“Which do you create first, the padlocks or the combinations?”: Common Questions Asked at Puzzle Rooms

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I first tried an escape room in the summer of 2014. Several months earlier, friends had explained to me the premise of escape rooms in exhaustive detail. In this initial outing I was with in the company of about ten players. Some had prior experience with escape rooms and the other first-timers had an instinctive disposition to the concept based on a general interest in puzzles. Nearly all of my escape room experiences since then have been with co-solvers that fit one or both of these categories.

I’ve been working for Puzzah! for a little over six months and in my daily duties I visit with many people who are not well acquainted with recreational puzzles and know nothing of escape rooms — or “puzzle rooms,” which is the more general term that Puzzah! prefers for its live-action adventures. Customers find out about us from business-review websites or from friends and co-workers or by noticing our downtown Denver storefront. They enter our store and have loads of questions, usually starting with some variation of, “What exactly do you do here?” Once customers have a basic understanding of the puzzle room concept they will ask more questions, and many of the same questions come up frequently. Escape rooms seem to inspire shared areas of curiosity among the newly initiated public. I’m reminded of the question that many crossword constructors cite as far and away the most common one posed about the craft by outsiders: “Which do you create first, the grid or the clues?” Will the puzzle room genre eventually generate an analogous question? I can share the questions that I commonly get asked at work, and forgive me if, in discussing the answers, I lump some shameless praise on my employer.

The most common question I get asked by Puzzah! customers is, “How long have you been open?” The question is typical, business-related small talk, but for puzzle rooms it seems to carry an added significance. I believe that many Puzzah! customers use the question as a way to ask, “How long has this type of business existed (without my knowing about it), and is it a trend that will last?” I try to address this potential subtext when I respond. Puzzah! opened in 2014 and was one of the first puzzle room businesses in Denver, though similar business have been operating in other North American cities for at least five years, and in cities throughout the world for at least a decade. When I discuss the future of the puzzle room genre with customers I find the most practical approach is to be confidently optimistic.

A close second for most common question is “How often do you change the rooms?” In the case of Puzzah!, the answer is never (so far). Our rooms are elaborate and expensive installations and even the oldest of our rooms remains a popular choice for reservations, so Puzzah! has never had reason to retire a puzzle room. Because I have the advantage of this inside information, I initially found it tiresome when customers wondered if our rooms changed out with the frequency of movies at a cineplex. But I’ve come to understand that the question is completely reasonable. Many puzzle room businesses change out rooms more frequently than Puzzah!, and we will eventually retire a room to make space for another. Also, arcade adventures with virtual reality systems are becoming more sophisticated and the technology will eventually enable the possibility of puzzle rooms that are both immersive and instantly interchangeable. So the question about how often we change rooms could also be curiosity about the staying power of this entertainment genre.

Many customers ask me how I know what is happening in the rooms when a game is in progress. Puzzle room businesses have various methods of monitoring player activity: video cameras, radio communication, in-room staff (sometimes posing as characters in the story). The method generally depends on the operational concern for surveillance, be it player safety, dispensing hints, etc. Puzzah! uses computer sensors rather than cameras or in-room staff. Customers are generally relieved when I tell them that we are not watching them through cameras. Even though we are collecting data on their overall performance, the fact that they are not being “watched” seems to alleviate their self-consciousness.

Customers who ask about cameras often have a general worry about the comfort of their experience. These customers will ask if the rooms are horror-themed, if someone is going to jump out and scare them, and if an inability to solve the puzzles will trap them in the room forever. For Puzzah! the answer to all of these questions is no, though the question is reasonable for the puzzle room industry as a whole. That first escape room I played in 2014 included a moment when the proprietor donned a rubber mask,dashed into the room, blew an airhorn, and exited. The action had no practical or thematic bearing on the room’s objective. It was simply a cheap scare. Many puzzle room businesses attract customers by being mysterious, threatening, and often macabre. The rooms are interactive haunted houses in which the danger somehow enhances puzzle solving. This marketing approach has a devoted clientele, but I see a positive reaction when I answer customers’ questions with reassurance rather than intimidation.

