It’s not where we are. It’s where we’re going.

Watch your step, li’l lady.

Yesterday a bold raccoon scaled the UBS Bank building in downtown St. Paul, riveting the internet to their computers all day and all night. Minneapolis Public Radio adopted the raccoon’s cause under the hashtag #MPRraccoon. No human could help the raccoon without potentially frightening her¹ into a deadfall. The St. Paul Fire Department declared it could not risk a firefighter’s life for a being it would chase out of the firehouse with a broom. Despite the viewers’ cries for everything from breaking windows to pizza, our little pal was on her own.

Reminder: We have glass to keep critters like her out.

A cynic’s view of this is that America was watching an animal die in real time. Only one step back from Naked and Afraid, and only a half-step away from televised executions, watching an animal potentially fall to her death or expire from dehydration was something uniquely 2018.

That wasn’t how it was seen at all. #MPRraccoon was a tail — sorry, tale — of American industriousness, of perseverance in the face of overwhelming odds, of hope. Overmatched by architectural complexity and exhaustion, our furry hero — we named her Rabbit, after Thor’s name for Rocket in Infinity War — sussed out how to scamper up to safety in the dark of night. Cat treats and cages were waiting for her on the roof, which she reached over 18 hours into her journey. How she got there is worthy of the game theory analysis I give to events like the negotiations between North Korea and the US, which also occurred this week. And it was a lot less riveting than the raccoon.

That’s because Presidents Trump and Kim didn’t have to solve the world’s biggest game of Frogger ever played.

Now this is a puzzle game.

Yes, Frogger! You remember Frogger. It’s the classic puzzle videogame in which you play a hapless amphibian who foolishly hops across a crowded and deadly freeway. Up-left-up-right-right-right-down-left-up-up-freedom! It’s the stuff that great musicals are made of.

This is how Frogger is played.

Despite having no speeding trucks, our bandit’s path was no less deadly than the froggie’s. It started from a seven-story roof, then straight up the middle of the north wall’s central column. Along the way, we saw closely how a raccoon climbs: claws hooked in from the side, belly stabilizing against the curvature of the column. As Rabbit hopped from window to window, resting at times, it was obvious that the critter was born of millions of ascended trees through the millennia. To our heroine, the columns of the bank wall was just an astonishingly regular forest.

Totally doable.

Which made it all the more terrifying when she got up to the 23rd floor and realized the last twenty feet were a sheer, flat wall. There are no trees like that anywhere. Suddenly Rabbit went from imperiled to doomed. For six agonizing hours in the dark of night, she pondered her mortality. Then she bolted up to the vent grates above and found no recourse there. She could stick her weary paw into the grate, but forcing herself through wasn’t happening.

NOT doable.

Dejected, Rabbit clambered down one story, and two bright new possibilities suddenly emerged. The first was the possibility of scaling down the entire building. Sure enough, around midnight that’s exactly what the raccoon started to do, descending from the 23rd floor to the 17th. But still, that was a long, perilous journey down.

Run, Rabbit, run.

But then, another possible path to success opened up. In her descent, Rabbit moved laterally three windows to the right and ended up on the corner column, which went all the way to the roof. My design partner Gaby and I could see it. Could our li’l buddy? Resting on the first windowsill of the west wall, Rabbit occasionally looked up through the darkness. Who knew what was meandering through her nectarine-sized brain on a night like this?

Triumph, that’s what. Around 3 am, Rabbit just took off up the corner column, and then boop! right over the rooftop. We don’t know what happened then, but presumably a high-five was involved. Rabbit could relax, and so could an exhausted nation.

In the process, I mapped her route. I counted nineteen windows and grates over five columns and seven floors of the building (see the map I made at left). That was a strategy worthy of a Frogger high-score in every way. (Don’t @ me if you spent hours counting to a different number.)

I don’t know if Rabbit ever felt hopelessness in her epic journey. I know we all have felt it over the last two years. The world is spinning toward a wholehearted embrace of corruption, regression, and aggression at the hands of a manchild president and his evil cronies. That picture of Angela Merkel, Shinzo Abe, and the rest of the G7 exasperated at the unthinkable boor before them seems just like all of us who don’t wear MAGA caps. The President’s lobbying for Russia and warm embrace of the dictator Kim just cemented it, though maybe for some good? Maybe? Probably not. Mostly we just got fleeced because our great negotiator is an unprincipled doof. Hopelessness is a reasonable response to all this.

No, actually, Rabbit, this is pretty great if you think about it.

But Frogger tells us never to think like this, and for the most part, we don’t. I’ve described the difference between a puzzle and a game thusly: A game is an activity where, if fairly constructed, two sides given the same advantages will have a roughly equal chance to win. A puzzle is an activity where, if fairly constructed, one side will have all the advantages — preparation, skill, knowledge of the answer — and despite all of that, the disadvantaged side is expected to win.

Puzzle games are by their nature not unsolvable. They may be hard. They may be fiendish, in fact. But they have at least one answer, or they’re not puzzles. Deep down, humans know this. But here’s what they also know: Some of us are not good at puzzles. We don’t even want to be. This is not what we do. Instead, we let others solve our problems. Presidents, say.

Well, we can’t always do that. Sometimes we’re presented with a puzzle and we just have to solve it on our own. There’s no help coming. We just have to think our way through to the answer, which is right in front of us. There’s a corner column somewhere. It leads straight to the top. We will find it soon.

Just remember, it wasn’t terribly great in late 2008 either. We responded to an attack on US soil by embroiling ourselves in two forever wars. Wall Street deregulation crushed the housing market, setting up a staggering Great Recession. We were torturing people. A lot. It was bad.

A smart, kind man came by holding a little book called The Audacity of Hope. He’d solved the puzzle of hopelessness, and he had some ideas about those problems the Bush administration and its evil cronies inflicted on us. It was gonna be hard. Maybe fiendish. But there were answers. There always are.

Till we find them, just make sure you’re on the right pillar, and keep climbing.

This is the seventeenth installment of a series on politics and game theory. It has covered impeachment, Russian collusion, white supremacy, abortion, guns, nuclear war, debt, the NFL, sexual harassment, the Mueller probe, taxes, Trump’s first year, the Clinton Foundation, immigration, parades, and the Democrats. These essays are in my book Game Theory in the Age of Chaos, which you can order by clicking the link.

¹ A previous version had the raccoon as a male, so we’ve changed all the pronouns. Sorry about that, Rabbit.