This article contains major spoilers for The Witness.
The Witness contains a multitude of puzzle elements that dictate the rules of the puzzles. In this section, you will learn the rules of each puzzle type, where to find the tutorial area for each type, and where each type shows up on the island in general.
If you want to learn the rules on your own, please avoid this page.
Puzzles revolve around a simple, line-drawing mechanic, where you must draw the correct path from a circular starting point to a rounded end point. Every puzzle in is driven by this basic and intuitive mechanism.
It's easy to think of puzzles in The Witness as mazes. Sometimes the puzzles actually do resemble mazes, with winding paths and dead ends. But for the most part, puzzles are actually grid-based problems, where the "dead ends" and "winding paths" are determined by layers of new rules introduced in each area on the island. New challenges emerge when rules are combined and sometimes the solution isn't even apparent on the grid itself.
Hexagons are introduced near the Entry Area at the white shed.
Hexagons appear along the paths of a puzzle. In order to complete puzzles that feature these tiny black hexagon-shaped dots, the line you draw must intersect with each one along the way before reaching the end point. Think of it like connecting the dots! You must connect all the dots before reaching the end point for this to work.
If the dots appear in different colors, like on Symmetry Island, it means you have to collect those dots with a line of the corresponding color – so blue lines can only get blue dots and yellow lines can only get yellow dots. Black dots can be picked up with lines of any color.
In order to complete the puzzle, the line must travel through all of the hexagons. Hexagons have several variations:
- In symmetry-based puzzles, blue and yellow hexagons may appear. The blue player-drawn line must pass through the blue hexagons, and the yellow mirrored line must pass through the yellow hexagons. Either line can pass through black hexagons.
- In some sound-based puzzles, hexagons may appear as hexagons of varying sizes. Small hexagons indicate a higher pitch, while large hexagons indicate a lower pitch.
Colored squares appear within the cells of a puzzle. In order to complete a puzzle, the line must separate all differing colors.
To complete puzzles that feature black and white squares, you must use the line to "separate" the different colors. Think of the line like a wall, where only black squares can be grouped with other black squares, and only white squares can be grouped with other white squares. The edge of the grid counts as part of the "wall" you're drawing.
Squares don't have to be paired with all the squares of their same color, meaning it's okay to isolate them by themselves if necessary. Squares just can't occupy the same space as a different color.
Multicolored squares behave in the same way as black and white squares. They must be separated, or walled off, using the line you draw, but because puzzles that feature multicolored squares usually include more than two colors, the challenge here is to section off more than two spaces. Like puzzles with black and white squares, the edge of the grid acts as a wall.
It's okay to section off individual squares into their own space. They don't have to be paired with all the squares of their same color, they just can't be in the same space as a different color.
Some puzzles feature a second entry point that draws a second line to mirror your own. Solving symmetry puzzles are all about finding the right path and avoiding dead ends so that both lines can successfully reach their separate end points.
Shapes are introduced in the Marsh.
Groups of yellow blocks appear within the cells of a puzzle. In order to complete a puzzle, the line must partition the blocks so that the shape of the partition matches the shape of the groups of blocks contained within it. Tetris block puzzles require you to draw tetromino shapes with your line while making sure the symbol for that shape occupies a space inside the shape you've drawn. Multiple blocks can occupy a single partition, and they can be moved around within the partition.
In many puzzles, you'll need to combine two shapes to make it work, in which case it's important to remember that the shapes you're drawing don't necessarily need to "contain" their corresponding symbols. As long as both symbols are within the space of your combined shape, you can rearrange the shapes themselves in any way that fits.
What you can't do, however, is overlap the physical shapes themselves. If you're trying to fit more than one shape into a single space with your line, those shapes have to be able to stack and fit alongside each other without overlapping.
As an example of all these rules combined, notice the way the solution in the puzzle pictured above works. The horizontal 4-block tetromino fits along the very bottom of the grid, while the two vertical 3-block tetrominoes fit to the left and right of the grid, stacked on top of the horizontal block so they don't overlap.
If a group of blocks is tilted, it can be rotated, though it cannot be flipped.
Groups of hollow blue blocks also appear within the cells of a puzzle and remove blocks from groups of yellow blocks. This can include overlapping blocks or blocks that are outside of a partition. If the number of blue and yellow blocks are equal in a partition, the partition will be valid regardless of shape.
The outlined blue Tetris-like blocks can cancel out blocks from Tetris shapes, allowing you to modify the shape you need to make. Think of them like "negative" blocks capable of subtracting pieces from tetrominoes.
Stars are introduced in the Treehouse.