Nine out of ten customers that visit Puzzah! for a puzzle room adventure are doing it for the first time. The price point for a puzzle room is relatively high among comparable entertainment options and the public has a right to get as much information as possible before entering a room. As time goes by I would expect the percentage of novice customers to decrease, and their questions will become more savvy. They will want to know about success rates, hint systems, scavenging rules, and so forth. That will be the day when my confident optimism in the puzzle room industry is justified and I begin to sadly miss the innocent queries about how long we’ve been in business and how often we change the rooms. Still, if I get too sad about it I can always go out and buy an airhorn.

ANTI-MATCH GAME: Mille Bornes (RESULTS)

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The quiz had 48 entrants. In the results post, the entrants’ names are abbreviated as follows:

AB – Andrew Bradburn
AS – Al Sanders
BA – Brigette Anderson
BS – Ben Smith
CKr – Craig Kasper
CKy – Christian Kelly
CP – Chad Phillips
DA – Derek Allen
DK – Dan Katz
DMK – Debbie Manber Kupfer
DP – Doug Peterson
DS – Dave Shukan
EL – Eric LeVasseur
FB – Foggy Brume
FH – Francis Heaney
JA – Jackie Anderson
JB – Jason Brown
JCa – Joe Cabrera
JCe – Judy Cole
JG – Jenny Gutbezahl
JHa – Jeffrey Harris
JHn – Jeffrey Hochstein
JHs – Joel Hess
JHz – Jeremy Horwitz
JSn – Joanne Sullivan
JSz – Jeff Schwartz
KH – Katie Hamill
KS – Ken Stern
LR – Lee Ann R
M4 – Marc412
MH – Mark Halpin
MJ – Matt Jones
MSa – Mike Sylvia
MSn – Marc Spraragen
MSr – Mike Selinker
NC – Nathan Curtis
NH – Nina Henelsmith
RH – Ray Hamel
RK – Ronnie Kon
SKn – Seth Kleinerman
SKy – Steve Kinsky
SPe – Stephen Perry
SPu – Scott Purdy
SW – Scott Weiss
TKF – TK Focht
TP – Trip Payne
VC – Vic Chandhok
WZ – Wil Zambole

Incorrect answers are indicated with italics.

1) Go
The Oxford English Corpus is a massive survey of English language usage, pulling data from literature, journalism, and Internet discourse. A ranking of the most commonly used English words has been derived from analysis of the Corpus. The 100 most common English words in this ranking include 21 two-letter words. The most common of these words is “be”; per the ranking system “be” represents all of its other verbs forms including “is.” Choose any of the other 20 two-letter English words ranking in the top 100.

an (1) – MSa
as (4) – CKy, JG, JHn, MSn
at (3) – M4, SKy, SPu
by (3) – DP, FB, JSz
go (1) – BA
if (5) – MH, RH, RK, VC, WZ
in (1) – KS
me (2) DS, TKF
my (3) – JHs, JHz, MSr
no (1) – NH
of (5) – DA, JA, JCa, JCe, SKn
on (2) – DMK, TP
or (4) – AB, FH, JSn, LR
so (1) – NC
to (7) – AS, CKr, DK, JHa, KH, MJ, SW
up (5) – BS, CP, EL, JB, SPe

Everyone gets off to a good start by submitting a correct answer. The unchosen correct answers are do, he, it, us, and we.

