That Puzzle Guy's Blog Waiting for an endorsement deal from Pentel

25Jan/16Off

I dreamed a dream

As you may have noticed, I've become pretty lazy in discussing my various doings in the puzzle world. I need to make the effort for the 2016 MIT Mystery Hunt, however, because my team ran it. You can get plenty of perspectives elsewhere from competitors and my teammates alike, and I don't want to put another retread here. I'll just share what I was involved in and share a few personal thoughts.

I was pleased to have my fingers in more puzzles in this Hunt than I did in 2008 and 2010 combined. Try them out yourself, or just click Solution in the upper right if you just want to see how it worked. The list:

  • Always Amusing: I was pleased to make a puzzle on this subject, but I wish I'd attached more importance to the information being hard to find. I edited a wiki just before the event, but I'm not sure it helped.
  • It's So Obvious!: I wanted to do a puzzle about Wheel of Fortune gaffes, and it got blended nicely with an idea from Joe DeVincentis. Joe did most of the legwork on it.
  • The Sound of Silence: A simple idea that I think I put in a tidy package.
  • 1, 2, 3: Another fairly simple one for Dreamtime.
  • Boxes™: This tested much harder than I thought it would; hopefully we made changes to achieve the right level of difficulty.
  • A League of Their Own: Co-authored with Jeremy Horwitz, from an idea by Nathan Fung, at 5 AM Saturday morning. Yes, really. Hopefully you couldn't tell.
  • One Starry Night: Probably my most favorably reviewed puzzle of the Hunt. Funny and relatively easy; I hope it provided a breather at the late stages.
  • Gravitational Pull: Mike Sylvia's idea; I executed the grid. Pretty pleased with how it turned out considering the additional difficult Limbo constraint.
  • Trivial Mathematics: I had the idea to bring back the classic Calculatrivia from GAMES Magazine; Jeremy Horwitz and Wil Zambole did the hard work.
  • Time Suck: I'm not sorry.

I want to address the tech issues we experienced just as the event was about to start; the fallout from it was undoubtedly a major complaint. I don't have all the details, but as you might suspect, it caused no small amount of distress at Hunt HQ. Fortunately, several brilliant minds on our team worked together a good back-up plan, and we had it in place for the Hunt to start a mere hour behind schedule. It obviously was not ideal and not the system we had in mind; checking answers was a bit more chaotic, and our puzzle-unlocking mechanism reverted to releasing entire rounds at once. Overall, I think it went very well; when you get right down to it, I don't believe the issues dramatically affected players' enjoyment of the puzzles themselves. We took a potential Hunt-destroying catastrophe and turned it into a mere pain in the ass. I think that's a credit to us. I've heard insinuations that we didn't have our tech straight because were focused on other less necessary tasks, like the T-shirt sales. I find that a huge insult to the people who poured hours upon hours into the extremely tricky job of getting the website up and running. Fault our execution if you must; it didn't work out the way any of us would have liked. But I will not put up with disparagement of our effort.

I think many of us Hunt participants are losing sight of the fact that that this wonderful weekend of puzzling is the result of hundreds and hundreds of person-hours of unpaid labor over the course of a whole year. I think I did to an extent; it doesn't really hit home until one helps to write a Hunt. Some criticism is fair, of course, but some is not (see above), and comments in the latter category might dissuade people from lending their minds to the construction effort again. That can only be bad for the future of this fantastic event. I resolve going forward to be more appreciative of the Mystery Hunts I play and to be careful and measured with any problems I voice. I hope others can do the same, whether they've helped to make one happen or not.

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10May/14Off

This one’s a keeper

Two weeks ago, I had great fun at DASH 6; it was a lovely San Francisco day and the puzzles were excellent. To top it off, the three-man League of Extraordinary Puzzlemen finished in first place worldwide! This was a very gratifying accomplishment after our near miss last year. Keep an eye on that site to check out the puzzles, which I assume will go up after the upcoming rerun in Minneapolis.

The event also served as another chance for a hunt management app called ClueKeeper to show its stuff. I want to post about it here because it's really taken some big strides forward in recent weeks and I think it's revolutionary for the experience of playing and designing hunts.

ClueKeeper makes it easy to manage the mechanisms that go into running a hunt, including team registration, scoring, leaderboards, hint dispensation, answer confirmation, and even verification through GPS that a team is in the correct location! It also supports different structures for the puzzles themselves; designers can use start codes (which can start the puzzle's timer and hint countdown), include a batch of mini-puzzles that all go together (possibly including a metapuzzle), and choose to accept partial answers.

As a solver, I really like having all my previous ClueKeeper-based hunts stored in my account. It's nice to look back on the events I've done and how my teams did in them. And, thanks to a bunch of new self-guided, play-anytime hunts that recently became available, that history will only get deeper! I've already enjoyed the Sunset Pub Crawl, and I took advantage of an early sale to pick up the Las Vegas and Philadelphia hunts in anticipation of visits to those places later this year. I'm looking forward to seeing that page get longer as more designers jump in!

