CURRICULUM VITAE: Quizardry

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QUIZARDRY
(Trivia/Wordplay)

Teams participate in a pub trivia game with six rounds. Each round features four trivia questions. Teams have a category sheet listing the categories for each question. The questions are fairly easy but the announced answers, while always falling within the corresponding categories, are clearly wrong. Teams must discover four wordplay transformations that convert an actual answer to the “correct” answer within the trivia game.
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Quizardry was an event written the 2017 MIT Mystery Hunt. That year’s Hunt, called Monsters et Manus, featured a fantasy-genre roll-playing theme. The events were inspired by the six character attributes in Dungeons & Dragons, with Quizardry representing both Intelligence and Wisdom. I had been brainstorming swapped-initials pairs, e.g. U.S. Presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Tyler, during my trip to Ireland. That led to the the basic idea of trivia with wordplay transformations. Many members of the Setec Astronomy Hunt team, especially Jeff Roberts, helped with game development, editing, and play-testing. The event was presented as the Saturday night event during the Hunt. I read questions, Matt McGann deejayed the think music, and Nancy Taubenslag facilitated the players. In practice, several teams completed the Hunt puzzles and metas long before Saturday night, but needed event participation points to be eligible for the final runaround. This means that I and several of my teammates ran single-team versions of Quizardry starting in the wee hours of Saturday and continuing through Saturday afternoon. This question produced the biggest audience laugh during the Saturday night event: What 1989 Oscar winner for Best Original Song, sung by a crab named Sebastian in the animated feature film The Little Mermaid, is ironically part of the official soundtrack for the Disney Cruise Line? (We hope it doesn’t describe the final destination of their cruise ships.)

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Verwald’s Treasures

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Nathan Curtis is kickstarting a sequel to his 2016 puzzle hunt What’s That Spell. Verwald’s Treasures will feature 30+ puzzles, metas, and meta-metas. Backers who pledge at certain levels will be eligible to attend the live-solve in Boston or solve at home with mailed props that “take the puzzles to new dimensions.” The campaign lasts through February 8.

House of Eternal Return / 19 Crimes

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Immersion is one of my new topics of interest. I want to learn more about immersion and apply that knowledge to my puzzle room design work. I want to participate in immersive experiences to broaden my aesthetic sensibilities. It’s a little bit daunting, but I’ll post my insights and journeys, starting with my recent trip to House of Eternal Return.

DISCLAIMER: My description will include some mild spoilers. These will only be harmful to purists who want to visit House of Eternal Return with no advance knowledge. Most readers will be fine.

Two years ago the art collective Meow Wolf purchased an abandoned bowling alley in northern Santa Fe. A group investors, including George R. R. Martin, commissioned dozens of artists to collaborate on a massive immersive installation for the new space. I heard about the project from two Denver-based Meow Wolf organizers who are friends of Puzzah! I also got some details from other friends who visited the installation shortly after it opened. My colleagues and I agreed on the business research benefits of the site, so we planned a road trip and made our way down to New Mexico in early December.

The Meow Wolf installation, titled House of Eternal Return, begins in the front yard of a Victorian house constructed inside the former bowling alley building. A mailbox reveals that the house belongs to the Pastore family. Visitors find no prescribed route and wander through the house in the manner they choose. The house interior features pleasant furnishings and walls decked with family photos, but no sign of the actual Pastore clan. There is evidence of supernatural disturbance that beset the home sometime in the recent past. Visitors can explore the living room, dining room, kitchen, and climb the stairs to the second-story bedrooms, but the doors and hallways eventually lead to areas that … one would not expect to find in a Victorian house.

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The people exploring House of Eternal Return seemed to fall into two categories. First-time visitors, like me, and groups with young children were drawn to the exotic environments. The installation contains over 50 “rooms” with amazing visuals and sophisticated technological interactions. People who had presumably been to House before took a more investigative attitude. They stayed in the house proper and combed through newspapers, desktop computer files, and diaries looking for clues. Who left this business card for a self-help cult? Why was the government surveilling the house? These carefully placed bits of data are meant to fuel speculations over the fundamental mystery of the experience: What happened to the Pastore family?

