Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is a movie that was recently released in 2022 following the fairly successful Knives Out movie from 2019. In the opening scenes of the movie, most members of the cast receive a mysterious box in the mail. Gathering together on a conference call, they quickly discover that it is a mechanical puzzle box and set to collaboratively solving all of its puzzles.
This article will walk you through all of the puzzle box’s puzzles individually, in the order that they were solved in the movie. Obviously, there are movie and puzzle spoilers below.
Puzzle 1: The Autostereogram
Necessarily, the first puzzle was to figure out how to open the box in some way and had little to work with other than the surface of the box, which at first inspection seemed to have no seams or openings. The wood grain of the exterior of the box presented an optical illusion known as an autostereogram.
There are two ways an autostereogram can be viewed: wall-eyed and cross-eyed. Most autostereograms are designed to be viewed in only one way, which is usually wall-eyed. Wall-eyed viewing requires that the two eyes adopt a relatively parallel angle, while cross-eyed viewing requires a relatively convergent angle. An image designed for wall-eyed viewing if viewed correctly will appear to pop out of the background, whereas if viewed cross-eyed it will instead appear as a cut-out behind the background and may be difficult to bring entirely into focus.Wikipedia
When viewing the autostereogram, the image revealed an arrow pointing to the location of a hidden button which when pressed, opened the upper part of the box to reveal the first set of puzzles inside the box, revealing the first of four individual puzzles through a opened window. The remaining three puzzles were locked behind screens over their windows.
Puzzle 2: Chess Endgame
The next puzzle presented a square grid with tracks intersecting every point of the grid and a few rows of red and blue pins opposing each other. The pins had ball tops and extended down into the tracks on the grid, were arranged in two rows opposing each other, and only had three of the pins out of place; one blue and two red. Anyone familiar with the game of chess easily recognizes the layout and placement as a representation of a chess game, however what is the solution?
The placement of the pins, representing chess pieces on a board, were in an early endgame position known as the “Fool’s Mate”, allowing the blue (black) player to checkmate the red (white) player in a single additional move. The viewer could determine that blue moved next by the relatively early state of the game; three moves in, red (white) having moved first. With the state of the board being set up for blue to move next, the solution to the puzzle is the only move that would checkmate red and end the game with the next move.
Moving the pin representing blue’s queen on the diagonal track from d8 to h4 checkmates red’s King unlocked the next puzzle in the sequence.
Puzzle 3: Tic-Tac-Toe Morse Code
Telegraph keys were used in the days of the telegraph to transmit messages electronically over long distances using electric telegraph lines. Since the technology was fairly primitive by today’s standards, the messengers were limited to a binary set of states that could be achieved; electricity on or off. The other variable that messengers could introduce was the length of time, or duration that an on state persisted, which allowed them to create another binary system out of the on state consisting of “dots” and “dashes”, or “dits” and “dahs”, by varying the length of time that the power on the telegraph line was in the on position. Morse Code was developed to create short code sequences of dits and dahs that represented letters of the 26 basic Latin letters and one accented Latin letter (é), the Arabic numerals, and a small set of punctuation and procedural signals.
The game of tic-tac-toe has two opposing players, each represented by a single character (X or O), hinting at use of the binary system of dits and dahs. Interpreting the Xes and Os of the completed tic-tac-toe game as Morse Code, with X as dah and O as dit, tapping the codes for the three letters represented, “OUR”, into the telegraph key solved the puzzle and unlocked the next one.
Puzzle 4: Sliding Puzzle & Magnetic Lock
The next puzzle was a classic Sliding Puzzle. Fairly easy to solve, you simply slide the pieces around one at a time until they are all in the correct position, revealing the originally-scrambled picture. Once the pieces were all in the correct position, it revealed the letter “N”:
A common mechanism in puzzle boxes are magnetic keyed locks, requiring some kind of magnetic key to move an internal metal latch, or, as in this case, using an internal compass mechanism to trigger a lock to open when the box is positioned correctly along the Earth’s magnetic field. Deducing that “N” could mean “North”, such as indicated on a compass or a compass rose on a map, turning the entire box so that the “N” was on the North side of the puzzle box triggered the next puzzle to unlock.