ClueKeeper's next event is the Shinteki Decathlon, one of my favorite puzzling days of the year. I'll be playing on the 24th, the first weekend. Can't wait!

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28Jan/14Off

Down the rabbit hole

Happy 2014, everyone! Yes, it's almost the end of January, but, as I've alluded to, I'm not posting much these days. It's time, though for my recap of the MIT Mystery Hunt, which rebounded from a difficult 2013 with a very successful event put on by Team [entire text of Atlas Shrugged]. I enjoyed myself thoroughly, and Team Luck finished in what many consider "best place," i.e. second, the highest team that doesn't have to design next year's Hunt. Congratulations to Random, assuming they actually wanted to do it! [More after the jump.]

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25Oct/13Off

I survived!

This may well have been the subject of much speculation, since my last post immediately preceded my participation in the perilous Famine Game. Rest assured that Team Apetitius Giganticus acquitted itself very well and emerged successful from the Capitol.

No, the reason for my month-long lapse in posting is more or less what I alluded to in a previous entry; to wit, the appeal of posting dryly about all the puzzle events I'm doing is losing its appeal for me. I'm hoping I'll be inspired to post more long-form stuff when subjects arise. We'll see how that goes. For now, here's the rundown of what's happened in the last four weeks or so:

  • I mentioned The Famine Game... it really was tremendous fun and probably the best puzzle event I've played in. The puzzles were uniformly clever and satisfying, and I can't recall a single erratum. A few were truly unique works of genius that I'll always remember. Great thanks to Todd Etter and everyone else who helped design and run the event. What a weekend!
  • A different team of mine did not enjoy similar success at the latest Real Escape Game, Escape from the Bank. I won't go into the details here, but, as I said on Twitter, I'm completely baffled as to how we let ourselves get stuck where we did; it really was a rather easy puzzle. I still shake my head when I think about it. You can talk to me privately if you want me the details; please bring me a beer when you do. The good news is that SCRAP have another game all queued up, as well as a sequel to their popular game that one team at a time does in a single room. Also, Southern Californians, the first American game, Escape from the Werewolf Village, will be staged in LA in early November!
  • My team, Friday the 13th Part VI, won the Expert division of the latest Mastermind Hunt in San Francisco! This was a whirlwind few hours of solving small puzzles and dashing around the city to get our answers. The trophy will reside with us for another year!
  • Looking ahead to this weekend, it's Crosswords LA! I'll be on hand as the puzzle wrangler, tournament official, and finals commentator. (Whew!) Join us in Santa Monica; it should be a great day!
  • In somber news, Puzzle Pile is going on a few months' hiatus for personal reasons. I know I'm not alone in wishing Bran well. We'll be eager to resume reading when he's ready to make his return.
27Sep/13Off

Capitol games

Greetings sports fans! After months of anticipation, it's time for The Famine Game! I have no idea what to expect from tonight's feast or the thirty straight hours of puzzling that will begin tomorrow morning, but I am looking forward to battling fiercely alongside the rest of Team Apetitius Giganticus. Prepare to be vanquished in a manner appropriate to the context of this game, other teams!

This will be the second time I enter an instance of The Game, the third if you count my playtesting of Doctor When. The other was WarTron in Portland last year; you can read my recap of that event here and here. I'm hoping to carry forward some lessons from that game, some related to solving and some related to personal enjoyment:

  • Always investigate, or at least vocalize, a solving idea that sounds even remotely reasonable, particularly if it won't take long to decide if it's fruitful or worthless.
  • Don't leave the clue site unless you're absolutely sure you don't need to be there anymore.
  • Be prepared to revisit assumptions about how a puzzle works. (This was a big problem for me on this month's Shinteki puzzle and I'm still mad at myself about it.)
  • Rein in the adrenaline and take mental, meditative breaks between clue sites; don't burn so much energy early on!
  • Give myself a break when I don't get something I should get. (This verges on impossible for me, but I'm putting this here anyway.)

I'm sure there are others, which I hope will come to me when they're applicable.

Oh, and our team has a Twitter account, so follow that for updates, quotable quotes, and other fun. Looking forward to seeing everyone and doing battle in DC!

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21Aug/13Off

Five-star puzzling

Attention American Values Club subscribers: My latest crossword comes out today! The title of this blog post refers to the difficulty level, but hopefully you think the quality is up there too. Have fun!

I'll have my own solving fun this Saturday at the day-long Elevate Tutoring hunt. I've heard nothing but good things; should be an entertaining and meaty event!

10Aug/13Off

Take a little trip

Today is the start of an event that remains unfulfilled on my personal puzzling bucket list: the Great America Hunt from Ravenchase! This year's trek is five days long and will wend its way from Pittsburgh, through Columbus and Cincinnati, and finally to Chicago. While I couldn't get involved this year, I can live vicariously through some of my west-coast puzzler friends. Looking forward to seeing what they get up to!