2) Accident
The following quotations appear in the list25.com article “25 Accidental Inventions That Changed the World” (David Pegg, May 14, 2012). Choose one of the quotations and identify the associated invention. Enumerations for the inventions appear in parentheses after each quotation. Quotations are lettered for convenience; you do not need to indicate a particular quotation in your answer.
A –  “…Nobel accidentally discovered a method of…” (8)
B – “…because they were soggy. In an attempt to teach the customer a lesson, Crum sliced them extra thin…” (6 5)
C – “… play with for decades was originally intended as wallpaper cleaner.” (4-3)
D – “…running out of plates while the neighboring Persian waffle stall…” (3 5 4)
E – “…Roy Plunkett, a chemist who worked for DuPont in the early 20th century for accidentally stumbling across…” (6)
F – “…and when he came out in the morning he found his mixture frozen with the stirring stick…” (8)
G – “…Before turning out the lights one evening Charles Goodyear accidentally spilled…” (10 6)
H – “…Art Fry, realized that it would be perfect as a no-slip bookmark…” (4-2 4)
I – “…when he felt the chocolate bar in his pocket start melting.” (9)
J – “…Kellogg began helping his brother cook meals for patients at the Sanitarium at which he worked, he ended up accidentally…” (4 6)
K – “…was on a hunting trip with his dog when he noticed how burrs would stick to its fur.” (6)
L – “…accidentally knocked a flask off of his desk it fell to the ground but rather than shattering…” (6 5)
M – “…he accidentally dropped one of them. To his amusement the spring immediately righted itself…” (6)

Corn Flakes (3) – BS, EL, JHs
Ice cream cone (7) – FB, KS, MSn, NC, SPu, SW, WZ
Microwave (9) – DS, JHa, JSz, KH, MJ, MSa, MSr, SPe, TKF
Play-Doh (5) – DP, 5 JCa, JHz, NH, SKn
Popsicle (2) DMK, FH
Post-It note (3) – AS, DK, JCe
Potato chips (6) – BA, JA, JG, JSn, RH, RK
Slinky (3) – CP, JHn, TP
Teflon (1) – AB
Velcro (5) – CKr, LR, M4, MH, VC
Vulcanized rubber (4) – CKy, DA, JB, SKy

Everyone, again, submits a correct answer. A good number of entrants recognized the molten chocolate bar story associated with the creation of the microwave, and hoped that others would not recognize it. The unchosen correct answers are dynamite (excerpt A) and safety glass (L).

3) Out of Gas
Choose one of the lettered photos below and identify the fictional character represented by the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon in the photo. Your answer must include the letter of the chosen photo. ENLARGED IMAGE

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A – Spongebob Squarepants (3) – CKy, JHs, SKn
B – Bud Lightyear (7) – JCe
B – Buzz Lightyear (4) – JSn, LR, RK, SW
C – The Pink Panther (6) – AB, FB, JG, JHa, SPu, TP
D – Pikachu (1) – CP
E – Spider-man (1) – JHn
F – Energizer Bunny (3) – DK, MJ, WZ
G – Kermit the Frog (4) – DA, FH, JCa, SPe
H – Barney the Dinosaur (1) – NC
J – Snoopy (6) – CKr, DP, EL, KS, MH, SKy
K – Horton the Elephant (5) – BS, KH, MSa, MSn, VC
L – Garfield (2) – AS, DS
M – Dora the Explorer (6) – DMK, JA, JSz, M4, MSr, RH
N – Shrek (4) – BA, JB, JHz, NH
O – Thomas the Tank Engine (1) – TKF

The one wrong answer was clearly on the right track. The distribution of answers prevented the penalty score from being overly severe. Image I shows the deflated and difficult-to-identify Sonic the Hedgehog.

