I learned about the Boston Area Puzzle Hunt League about three years ago. “BAPHL of the Bands,” the sixth event in the BAPHL series, had been presented in locations along the Red Line in Somerville and Cambridge, and the puzzles from the event were later posted on the League’s website. I enjoyed solving the puzzles from home, even ones that required by to use Google Street View to find site-specific clues, I decided to find an opportunity to play one of the BAPHL events on-site/ The following spring I made it to Boston for “BAPHL 7: Basic American Pseudo-History Lesson” presented along the Freedom Trail. The hunt was fantastic and I recognized the appeal among the local solvers many of whom participate in the annual MIT Mystery Hunt.

BAPHL is simpler than the Mystery hunt. It is comprised of about a dozen puzzles that a team of five or six can solve in a few hours. BAPHL hunts require teams to walk around different locations in the Boston area and while it is not a navigational challenge it does require site-specific information to complete some of the puzzles. BAPHL did model MIT Mystery Hunt originally by offering as a “prize” to the winning team the rights to create the subsequent event, but that provision has been eliminated as the organizers have realized that solvers who don’t finish first can still write good puzzles. Also, the enthusiasm over the events, which now are presented three or more times a year, require the administrative participation of more puzzle fans than ever before.

Last weekend I made it back to Boston for my second on-site BAPHL. The event, BAPHL XII, was advertised with a “Winter is Coming” teaser leading many solver, including me, to expect a Game of Thrones theme. The actual theme was more humorous: the organizers supposedly had planned this event for December but logistical delays prevented them from presenting it until April, and the puzzle and meta answers led to explanations of why there were delayed and why the April weekend turned out to be appropriate after all. BAPHL XII was organized by Team Phlogizote who presented the Freedom Trail event two years ago: Eli Barrieau, Joe Cabrera, Brie Frame, Aaron Fuegi, Susan Glass, Jenny Gutbezahl, Katie Hamill, Rex Miller, Joon Pahk, Ben Smith, Phil Steindel, and Kevin Wald.


My hunt team included Jennifer Braun, Chris Morse, Andy Kravis, and Jeffrey Schwartz. The team was an offshoot of the Mystik Sprial team, which needed to break into smaller groups due to the number of people, so our team was called More Mystik More Spiral. The hunt, which attracted a record number of 49 teams, was held in and around Harvard Square. Our team started at the Christmas Party in Sever Yard, then went to the Menorah Lighting in JFK Park and then the Festivus Dinner in Radcliffe Yard. The puzzles included some clever gimmicks that reflected the winter-to-spring rescheduling gimmick. One word grid puzzle referred to “grid” that could be abstracted from the window arrangement in a nearby building with frosted windows representing black squares, but since it was now spring and the frost on the windows had melted the puzzle was solved as a diagramless crossword. Similarly, a Harvard Square walking tour required solvers to take clues from ice sculptures that, of course, were no longer were present, but wording in the tour clues help solvers determine what the sculptures were. I did note that the temperature in Boston last Saturday was cold enough that frosted windows and ice sculptures would have feasible. The puzzles are now on the BAPHL website. Favorites of mine, some of which I missed during the actual event but went back and solved afterwards, are “Khaaaaanukah,” “Reading the Comments Section,” “Sitting Through the Ring Cycle,” and the Festivus Meta, though for that last one you really need a Festivus pole.

Our team finished the event in third place, just about seven minutes behind second place Mystik Spiral and nine minutes behind the winning team plugh — congratulations solvers! I felt a bit sheepish because I took a restroom break while my teammates were finishing up our last meta. The team finished several minutes before I returned and waited for me before we proceeded to the endgame. If I had just skipped the restroom break we might have been able to advance our finishing placement and received a prize. I took the puzzle-solving experience as prize enough, along with the opportunity to hang out with friends among the solvers and organizers at the post-hunt celebration.

The next BAPHL event is scheduled for July 25*. I don’t have any details yet (and I probably won’t be able to attend in person) but check the website for updates.

* Joon Pahk thinks.

CURRICULUM VITAE: Silence of the Lamps


(Murder Mystery)

Players portray guests at the 20-year reunion party of the “Lava Lamplighters,” a college organization active in the mid-1970s. The party attracts a colorful assortment of faculty and alumni including Huxley Err, now a mediocre police detective. When onetime cheerleader Veronica Framingham is discovered dead outside the lakefront lodge hosting that functions as the reunion setting the remaining guests must help Detective Err solve the murder.


* * *

The drama club at Ottawa University was particularly active in the late 1990s and the membership strove to fill the gaps between the theater department’s main stage productions with social activities. Someone associated with the club remembered my Who Killed Lucky game from 1989 and the club commissioned me to write a new murder mystery for the current students. I was living close to the university and still participating in theater department functions, and I agreed to come up with a game for the club. 

As with Lucky, I decided to set the mystery in the literal time and place — 1996 Ottawa, Kansas — to take advantage of inside references to the university. The reunion theme seemed like a good way to integrate character relationships in both the past and present, and also provided an opportunity to play with ’70s popular culture. The structure of the game was the same as with Lucky: each character had clues in the categories of DURING THE PARTY, RECOLLECTIONS, and RUMORS OF THE PRESENT, and players collected these clues in their chosen order at regular intervals during the party. I revived my Huxley Err character from Lucky and functioned as the detective/moderator.