Also being staged today is the second Elevate Tutoring Puzzle Hunt to benefit that charity. The second run of the game is in two weeks, and that's when I'll participate. Hope everyone has fun!

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30Jul/13Off

Lost treasure

Most important news first: Registration is open for Crosswords LA! This event is only getting bigger and better, and I'll be on hand to officiate. You should be there too!

Moving back to yesterday, my friends and I attempted the 1000 Treasure Hunters event at the J-Pop festival in San Francisco's Japantown. This was the latest challenge from SCRAP, the crew behind the Real Escape Game series. It was supposed to be a relatively easygoing event, with no time limit and a drawing for prizes at the end for everyone who finished at some point during the weekend. Unfortunately, it wasn't so easy for us. One clue absolutely ate us alive, and by the time we reached the end of the hunt, the cold and our impatience and hunger got the better of us, so we bailed.

When we finally got that problem puzzle's solution, I was frustrated by what I thought were several flaws with it. One mechanism was underclued and far more intuitive for Japanese speakers to grasp than for English speakers (the game is supposed to be culture-neutral). But the biggest, in my view, involved a series of 31 number-letter pairs, presented in a 6x5 grid (seven in the top row). The placement was completely haphazard, in nothing resembling alphabetical or numerical order. Seems important, right? Well, it wasn't in the slightest. The list could have been presented in a normal order and the puzzle would have worked exactly the same. Naturally, we and many other teams spent a long time trying to make sense of what turned out to be a total red herring.

Of course, it's pretty much impossible to eliminate all false leads, and to do so would take all the puzzling out of the game. However, I thought the random ordering was pure needless noise that added nothing to the enjoyment of the game. What's your view on such obfuscation? Is it satisfying to see through the intentionally placed junk to the correct solution, or is it simply annoying?

In any case, it seems my team continues to have bad luck with games at the J-Pop festival. Nonetheless, I continue to enjoy the bulk of SCRAP's work, and I definitely appreciate their willingness to hear and act on feedback. I look forward to their next traditional Real Escape Game, Escape from the Bank!

25Jul/13Off

Shining moment

Last weekend was a very successful puzzle-hunting one! The biggest thrill came on Saturday, when the League of Extraordinary Puzzlemen achieved an unlikely victory in the Berkeley Mystery Hunt! We were certain triumph would elude us when we took an unsettlingly long time on a meta, but we arrived at the final challenge with just one team leading us by mere minutes. Even then, it seemed to be a long shot. Fortunately, that puzzle was a meatball right down the heart of the plate. Yup, it was a crossword. There was a twist, of course, but with the whole team shouting out answers, it was quickly defeated; I barely ever stopped writing! We raced down to CAL 9000, a robot that wasn't willing to let Berkeley puzzler Ankur Mehta graduate and leave it behind. Using information our grid, we set up a series of mirrors, then aimed a laser through all of them to activate an interface, which accepted the puzzle's final answer. A very cool final puzzle, and a most exciting win for our team. My compatriots were kind enough to let me keep the big awesome coin and it's made a nice addition to the wall just outside my door.

The next day, I also enjoyed Lumber Party at the Octothorpean website. My teammates were unavailable, but I was able to take down the whole thing, including one backsolve, in about an hour on my own. Looking forward to more on this site!

Looking over to Kickstarter, Roger Wolff's cryptic crossword project is in its final days, and he's thrown in a hell of an enticement to help get it over the finish line. For just a $10 addition to your pledge, you can get a giant block cryptic for your wall! That's way better than some other giant crossword snoozefest. Do it!

In exciting, mysterious, creepy, possible-ARG news, something strange is going on at the Pronunciation Book channel on YouTube. After years of short, innocuous guides to American pronunciation of various words and names, the series has begun an unnerving 77-day countdown, giving us only opaque sentences and telling us that "something is going to happen." Theories abound as to what we're facing here; popular ideas involve promotions for Half-Life 3 and Halo 5 and a new Battlestar Galactica. I'll refrain from speculation, but I'll be watching with great interest, hoping for a cool ARG!

20Jul/13Off

Cooling down

I'm back in the Bay Area, which you may know as the only part of the country that isn't blazing hot right now. Yes, I'm bragging.

I always suffer a bit of a hangover after the National Puzzlers' League convention; while I drank in moderation, I averaged only about five hours of sleep per night. Catch-up on life and sleep has kept me silent on the blog this week, but I hope to have a Con report soon. In the meantime, there's stuff happening this weekend!

As this post publishes, I'll be almost ready to wake up and head over to Berkeley for this year's Berkeley Mystery Hunt. The League of Extraordinary Puzzlemen are the defending champions, and we've beefed ourselves up even further this year. Bring it on!

Then, on Sunday morning, Larry Hosken is staging a short hunt on his new site as sort of a teaser for a larger hunt to come soon. I might shelve this one for later, since my team is unavailable. Whenever I get to it, I think it will be fun, so check it out.

For Sunday night relaxation, there's Whodunnit? Anybody else watching this? My friend Natalie has some good recaps going at her blog if that's your thing.