4) Flat Tire
The following fictional characters encounter flat tires in film, either as a driver or offerer of roadside assistance. Choose one of the characters and identify either the film title or the actor (first and last name) who portrays the character; choose one or the other, not both. Characters are lettered for convenience; you do not need to indicate the character in your answer. Film titles and actors are considered separate answers for scoring purposes. The years of the films are provided in parentheses.
A – Peter Warne (1934)
B – Joe Gillis (1950)
C – Humbert Humbert (1962)
D – Clyde Barrow (1967)
E – Wyatt/”Captain America” (1969)
F – Brad Majors (1975)
G – Jonathan Kent (1978)
H – Ralphie Parker (1983)
I – Phil Connors (1993)
J – S.F.C. William James (2008)

[no guess] (7) – NH
A Christmas Story (2) – CP, KS
Barry Bostwick (5) – DK, JB, JG, NC, VC
Bill Murray (2) – DS, MSa
Clark Gable (1) – RK
Darren McGavin (7) – SKy
Easy Rider (3) – FH, MSn, SW
Get Smart (7) – DMK
Glenn Ford (2) – DP, JHz
Groundhog Day (2) – JA, TKF
It Happened One Night (1) – AS
James Mason (4) – CKy, JCe, KH, SKn
Lolita (1) – JHn
Peter Billingsley (5) – BA, JSn, M4, MJ, MSr
Peter Fonda (1) – FB
Sunset Boulevard (6) – AB, JHs, JSz, MH, RH, SPe
Superman (4) – CKr, DA, EL, JCa
The Hurt Locker (1) – WZ
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (3) – BS, JHa, LR
Warren Beatty (1) – SPu
William Holden (1) – TP

I originally planned to use Darren McGavin’s character from A Christmas Story for this question but felt that the character name of “Mr. Parker” (or “The Old Man”) would make it too difficult to identify the movie. Both Mr. Parker and Ralphie (Billingsley) are involved in fixing the flat tire, so the entrant’s error is understandable. I’m not sure which character was assumed to be from Get Smart. The unchosen answers are Bonnie & Clyde and Jeremy Renner (fr0m The Hurt Locker).

5) Speed Limit
Choose a single-word, 11C entry that is Italian in origin and is defined as a direction in music related to tempo or change in tempo. Do not choose a multiple-word entry (e.g. “meno mosso”), a direction that is used as a modifier for another direction (e.g. “assai” or “molto”), or a direction that relates to style, volume, or a playing attribute other than tempo (e.g. “fortissimo” or “legato”).

Accelerando (3) – CKr, FH, MSr
Adagietto (7) – NC
Adagio (3) – JSz, LR, SPu
Affrettando (7) – JCe
Allegretto (2) – JB, MSn
Allegro (6) – CKy, DA, JA, JHn, NH, SW
Andante (5) – DK, DS, KS, MSa, TKF
Arpeggio (7) – JCa
Atempo (7) – DP
Grave (1) – JHz
Largo (4) – EL, JG, JHs, RH
Lentando (1) – TP
Lento (4) – AB, DMK, SKy, WZ
Moderato (1) – AS
Prestissimo (1) – JHa
Presto (6) – KH, M4, MH, MJ, RK, VC
Rallentando (2) – CP, SKn
Ritardando (1) – BS
Ritardo (7) – JSn
Sostenuto (7) – SPe
Staccato (7) – BA
Toccata (7) – FB

Adagietto and affrettando are tempo-related music directions that do not appear in 11C. Atempo appears in 11C as the two-word phrase “a tempo.” Ritardo was ruled a non-acceptable misspelling. Sostenuto and staccato are musical directions that do not specifically relate to tempo or change in tempo. Arpeggio and toccata are musical terms that are not directions. 

6) Spare Tire
Choose one of the lettered menu items below and identify the fast food chain that serves it. Your answer must include the letter of chosen menu item. All items are from different fast food chains.
A – Venti Egg Nog Latte (630 calories)
B – True Classic Pot Pie (790 calories)
C – Double SmokeShack Burger (850 calories)
D – XXL Grilled Stuft Burrito (860 calories)
E – Foot-Long Spicy Italian Sub (960 calories)
F – Caramel Pecanbon (1,080 calories)
G – Big Breakfast Platter With Hotcakes and a Regular Biscuit (1,090 calories)
H – Dave’s Hot ‘n’ Juicy 3/4 Lb. Triple (1,110 calories)
I – Triple Whopper (1,160 calories)
J – Large Carbonara Sub  (1,310 calories)
K – Carnitas Burrito (1,410 calories)
L – Personal PANormous Meat Lover’s Pizza (1,470 calories)

