Jonathan Safran Foer and the Secret of the Mystery BookS

A renovation of a grand Fifth Avenue apartment by a very creative architectual designer, Eric Clough, resulted in a scavenger-hunt puzzle being built into the place. The apartment—for a young family—was secretly outfitted by the designer with coded messages, scrolls, and and an original mystery book that gave clues. It was a magical game for the kids to solve—and the parents didn't even know it was being built into their house! Who was asked to be involved? And who turned it down? Why, Brooklyn novelist Jonathan Safran Foer.

In assembling talents for his project, Mr. Clough aimed high. His first choice for the author of the book, which contains clues to the scavenger hunt in addition to the mystery story, was Jonathan Safran Foer, whose work contains its own sort of coded narrative pyrotechnics. Mr. Clough sent him a little tease, a Rubik's Cube of a sculpture made of anodized aluminum, encased in an acrylic cube that opens into a puzzle stamped with his firm's phone number and the word "Please."

Mr. Foer was intrigued and gave him a call. In an e-mail recently, Mr. Foer recalled that his daughter had just been born, and he was adrift in a fog of new parenthood. "It was a very good piece of mail that came at a very bad time," he wrote. "I was losing and ignoring all kinds of things that I shouldn't have. Did we speak on the phone? The whole thing was so dreamy I can't really remember. In fact, the project was never described to me as simply as you did in your e-mail. Had it been, I would have rushed to do it. I suppose that's the price one pays for being as mysterious as Clough is. Or as skeptical as I am."

In case you missed it, that was a NEG. That said, the over 40 people involved in creating the fantastically complicated built-in house-puzzle were not paid.

Mystery on Fifth Avenue [NYT]