyes), 周本 drags you out of your room, past all the lads selling ice, and you start to hear music again. Now, when was the last time we heard music in the palace courtyard? Yes, when Metallica played, but before then? When the mystery dude vanished into the mist. Nope, it's the empress's birthday.

You go hang out with some calligraphers so you don't get last-scene-of-Hero'd. 周本 is providing some commentary, but you should be focused on the clickable gong thingy (云锣) in the picture. Make sure you have sound on, for some midi-gong noise goodness. There's also a tag with the phrase 羊入虎口, which could be a misspelling of 羊肉户口:lamb meat hukou, but could also mean the lamb is in the tiger's mouth.

Your friend notices that on the gongs are 工尺谱:gongche notation, which is a type of musical notation that goes from 上 to 乙, 上 a 鹿 a female 鹿, 乙 a drop of golden 日~. The full order is:

Some how, you will get 4 characters out of this mess. In the book, there is also a 云锣 with 4 groups of circles underneath. A-hah! Since the circles in the book are not contiguous to the circles of the 云锣 in the app, it must indicate position of the radicals, as they appear in the book.

Thus, matching the gongs together, you get 寻找八音:look for the 8 types of music. According to the ABC dictionary, 八音 refers to the classification system of musical instrument materials: metal, stone, clay, leather, silk, wood, gourd, and bamboo.

周本 takes a quick detour to prepare an article for Bandcamp, and asks the music teachers to show him the 8 instruments that represent the 8 different construction materials. I wonder if we can use all this newfound knowledge about 中和韶乐:court music to determine what the next clue is.

Flipping to the 中和韶乐 page, we see that if you draw lines on the page, you'll intersect a bunch of characters, ultimately ending up with intersected characters. Reading the following pages in the book, you can figure out what each instrument is made out of, or deduce it from the character's redicals, which helps to connect the dots. The writing on the left side is the sentence in the app, written vertically, right to left.

The answer, once all the lines are drawn (delicately, in pencil, so as not to disrupt the beauty of the book), one gets 太和殿前嘉量, or the jialiang outside of the Hall of Supreme Harmony.

周本, in his permanet eagerness, rushes out to the foregrounds of the Hall of Supreme Harmony. But alack! Someone has stopped you because there's that big 'ol ceremony goign on. What do you do? Go look for 姚文瀚 to ask about 万寿图 or say you have some business in front of the Hall? Well, we gotta go look at that jialiang, so let's take the 2nd choice.

The person standing there tells you a bit about the steps – probably a riddle – and then disappears. Scroll down, check out the image, making sure to scroll to the right and click on the cat! You're then given 3 choices on how to go up the stairs:

  1. From the right wing, directly go up the 3 flights.
  2. Take overlapping stairs by the wall of the middle right entrance
  3. Boldly go up the 3 flights of the stairs from the center.

I'm not 100% sure on my translation of #2, so let's go with it.

Luckily, that still gets you up the stairs. 周本 has a moment, and then rushes off to check out the jialiang, describing the various measurements therein:

Using these conversions and looking at the book, we see that each conversion has part of a character. Placing these parts of the characters in the diagram (according to which measurement they equal), we spell out 隆尊养. Prepending with the 庆, we get our four character answer of 庆隆尊养, which gives praise to the empress and generally wishes her well and/or lives forever. They're the characters inscribed in the 慈宁宫.

Some exposition happens, a man strokes his beard. A lad wants to sell us his waist-pass that can get us into a bunch of places, but he looks hella fishy. The emperor goes into the 慈宁宫, stymying our progress.

Should we go back to 启祥宫 and wait for an opportunity, or wait for a chance to get in by the door to 慈宁宫?

YOLO, let's hang with the emperor.

Oh shi, something scrolled up at the top of the screen and then disappeared before I could read it.