The road trip group compared notes as we drove back to Colorado. The installation contains a lot of authentic detail, but the use of fragile materials (paper, glass, textiles) in a hands-on space with thousands of weekly visitors must be a maintenance nightmare. Several of the technology elements are worth incorporating in future escape rooms. The installation contains a couple of “puzzles” but most of the experience was passive. The narrative structure is not perfect but the immersive qualities of the space are definitely memorable. I would enjoy a return visit, and I’m excited that Meow Wolf announced a new immersive installation will open in Denver in 2020!

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And on the subject of immersive technology: A friend game me a bottle of 19 Crimes wine as a holiday gift. I learned from a recent post in the escape room technology Facebook group that 19 Crimes wine bottles have a fun augmented reality feature, which you can see in this video. As a possible escape room element, it sure beats blacklights and ultraviolet paint.

Monsters et Manus Documentary

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The 2017 MIT Mystery Hunt was a role-playing themed puzzle quest called Monsters et Manus. I was part of the team that organized and presented this Hunt last January. Tom Buehler, one of my teammates, filmed the activities of the Hunt and edited a short documentary film. Even if you’re not a puzzle fan, I recommend that you scrub through the documentary to some of the highlights, such as the Hungry Hungry Hippogriffs event and Racing Techies (in which I am costumed as mathematician Norbert Wiener). Great job, Tom!

Puzzle Patreons

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Nathan Curtis’s Hatched Magazine is getting its footing with its second issue released this week. The magazine features 4-5 variety puzzles per issue. Hatched features some familiar names in the puzzle world but focuses on the work of nascent constructors. You can support the magazine at several levels. Higher levels of support make you eligible for reward and bonus material

And if you’re not currently a patron, check out Nathan’s own Patreon-sponsored variety puzzle magazine Tortoiseshell Studio.

Each issue of Topple Magazine features about a dozen variety puzzles including abstract logic, wordplay challenges, and visual brainteasers. The magazine’s name comes from founder Gregory Gray’s mission to topple conventional offerings of mainstream puzzle periodicals. You can download a puzzle sampler on the website.

Got your own favorite puzzle website? Please share in the comments.

Next

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Yesterday I kicked off the new year by joining some friends at Clueology in Loveland. The independent escape room business features three adventures. Our foursome explored the cabin of a retired intelligence office in The Fallout Room and then saved a nuclear power plant in Quake, an adventure reminiscent of a classic 1970s disaster film. Both offerings were well staged with immersive sets and sophisticated technology. The Fallout Room was particularly dense with puzzles and narrative elements, and we later learned that it was  designed for team-building groups of six or more. We held our own but required occasional nudges from the game master, generally in the form of “Take a look at the box in the front yard,” or “That desk is important.” We never needed a hint on how to solve a puzzle, rather what puzzle to solve next.

I shared the observation with my friends during lunch. They nodded in an unsurprised manner, adding that object-finding and puzzle-ordering are the escape room elements most likely to cause them difficulty. I reflected on past escape room experienced and recalled many times in which I focused less on individual puzzles and more on structural narrative. There’s an old saying that defines skill as knowing what to do and wisdom as knowing what to do next. One of my college professors adapted that saying to postmodern academics. After playing and creating a lot of escape rooms, I find it enjoyable to get into another room designer’s head and anticipate the intended solving path. I wasn’t a masterful pathfinder in The Fallout Room, but the amount of nudges from the game master suggest that the experience might have too many nonintuitive transitions. When we completed one of the puzzles, the game master, who was also the business owner and room designer, immediately jumped on the address system and suggested that we look for something that changed in another area of the room. When we completed the mission I asked about the abruptness of that clue. The game master admitted that the transition was designed to be an observational room-search challenge, but few solving groups made the connection without help. He was in the process of installing a better in-room clue for the transition.

I don’t want to come down too hard on the narrative structure at Clueology. I hear similar criticisms of my Puzzah! rooms, though in the opposite direction. Several guests have complained that the narrative path is too clearly marked, and wish they had more opportunities to discover the next puzzle rather than being told where to look. This explicitly linear narrative is a traditional requirement of Puzzah! design specifications, but I’m racking my brain for a work-around that will fit our parameters. Our next room will have a narrative structure somewhere between classic Puzzah! and Clueology, in which players can guide themselves through the story using reasonable intuition. My puzzle is to create an experience in which a team uses skill and wisdom in the right balance.