A – Starbucks (3) – CKy, JA, JG
C – Shake Shack (3) – BS, JHz, NC
D – Taco Bell (1) – MJ
E – Subway (4) – DMK, DP, JHs, RH
F – Cinnabon (10) – DK, EL, FB, JSz, KH, KS, SKn, SPu, VC, WZ
G – McDonald’s (1) – SPe
H – Wendy’s (11) – AB, CKr, FH, JCe, JHa, JSn, M4, MSa, MSn, RK, SW
I – Burger King (1) – SKy
J – Quizno’s (6) – AS, BA, CP, MH, MSr, TP
K – Chipotle (3) – DA, JB, JCa
K – Del Taco (12) LR
L – Domino’s (12) JHn, NH
L – Pizza Hut (2) – DS, TKF

Several entrants’ scores fattened in this question due to the unwitting popularity of Cinnabon and Wendy’s as answers. Burger King remained a lean choice despite the helpful brand name “Whopper” in the clue. The pot pie in choice B is served by KFC.

7) Extra Tank
The pictures below feature some popular types of freshwater aquarium fish. Choose one of the pictures and identify the type of fish. As a solving aid, the names of the fish appear below the pictures as transadditions, i.e. anagrams with one extra letter. Alternate names for the types of fish (names that do not form the given transadditions) will not be accepted and spelling counts. ENLARGED IMAGE

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Angelfish (4) – BS, JHz, JSn, SPu
Baby Tiger (9) – JG
Betta (3) – DK, JB, SPe
Cichlid (3) – CKr, KS, M4
Clown Loach (1) – NC
Danio (1) – TP
Eidon (9) – AB
Goldfish (2) – AS, JCe
Guppy (8) – CKy, EL, JA, JHa, JSz, KH, LR, SW
Jack Dempsey (1) – MSn
Kino (9) – NH
Kissing Gourami (5) – FH, JCa, MJ, MSr, RK
Koi (7) – DA, DMK, DS, FB, JHn, MH, SKn
Neon tetra (6) – BA, DP, MSa, RH, TKF, WZ
Piranha (2) – SKy, VC
Tetradon (9) – JHs
Tiger barb (1) – CP

Both knowledge of aquarium fish and skill with anagrams helped entrants net good scores in this question. “Baby tiger” is perfectly reasonable transdeletion attempt that unfortunately missed the mark. The unchosen fish are oscar, plecostomus, and swordtail platy.

8) Driving Ace
Golf will be introduced as a medal sport at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, though more accurately it will be re-introduced since golf was played at the 1904 Summer Games. Besides golf, sixteen sports played at the Rio Games this year will be ones with an introduction year of 1972 or later — this includes re-introductions of sports that experienced hiatus for one or more Summer Games as well as sports that may have been played at Summer Games before 1972 solely as demonstrations. Choose one of these sixteen sports.

The IOC definitions of a “sport” can be tricky, and problematic answers will be handled as follows: If an entrant submits a valid “event” belonging to an Olympic sport then the answer will be converted to the relevant sport and scored accordingly. If an entrant submits a sport “grouping” then the entrant will be asked to be more specific. Being more specific will not involve clarifying gender or distance.

