Paper Towns by John Green: A walkthrough of Margo Roth Spiegelman’s puzzle trail and clues


Paper Towns is a term used to describe places and locations that only exist on paper maps. In the early 1900s cartographers wanted to protect the hard work that went into creating maps and so placed fictional towns and even fake streets within the maps they created. When two people disputed over a map – the cartographer could usually prove they had created the map by pointing out the fake towns they had designed into the map.

It’s also the name that belongs to John Green’s book – Paper Towns – that has an upcoming film being released next month. Margo and Quentin have known each other since childhood and are next door neighbors yet they ignore each other at high school. One night Margo appears at Quentin’s window asking for help in enacting her revenge plan on people she thinks have acted in a fake manner towards her. There’s catfish, blue graffiti, flowers, vaseline involved in the plan as they set out to cause mischief. The night ends with Quentin believing things will change between himself and Margo the next day at school.

She never turns up to high school the next day and while her parents are upset – Quentin is even more worried.

 “The clues. The stupid clues. But you can never follow them anywhere, trust me.” – Margo’s mother.

Quentin takes a glance out his bedroom window soon after and spots a poster that appears only when Margo’s window blind is pulled down. It’s an image of a man with a guitar in his hand, a cigarette in his mouth and a tagline: This Machine Kills Fascists. Immediately Quentin’s friend Radar identifies the poster as one of Woody Guthrie, a folksinger. Convinced the poster is an indicator that Margo has left clues behind – Quentin and his friends ask Margo’s sister if they could search her room.

woody guthrieWoody Guthrie

At first the guys look through Margo’s collection of records that are organised alphabetically but there’s no record belonging to Woody Guthrie in the collection. However Quentin flicks through the records and sees an image of Woody Guthrie on the back of a record called Billy Bragg’s Mermaid Avenue.

braggBilly Bragg’s Mermaid Advenue – Backcover

On the backcover of Mermaid Avenue, the first song – Walt Whitman’s Niece – was circled in black pen by Margo. Having no idea who Walt Whitman is, Quentin and Radar do some quick research and discover he’s a poet. A quick search of the room reveals a copy of Walt Whitman’s poetry book – Leaves of Grass.

whitmanWalt Whitman – Leaves of Grass (Penguin Classics First Edition)

In the poetry book, there are plenty of highlighted quotes in blue and a few in green as well. The green sections read:

“Unscrew the locks from the doors!
Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs”

Another friend Ben points out to Quentin perhaps he needs to unscrew the lock from Margo’s door and also remove the door from it’s hinges. The guys then get back into Margo’s house with her sister’s help and unscrew the lock and also the door hinges but there’s no message that awaits them. Thinking again Quentin one night tries to unscrew the hinges off his own bedroom door and there awaits a tiny piece of paper.

 8328 Bartlesville Avenue.

Quentin gathers some friends to drive to the location which turns out to be an abandoned and decaying shopping mall. The team break into the building and discover a few tunnels set into a nearby wall that need to be crawled through. In the next room, its an abandoned office with desks that clutters the room and down in the back corner of the room there’s some white primer paint.

On the wall there’s a message left behind by Margo but it can’t be seen when a flashlight is shone directly on it.



Subsequently after Quentin discovers nine thumbtack holes in a wall – four thumbtacks holes that made up a square shape and five thumbtracks within the square. Remembering he saw something familiar – he and Ben dig through a stack of travel brochures and find – Five Thousand American Cities.

It’s a matter of lining up the brochure with thumbtack holes to the wall that already contains thumbtack holes as well. Most locations aren’t readable except for two: one location in Los Angeles and one in New York. Still there’s not many clues to go on for Quentin so he enters a zipcode for both places in an online program which returns nearby location results.

The location near New York has a page on Agloe which describes it as a paper town and in the edit section, there’s a recent comment:

fyi, whoever Edits this – the Population of agloe
Will actually be One until may 29th at Noon.

Quentin soon realises – Margo is going to leave her location within 24 hours. Desperate to find her – Quentin gets together with his concerned friends and they plan a road trip to get from Orlando, Florida all the way to the town Agloe, New York within the next twenty four hours.

The team make it in time to Margo but she’s unhappy with them all as she didn’t mean to leave a trail of clues for anybody to discover. Margo and Quentin have a final conversation and the book concludes there in Agloe*.

*Agloe was a paper town and only became real because somebody decided to build a general store in that location.

The Paper Towns movie is released on July 24th 2015!

Essa 🙂

Other reading links:
Google takes Agloe off Google Maps


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4 thoughts on “Paper Towns by John Green: A walkthrough of Margo Roth Spiegelman’s puzzle trail and clues

  1. David Spira May 21, 2015 at 9:57 am Reply

    By some strange coincidence, my girlfriend and I have been researching paper towns as of late. It’s such a delightfully strange subject.

    • Essa May 22, 2015 at 9:28 pm Reply

      I had never heard of paper towns before reading the book – did you find any interesting towns in your research?


      • David Spira May 22, 2015 at 10:47 pm

        We learned about them via on a road trip as we passed by one.

      • Essa May 22, 2015 at 11:31 pm

        Will check out AtlasObscura now!


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