For the record. I didn't understand the reason for so many red herrings until I got through the second play-through (erm... read-through).
I understand, now. It was my fault from the beginning.
First things first--seeing the cyanotic reviews (with the cut to avoid the spoliers) helped me to go through all the games, and I'm glad I did. If I'd started earlier, maybe I'd have had more to think of overall. I got into a time crunch with The White Bull, which I liked, but I played from the walkthrough more than I wanted. Oh, and I liked the color coding of the final evaluations.
Having been on both sides of misfiring puzzles/jokes, I think a game writer gets data based on if people see what he's trying to do, so he can assess how much risk he wants to take with making a puzzle difficult or easy.
For instance let's say there are 5 puzzles in the game. People seem to get stuck/genuinely frustrated on each one 25% of the time. Then it's probably the player's fault for any one puzzle, on balance. But overall, the writer may be at fault for wearing the player down.
This does really ratchet up the writer's standards for creating good puzzles, because you need several to have a game with plot, and if any one fails, a gamer may give up. I generally need several tries through to get a puzzle so it feels right to me, but without someone else evaluating it or seeing how others might (dis)like it, I still have no idea how good it is--though on the bright side, I sometimes get a "why don't you..." or "what if you..." and it can tip off a direction I wonder how I missed before.
In this case I think a different message for eating the herring would be very cool, e.g. "It's too valuable! If you do your job in the next three hours, you'll be able to eat all the red herrings you want." I think examining the red herring sets the tone, but generally you may need a few ways to hint something should be a certain way, or make sure the player will get the irony. And I think the red herring is just the sort of thing that can bring personality into a game.
It's tricky here because you don't want to potentially insult a native reader by defining "red herring" but at the same time you don't want to turn off foreign speakers who wonder what this means. Shooting the gaps in these sorts of cases is tricky but worth learning & it's not exactly a science. I know I asterisk a lot of stuff where I feel I should have one more idea--or double-question mark it in the code so I'll take another look at it. It's not a solution but it's a start.