The party was held in November at the university’s Lake Pomona lodge several miles from the campus. As with the Lucky fishing cabin, this was a perfect, remote location for a mystery party. About forty students signed up for characters and all made thoughtful choices for costumes based on the character descriptions they had received. The lodge was decked out with streamers and a mirrored ball, and some of the guests set up a sound system for playing Billboard hits from the disco era. About an hour into the party I went to the player portraying Veronica and discreetly handed her instructions to go outside the lodge, scream loudly, and collapse to the ground. She acceded and the other guests quickly gathered around her body looking for clues. We returned inside and I began distributing clue envelopes. Veronica also participated as a ghost who could communicate with the other guests when in the company of the clairvoyant Philippina Cartouche who was conveniently in attendance. After another ninety minutes players filled out solution slips and the murder victim (“through” Philippina) read the solution aloud. Players were eligible for a prize if they correctly deduced that mousy florist Carrie Storch, in love with Senator Thurston Pageboy, mistook Veronica for the Senator’s wife and stabbed her with a poisoned pin. I would write two more mystery parties for the Ottawa University drama club in 1997 and 1998.



Default: 361949
Default with Spaces: 145813

NOTES: In the 2015 photo album for ACPT I saw an evening program game involving crossword puzzles on tablets. One of the entries in the tablet puzzle was Plinko chip (70), which seemed like a cute entry to add. Any feedback on the actual game/puzzle app? Word Spy recently posted the term walking ATM (72) meaning “An illegal immigrant or migrant worker who is frequently robbed because they have no bank account and so must carry all their cash.” The concept is certainly a downer but it might be a FITB option for cluing ATM.

LISTS: Some recent Default additions taken from the sharedoc include craft vodka (75), the Catalonian cheese Garrotxa (40),  push toy (80), and spiltsville (70). The entry Lobsterfest (50) is interesting, though it is largely associated with the Red Lobster restaurant chain, which is a cluing obstacle. Red Lobster holds its status as a special-occasion restaurant for most of my family. It’s not my first choice food-wise, but when I join my family there for, say, my niece’s birthday I do experience a spark of nostalgia.

PUZZLE: Unthemely #68



I’ve been reviewing old Unthemely crosswords with an editorial eye to get a sense of the attributes that are inappropriate for a mainstream venue. Some puzzles are ineligible due to the 16×16 size or a dated seed entry, but in other cases the problem stems from a poor spelling variant or grid duplication that I chose to accept. These irregularities can often be eliminated with a simple grid fix. Unthemely #68 is based on a grid fix of an earlier puzzle but not a simple one. I kept one entry from the old puzzle (not the original seed entry) and started anew.

Readers have been discussing my Notable Characters puzzle on Twitter and via email. I have received several correct answers and have posted the solution in the comments of that post.

PUZZLE: Notable Characters


A coworker who is a huge fan of Walt Disney recently hung a poster in her office that features a collection of a hundred or so animated Disney characters, past and present. I first saw the poster when I passed my coworker’s office on my way to the fitness center. I glanced at the poster for a few seconds and continued on my way. During my workout I thought about the poster. Since I looked at it only briefly I couldn’t remember all of the characters pictured, but I suspected that Mickey Mouse was not one of them. I also suspected that Donald Duck and Goofy would be absent. But then I thought of a classic Disney character who absolutely had to appear on the poster.

When I returned from the fitness center I took a closer look at the poster. I was right that there was no Mickey, no Donald, and no Goofy, but the other character I thought of appeared right where I expected: at the midpoint along the bottom edge of the poster. Who is this character?

ETA: Answer appears in comments.

PUZZLE: Unthemely #67



The next paragraph contains some spoilery comments about Unthemely #67. To provide a bit of SPOILER SPACE, I will mention that I posted a new quiz to the Sporcle website called Key Party. The quiz is based on the photo collage puzzles featured in classic Games Magazine, along the lines of “Can you find 60 things in this picture that end in the letter O?” In my youth I would make my own versions of these puzzles using cut-outs from magazines, catalogs, and newspaper advertising inserts. In the 21st century Google Images and Photoshop make the process a little cleaner. Visit Sporcle and give my quiz some love.

*SPOILERS * My initial fill for Unthemely #67 included the entry MFAS at 23-Down. This turned out to be a problem entry because of a duplication with 45-Across, but I didn’t notice the dupe until I was about halfway through the clue-writing process. Before refilling the central section I considered two options that would allow me to keep the original (and, aside from the dupe, marginally better) grid. I considered a clue for MFAS as an abbreviation for Ministers of Foreign Affairs, i.e. the equivalent of Secretary of State in Canada and some other nations. I then wondered if the duplication would be acceptable if the clues were cross-referenced. The entries MFA and ARTS could appear in the same grid if the latter were clued as {Part of (the MFA clue)} but could MFA be clued as {Deg. for a 23-Across}? I couldn’t think of a similar precedent in a mainstream crossword and the singular-plural mismatch in my grid made a cross-reference clue awkward so I found an alternative fill and finished the puzzle.

Would you have considered either of my two options?