Baseball (13) – JCa, KH, RH, SW, VC
Basketball (13) – JHa
Beach volleyball (12) – AB, DK, DMK, DP, DS, EL, FH, JHz, LR, M4, MSn, SPu
BMX (2) – FB, JCe
Canoe Slalom (1) – CP
Field hockey (13) – MSa
Judo (2) – JSz, TKF
Marathon Swimming (13) – JHs
Rhythmic Gymnastics (4) – CKr, DA, JSn, RK
Rugby (3) – CKy, SPe, WZ
Softball (13) – KS
Synchronized swimming (3) – BS, JG, SKn
Table tennis (2) – JA, MH
Taekwondo (4) – BA, JB, NC, TP
Tennis (1) – AS
Trampoline (2) – MJ, MSr
Triathlon (1) – NH
Ultimate (13) – SKy
Wrestling (13) – JHn

None of the answers to this question required clarification, but the IOC’s arbitrary designations of “sport” caused some difficulty in judging and I apologize for disagreeable rulings. Baseball, softball, and ultimate are not included at the 2016 Games. Basketball, field hockey, and wrestling have been continuously present at the Games starting in years earlier than 1972. Wrestling technically could have required clarification as the IOC recognizes freestyle wrestling and Greco-Roman wrestling as separate sports, but both have long tenures and would be invalid. Marathon swimming was introduced in 2008 but it is considered an event in the perennial sport of swimming, thus it did not require clarification and was unfortunately ruled invalid. Rugby, specifically rugby sevens, debuts at the Games this year. Rugby union was played at previous Games, but the two variants have never been played at the same Games and it is unclear if the IOC would define them as separate sports or separate events within the sport of rugby. Because of this ambiguity, I equated and ruled in favor of the entries “rugby,” “rugby sevens,” and “rugby union.” Unchosen correct answers include archery (re-introduced in 1972), badminton, and mountain biking.

9) Right of Way
Choose a living (as of February 28, 2016) political figure who currently holds or previously held one of the following offices as a given party representative:
Prime Minister of Australia, representing the Liberal Party
Prime Minister of Canada, representing the Conservative Party or Progressive Conservative Party
President of France, representing the Union for a Popular Movement
President of Mexico, representing the National Action Party (PAN)
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, representing the Conservative Party
President of the United States of America, representing the Republican Party

Abraham Lincoln (9) – FH
Brian Mulroney (1) – MSr
David Cameron (5) – BA, JA, RH, SKn, TP
Edward Heath (9) – JG
George H. W. Bush (7) – DA, JB, JCa, JCe, JHn, SW, WZ
George W. Bush (8) – AB, DK, DS, JHa, KH, LR, NH, SPe
John Harker (9) – RK
John Howard (4) – CKy, CP, JSz, MSa
John Major (5) – AS, BS, DMK, JHz, MSn
Kim Campbell (1) – CKr
Margaret Thatcher (9) – SKy
Stephen Harper (5) – FB, KS, M4, MJ, SPu
Tony Abbott (1) – TKF
Vicente Fox (7) – DP, EL, JHs, JSn, MH, NC, VC

John Harker seems to be an errant attempt at another leader, perhaps Stephen Harper. Heath, Lincoln, and Thatcher are no longer living. Unchosen answers include current Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, former Mexican president Felipe Calderón, and the French leaders Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy.

10) Stop
The lettered images below are segments of subway transportation maps representing fifteen major world cities. The maps were cited in a February 2016 Science Advances article as part of a study of cognitive networking and map complexity. The maps are ordered from most complex (A) to least complex (O) per the study’s findings. Choose one of the images and identify the major city that the subway system services. Your answer must include the letter of the chosen image. ENLARGED IMAGE

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A – New York (4) – DP, JG, JHa, SW
D – London (5) – DK, DMK, DS, JA, RH
E – Madrid (1) – MSr
F – Athens (9) – JHn
F – Barcelona (5) – CP, JHz, JSz, LR, RK
G – Moscow (3) – KS, SKn, TP
H – Seoul (8) – DA, FB, JB, M4, MH, MJ, NC, SKy
J – Rio de Janeiro (9) – BA
K – Berlin (8) – AB, AS, BS, CKy, FH, MSa, NH, SPe
L – Chicago (6) – EL, JCe, JSn, SPu, VC, WZ
M – Osaka (2) – JHs, TKF
N – Beijing (2) – CKr, KH
O – Hong Kong (1) – MSn
O – Tokyo (9) – JCa

The unchosen correct answers are: B-Paris, C-Tokyo, are I-Shanghai.