Puzzle 5: Music Box
The next puzzle is a music box that immediately begins playing even before its screen becoming unlocked. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who conveniently just happened to be nearby, recognizes the song as Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Little” Fugue in G minor. A fugue in music is a type of composition wherein a sequence is repeated and layered. The character in the movie describes this as a “musical puzzle based on just one tune” where “when you layer this tune on top of itself it starts to change, and turns into a beautiful new structure.”
Somehow this leads one character to realize that the center knob can be lifted up.
This causes the entire surface of the box containing the puzzle windows to lift up, spin, then settle back down on four new puzzles, again with one of the windows open and the other three locked with screens. The character exclaims “a whole new tune”, which seems to only makes sense in hindsight. How you get from “layers” to “pull this knob to reveal more layers” is a bit of a stretch.
Unfortunately, the next four puzzles are completely blown past, with very little explanation for the viewer at all.
Puzzle 6: Fibonacci Spiral
This puzzle is not explained other than a background character saying “That first one’s a Fibonacci sequence.” Other than the brief glimpse of the puzzle shown above, which does indeed show either the recognizable golden spiral of which the Fibonacci Spiral approximates when you plot a Fibonacci sequence and use quarter-circle arcs inscribed in the squares derived from the sequence, no further explanation is given.
This looked like it could have been a very cool puzzle with some sliding or rotating bits, but the movie simply moves on to the next puzzle being revealed.
Puzzle 7: Abacus
The next puzzle not explained at all, and not even named or talked about by the characters, is obviously an abacus. The abacus, or “counting frame”, is a calculating tool developed in antiquity. It is made up of movable beads strung on wires or sticks, representing digits. The positions of the beads can be used to perform mathematics.
We don’t see the full puzzle until much later in the puzzle-solving sequence, but here it is. In addition to the five rows of beads, the puzzle says “Cogito + Ergo = Sum”, a Latin phrase converted into a mathematical equation defining the math that needs to be solved.
The “first principle” of René Descartes‘s philosophy, “Cogito, ergo sum”, is usually translated into English as “I think, therefore I am.” How this translates into values to plug into the equation is not discussed nor explained. The characters simply slide some of the beads around and the next puzzle magically unlocks.
Puzzle 8: Constellation Projector
The next puzzle window that opens triggers a light projector which projects a starfield on the ceiling with various constellations traced out.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN!? No explanation, on to the next puzzle.
Puzzle 9: Name That Element
The next puzzle shows a depression with a silvery rock, a rotary dial with two digits, and a bolted on plate with a switch. This one was presumably just “name that element”, because one of the characters (ironically not the scientist) looks up the atomic number for silver (47), enters 47 on the dial, they all flip their switches, and…
Upon completing the ninth and final puzzle, the box closes back up, you hear some gears and mechanisms clicking and whirring, and the box then reopens to reveal a seemingly metal (?) replica of the glass (!) onion.
The onion then splits along its edges to reveal a note. Want to know what the note said? You’ll just have to watch the movie… “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” is currently streaming on Netflix.
While the beginning few puzzles were simple while still somewhat fun, the puzzle-solving montage sped up to the point that some of the later, more intriguing puzzles were glossed over, some to the point of not even having enough context to offer the opportunity for puzzle solvers and gunters to try to solve them themselves later. We’re not even sure if some of those puzzles even have solutions.
The overall pacing of the puzzle-solving sequence was also fairly quick, where rather than walking the audience through the solvers’ thought processes to arrive at conclusions, many of the characters just immediately jumped directly to the solution, such as at Puzzle 6, which lasted all of a few seconds. While the puzzle box was a fun beginning to the movie, a lot was left to be desired for puzzle enthusiasts, which seemed to reduce this sequence in the movie to a simple plot device without much meat for the intellectual to chew on.
Do you like novels, short stories, poems, shows, movies, theater, and other literary and visual storytelling that contain puzzles, ciphers, or Easter eggs? Rogue Signal maintains both a literary reading list and a visual media watch list chock full of more mind-teasing content. Can you find them?