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.