Tiebreaker
Edmond Dujardin grew up in Lille in northern France but he later moved to Arcachon on the Bay of Biscay and, in a former fish cannery, began manufacturing card sets for his newly invented game Mille Bornes. What is the distance, in kilometers, of an automobile trip on the A10 from Lille to Arcachon? Tie scores will be broken by the answer closer to the correct distance.

100 – JB
100 – RH
150 – SKy
180 – AS
200 – SW
217 – AB
234 – JCe
245 – NH
246 – JCa
300 – M4
333 – CKy
343 – DK
372 – DA
427 – VC
450 – LR
500 – MH
500 – MSa
500 – MSr
514 – DP
572 – CKr
600 – NC
600 – SPu
666 – EL
700 – CP
720 – BS
723 – RK
750 – DMK
750 – TKF
754 – BA
865.7 – CORRECT
866 – SPe
950 – JA
1000 – JG
1000 – JHa
1000 – JHs
1000 – JSn
1000 – JSz
1001 – MSn
1200 – WZ
1250 – MJ
1300 – TP
1500 – KH
1501 – JHz
1600 – FH
1800 – SKn
1932 – FB
2000 – KS
4568 – DS
[no answer] – JHn

FINAL SCORES

1 – CP 30
2 – TKF 32
3 – TP 32
4 – AS 36
5 – BS 40
6 – MSr 41
7 – NC 44
8 – JHz 44
9 – JB 45
10 – CKr 46
11 – CKy 47
12 – SKn 47
13 – JA 48
14 – MSn 51
15 – MJ 51
16 – WZ 52
17 – DA 52
18 – BA 53
19 – JG 53
20 – SPe 54
21 – DMK 54
22 – JHs 54
23 – JCe 54
24 – DS 54
25 – KS 55
26 – JSz 56
27 – RK 56
28 – DP 56
29 – FB 56
30 – SPu 57
31 – SKy 57
32 – JSn 58
33 – MH 58
34 – RH 60
35 – DK 61
36 – NH 61
37 – FH 61
38 – JCa 62
39 – JHn 63
40 – MSa 64
41 – LR 64
42 – VC 64
43 – M4 64
44 – EL 65
45 – AB 69
46 – SW 70
47 – JHa 70
48 – KH 72

Congratulations to Chad Phillips and thanks to all who participated.

CURRICULUM VITAE: National Denture

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NATIONAL DENTURE: BRIDGE TO THE PAST
(Puzzle Hunt)

Teams are sent on a quest to find the lost wooden teeth of George Washington. Each team starts with a map with locations marked as brands of candy. Puzzle answers suggest the candy locations and help teams navigate a trail. Solving the all of the puzzles yields a clue to a final location, where teams can discover the missing dentures as well as a deep dark secret about the Father of Our Country.

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National Denture was played by the Operations staff of my then employer Dex Media in November 2009. Management learned of my interest in puzzles and commissioned me to create a puzzle hunt as a Halloween team-building event. The hunt was designed to use locations around our office building, with the false teeth hidden in a box in the third-floor library. Participation in the hunt was not mandatory and the response was weak during the initial sign-up phase. But management cajoled employees into participating and offered mp3 players as prizes. Ten four-person teams ultimately competed.

I chose subject matter for the puzzles based on topics that I thought coworkers would enjoy such as popular culture and sports, while minimizing wordplay challenges. I also emphasized that I would be willing to confirm answers and give hints in a generous manner. A puzzle involving U.S. presidential trivia prompted the most hint requests. The top team, which prophetically gave themselves the nickname at the outset “The Winners,” recovered the false teeth in about 20 minutes without a single hint. The lower-ranking teams were put in a raffle for bonus prizes, and everyone received Halloween candy and souvenir teeth.