Recently my sister gave my wife Katrina and me few puzzles her children had outgrown. One of them is a wooden “sound puzzle.” Here’s what it looks like:
The child pulls out all the animal pieces and when they put each one back over the matching animal, it makes the sound for that animal. When you fit the bird piece into the bird slot, the sensor activates and it chirps. The cat meows. The dark barks. The child has fun and learns at the same time. That’s the idea.
When our 17-month-old daughter Kate started playing with the puzzle, she instantly loved it. It was great. But then the puzzle started messing with me.
A couple weeks ago, I came home late and Katrina was upstairs. I closed the front door, walked past Kate’s toys in the living room and suddenly heard “ROWF! ROWF! ROWF!” It scared the crap out of me. A second later, I realized it was just the animal puzzle.
Over the next several days, it kept making noises by itself—sometimes it would chirp, sometimes it would meow, sometimes it would bark. Eventually the puzzle settled on the bullfrog sound. Whenever I’d walk in the room, it would croak. Loudly.
One night, as we were getting ready for bed, Katrina said, “That animal puzzle keeps making noises when I’m near it.”
I said, “It’s been doing that to me too. Every time I’m in the living room, it makes the bullfrog noise.”
“For me, it’s the guinea pig,” she replied.
“You always get the same animal too?”
“Yeah. And just when I think it’s not going to happen – it happens.” She paused for a few seconds and added, “I wonder if it’s your dad trying to communicate with us.”
My dad passed away six years ago and whenever either of us experiences what could be paranormal activity—lights turning on by themselves, objects moving by themselves, etc.—Katrina suggests that it might be my dad letting us know he’s around. While I believe in ghosts, I don’t think my dad would try to communicate through a kid’s puzzle.
“I doubt it,” I said.
“You never know. It’s certainly interesting that the puzzle makes a specific noise for each of us.”
As Katrina finished putting her clothes in the dresser, we were both silent. Then she turned and said, “Did you turn off the front light?”
“I think so.”
“Could you go check?”
“Okay,” I said. “But if the puzzle makes the frog noise while I’m down there, that would be a little too freaky.”
As I walked downstairs, I yelled “Hey Puzzle!” I wanted to catch it off guard.
I walked past the living room to the front door and opened it. The front light was on, so I turned it off. Then I turned around and glanced over at Kate’s little table. Sitting silently on the table in the dark corner of the room was the puzzle. It looked ominous. I walked away and was near the foot of the stairs when the puzzle let out a loud “CROOOAAK! CROOOAAK! CROOOAAK!”
I ran up the stairs faster than usual. The stupid puzzle was messing with my head.
When I got to bed, Katrina came up with a more plausible theory about the puzzle: perhaps the sensors are light sensitive. This theory was corroborated the next day by my brother-in-law, Sean.
“The puzzle is definitely light sensitive,” Sean said. “It would meow at me. It’s a little freaky.”
“Yeah, it is.” I said. “For me, it always makes the bullfrog noise.”
“Really?” Sean said. “It’s always the bullfrog?”
“Yeah. It just did it last night.” I decided not to mention the part about me running upstairs like a little girl.
Over the long Thanksgiving weekend, the puzzle was silent. No croaking, no barking, no meowing—nothing. Then early this morning, as I walked into the kitchen to make coffee, I heard what sounded like an indignant mouse. “SQUEAK! SQUEAK! SQUEAK!” Even though I knew why it was making the noise, it still was a little creepy.
It could be worse, though. At least it's not a talking Elmo doll that makes death threats.