There aren’t many puzzles in Skyrim that you can classify as complex at all. I mean, 99% of the ones you come across just involve looking at some symbols, then rotating some pillars to match those symbols. You’re doing the same mechanic, with the same symbols, and the same level design across the dozens of dungeons in Skyrim.
The Saarthal puzzle is a bit different, though, thank god. You’re still dealing with pillars, but this time multiple moves every time you move one of them! It’s not revolutionary by any means, but it is a hell of a lot more engaging than what we’re used to.
Not everyone wants to put on their detective hat and play Professor Layton, though. Some of us just want to kill things with a big-ass sword, and I respect that.
In fact, that’s why I’ve put together this Saarthal puzzle guide. Not only do I run you through the difficult Saarthal puzzle, but I’ll give you the solution for the other two puzzles, too, saving you a whole lot of time that you can spend doing something a little more exciting.
Key Details Up Front
The solution to the puzzle of the rotating pillars in Saarthal is:
- Back left pillar reads Whale.
- Front left pillar reads Snake,
- Back right pillar reads Hawk.
- Front right pillar reads Whale.
Turn the pillars in order, stopping each time you get to the correct symbol. The symbol of the pillars behind you will change as you work your way through them, but this order will still result in the correct sequence.
Puzzle 1 Solution
This isn’t really a puzzle in the traditional sense. There are no pillars to rotate, chains and levers to pull, or pressure plates to stand on. However, you are still trapped, and the game won’t explicitly tell you how to escape, so I’m going to count it.
You’ll encounter this puzzle pretty early on into Under Saarthal. You’ll be sent to collect artifacts while inside the ruins. There’ll be a handful of Enchanted Rings on the ground for you to pick up and an amulet attached to a runic plate on the wall. When you loot the amulet, some spikes will raise behind you, and you’ll be trapped.
To solve the puzzle, you need to equip the amulet you just picked up and use a spell on the tablet that you took it from. If you’re somehow doing the College of Winterhold quest and can’t cast Novice-level spells, shouting at the tablet will also work.
The tablet will break, revealing the way forward and causing the spikes behind you to retract.
Puzzle 2 Solution
Proceed through Saarthal, and you’ll eventually reach a long corridor with six different pillars. Now, there are no matching symbols to be found anywhere, so you could be forgiven for overthinking this one and backtracking. That would be a waste of your time, though. Each of the pillars is nestled in a small cubby. If you look at the top of these cubbies, behind the pillars, you’ll find the corresponding symbol for each one.
It’s hard to argue this is a puzzle given that the combination is just… there… but you might have missed it if your brightness is particularly low.
Puzzle 3 Solution
The first two puzzles in Saarthal are more formalities than anything else. This puzzle is the one that actually gives players a lot of trouble.
This is another pillar puzzle, but the pillars don’t stay static unlike the previous ones. The pillars are connected, so moving one will cause another to rotate. It essentially turns it from a picture-matching game into a combination lock.
When you enter the room, there will be four pillars in front of you. There is one in the back left, back right, front left, and front right. I’m going to tell you the order in which you need to rotate each pillar. It’s imperative that you follow these directions to the letter; otherwise, you’ll mess up the sequence and be left to figure it out by yourself.
- Turn the back left pillar until it reads Whale.
- Turn the front left pillar until it reads Snake.
- Turn the back right pillar to read Hawk.
- Turn the front right pillar to read Whale.
If you follow those instructions in order, all of the pillars will be rotated to the correct symbols, allowing you to proceed to the end of the dungeon.
Question: How do you solve the puzzle in Saarthal?
Answer: To solve the first puzzle in Saarthal, look behind each pillar for the corresponding symbol. Match up the pillars to those symbols to solve the puzzle.
To solve the second pillar puzzle in Saarthal, move the pillars in the following combination:
• Rotate the back left pillar to read Whale.
• Rotate the front left pillar to read Snake.
• Rotate the back right pillar to read Hawk.
• Rotate the front right pillar to read Whale.
Question: What do I do with the pillars in Skyrim?
Answer: The pillars you find in Skyrim are a part of a puzzle commonly found in Nordic dungeons. If you approach the pillar, you will be able to rotate it by interacting with it. Each pillar has three symbols on it. By rotating pillars to read a specific combination, you will be able to unlock any doors connected to them.
Question: How do you unlock the door to Saarthal in Skyrim?
Answer: You cannot enter Saarthal in Skyrim until you get the Under Saarthal quest as a part of the College of Winterhold. You get this quest early into the questline, which is ideal as it’s the only way to gain access to Saarthal.
Saarthal Puzzle Guide: Conclusion
I’d be pretty surprised if the first or second puzzle caused you any trouble, but that final Saarthal puzzle is an issue. While it’s a puzzle mechanic I’ve personally seen in several different games, not everyone is going to have that same level of experience.
This Saarthal puzzle guide should take any of the technical challenges involved with the dungeon, so you shouldn’t have to beat your head against a wall trying to solve it like I did.