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Where’s Waldo?
von Richter Claus | 9/3/2009

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Some of us are sure to remember picture puzzles from our childhood. There were “spot-the-difference” pictures, “Where’s Waldo” pictures, picture puzzles, all made to be studied in great detail. Where was Waldo? Was that a giraffe or a lamppost? Or something else entirely? How many mice were scampering around in the kitchen?

Through the task of searching for something or trying to work something out that a picture puzzle like this implied, we were invited to look at a simple drawing for much longer than we might otherwise have done. A child’s attention span is probably at a similarly low level to that of an Internet surfer; you jump from one interesting moment to the next and quickly forget what you had on the screen just an hour ago, for the next exciting snippet of information is beckoning.
When you do a picture puzzle, you have to stand still. There is no other way; I have never seen anyone solve a picture puzzle on the go. (Although I have to admit, I very rarely see someone solve a picture puzzle at all, but I am convinced that it is extremely difficult to solve a picture puzzle, surf the Net or work on an assembly line and walk at the same time.)

A picture puzzle is at once relaxing and challenging. Thus it is no wonder that picture puzzles in a new form will probably follow us, our poor image-inundated generation, to the grave. Even if many of us are certain to consider this in neither a positive nor a negative light. Yet this picture craze madness now also exists in the form of an electronic game, on the Internet, in Apple’s iPhone Application shop and as viral advertising. The uncrowned king of picture puzzles, namely “Where’s Waldo?”, even spawned as many as four computer games back in the 1990s!

We can now download countless picture puzzle games onto our iPhone from iTunes. Sometimes we have to look for an American football, sometimes a European soccer ball. There are games where you have to search for cricket balls and baseballs; every ball has its own game. Find the ball! Woof woof! In “Everest Hidden Expedition”, the player goes on an expedition to Everest, meaning, he looks for tiny details in complex pictures full of a foggy atmosphere of romance and adventure. In “Stone of Destiny” on the other hand, you have to look for an uncle who has mysteriously disappeared by finding tiny objects in incredibly complex illustrations. And so on and so forth …
Moreover, the world of advertising is increasingly discovering how it can use picture puzzles. It’s hardly surprising really – what company could fail to want customers to hover in front of one of their adverts for several minutes looking for products? The brand Absolut Vodka, for example, has created a picture puzzle advert like this. Here, a kind of fantasy Bronx serves as the setting for countless miniature stories and you have to find, guess what, bottles of vodka. They are hidden between windowsills, are rattling behind ‘just married’ cars like tin cans and glowing in the night sky like ghosts. The dream of every advertising strategist has come true, and maybe it is also completely irrelevant whether we are searching for bottles of vodka or little Waldos. What we are left with in both cases is probably the pleasant feeling that our brain is in knots.

Virgin Records is now trying to occupy its customers in a more playful and complex way than Absolut Vodka. Countless figures, including a few King Kongs and other creatures, densely populate a street scene. Here the aim is not to find tiny objects, but to decode band names. It is obvious that, for example, the giant boulders rolling towards us are the “Rolling Stones”, and the fashionably illuminated advertising airship is easy to decipher as LED-Zeppelin. And indeed, when we have got this far, our ambition suddenly kicks in. Is that not “Alice in Chains”? Oh, that’s the “Smashing Pumpkins”! Ah, “Crowded House”!

And so it’s another win for advertising, only this time it is really fun. So where’s Waldo now?

To see the band names of the picture puzzle please click here.