Colored stars appear within the cells of a puzzle. In order to complete a puzzle, the line must separate the stars so that each star is paired with exactly one other puzzle element of the same color, which can include other stars, blocks, or jacks. Unlike squares, stars can be grouped with stars or blocks of other colors. Stars must be separated into pairs if they're the same color, but can be grouped with other pairs of stars if they're all different colors.
For example: in a 2x2 grid with four orange stars, two pairs of stars have to be separated by the line you draw. But in a 2x2 grid with two orange stars and two pink stars, it's okay if all four share the same space. Just remember, the number of same-colored stars in the same space can't exceed two.
There will be times you see the star puzzles paired with multicolored squares, which you would separate as normal in most cases. These multicolored squares are okay to share a space with the stars as long as they're not from the same color as the stars. If the stars are from the same color as some of the squares, however, they can only occupy the same space as squares of a different color.
For example: black squares must be grouped with white stars, and white squares must be grouped with black stars.
In cases where there are an odd number of stars, it's possible to substitute a square of the same color instead. Since it acts as a replacement star, that square must be isolated from any other squares from the same color to count as well.
For example: In a 2x2 grid with one white square, one black square, and one white star, you would use the line to isolate the black square and group the white star with the white block.
In rare cases, you may find a tetromino or a jack from the same color as a star. They interact with the stars the same way as a square.
Jacks are introduced in the Quarry.
The "upside-down Y" symbol or "elimination mark" is easily one of the most complicated puzzle types. It has no official name that we know of yet, but it resembles the Mercedes Benz logo.
Jacks appear within the cells of a puzzle. Jacks nullify one puzzle element contained within its partition, including hexagons, squares, stars, and blocks, and they must do so in order for a puzzle to be completed.
This symbol acts as a way to subtract one element from a puzzle, but the symbol has to share a space with the element you want to subtract.
For example: if there are several red squares and one green, you can group everything together so the jack deletes the green square from the equation, making the grid effectively full of red squares, so the puzzle “works.”
While this rule is first introduced using red and green squares, it can be used to eliminate any rule from a grid, including black hexagon dots, Tetris blocks, and stars.
Puzzles with triangles can be found scattered throughout the island; there is no dedicated tutorial area for triangles.
Triangles appear within the cells of a puzzle. In order to complete the puzzle, the cell containing the triangle must be surrounded with a number of lines equal to the number of triangles within the cell.
Several puzzles revolve around environmental clues that vary depending on where you are. The rules discussed beyond this point will be organized by the location, but it doesn't mean a particular rule is confined to that area. Environmental clues are necessary in a lot of puzzles, so take what you learn here and apply it to puzzles you get stuck on. It might just lead you to the answer.
If you don't want the rule and its corresponding area spoiled, do not continue! If you want puzzle solutions for the following areas, see Areas.
Some areas in the game, such as Symmetry Island, may require you to look through the translucent glass panel and trace along "obstacles" that can be seen in the distance. In the case of the image above, you would trace around the rocks.
Some areas in the game, like the Cherry Blossoms, may require you to "recreate" something you see in the environment. In the example shown above, the solution would be to trace a line from the start point to the branch containing the apple.
There's a different way to solve each hedge maze in the Keep so pay close attention.
The Shady Trees area is all about shadow and light. In one half of this region, you'll need to use the shadows of tree branches cast over panels as a guide, tracing your line along its path.
In the other half of this region, you'll be using paths of light created by outlining shadows as a guide, tracing your line accordingly. This one is trickier because the remainder of the path you need is often cut off and cast over nearby objects, like sheets of metal, felled trees, and so on.
Puzzles in the Monastery are similar to puzzles on Symmetry Island and in the Town for the way they revolve around tracing around obstacles. In the Monastery specifically, it's all about positioning yourself correctly to get the right perspective. If you can't find what you're looking for, take a hint from the Shady Trees.
Puzzles in the Desert are all about reflections from light and water, and positioning yourself in a way so the answer can more easily reveal itself. This rule appears again in the Town.
The Jungle is one of the few areas in the game where sound plays an extremely important role. Sound effects like birds chirping play at different pitches, and you have to track the order. On the panels that look like line graphs or frequencies, you would draw lines up to represent a high pitch, down to represent a low pitch, and across the middle to represent a pitch between the two.
In the normal looking grid puzzles in this area, sounds are represented by dots of different sizes – large dots for lower pitches, small dots for higher pitches, and medium dots for pitches in between. Just as you would with typical hexagon dot puzzles, you need to use your line to trace all the dots before reaching the end point, with the added condition that you reach them in the order that the pitches are played.