2019 MIT Mystery Hunt

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I don’t have much personal commentary on the Mystery Hunt presented last weekend in Massachusetts. My participation in the content development was next to nil and I was two time zones away while my teammates on Setec Astronomy were answering phones, delivering puzzles, and staging dramatic interactions for the solving teams. I did manage to watch a live stream of the opening skit, in which my teammates declared Molasses Awareness Day to mark the centenary of the Great Molasses Flood in Boston’s North End. The new holiday caused havoc as waves of molasses flooded the other holiday towns, represented by figures from The Nightmare Before Christmas. The solving teams spent the weekend resolving conflicts between neighboring holidays, cleaning up molasses, and searching for a coin-like metal cover that would prevent more molasses from pouring out of the industrial portal of the newly formed Molasses Awareness Day Town.

Throughout the weekend I checked the progress screen to see how teams were doing. By Saturday morning, Left Out and Palindrome were the clear front runners with nearly identical counts of solved puzzles and metas. The horse race continued until Sunday afternoon when Left Out submitted correct answers to every puzzles and, in short time, solved the final meta resolving a dispute between New Years Town and Patriots’ Day Town. Forty-five minutes later, Left Out found the coin and saved the Holiday forest.

My brilliant teammates created an excellent set of puzzles, metas, events, and interactions, which can be accessed here. I want to single out one element of the Hunt for special praise. The holidays featured in the Hunt led to lighthearted puzzling and punny answers, but Setec Astronomy also noted that the weekend of the Hunt coincides with the Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Setec designed an event around MLK day but substituted the whimsy of the other Hunt holidays with a theme of service. Participants from the solving teams joined members of Boston’s Science Club for Girls to work on a science project in which they built foldscopes. I was very proud of this inclusion of service in the Mystery Hunt and hope that future organizing teams follow suit.

Congratulations to the amazing solvers on Team Left Out. Best wishes to you on the construction of the 2020 Hunt.

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The 3rd Crypt

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Patrick Berry has published the third installment in his Crypt series of cryptic crossword collections. The PDF set, which contains five block-style cryptics and eight variety cryptics, in on sale at A-Frame Games.

Denver Immersive Summit

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Denver Immersive Summit will be held at the University of Colorado Denver Science Building on Saturday, November 10. The daylong event will feature creative artists and designers demonstrating their wares and speaking about the past, present, and future of immersive experiences. Tickets are $25 for the full event and students can apply for “scholarship” admission.

So, why should you attend an immersive summit? If you are a theatergoer and your tastes lean toward the experimental, you should attend. If you’ve been hearing about this Meow Wolf installation coming to Denver in  few years and want to know what that’s about, you should attend. If you’re interested in augmented and virtual reality technology, you should attend. If you watch Westworld and want to know how close the premise of that show is to being a reality, you should attend. And if you like escape rooms and want to join a discussion about inclusive escape room design led by Cody Borst and me, you should attend.

Whether or not you can attend the summit, I’m interested in your take on the escape room topic. Have you played an escape room and felt disconnected from some element of the experience? What are the the most important ways an escape room can engage with a wide group of players? Are there drawbacks to an escape room being too inclusive? Please share your thoughts.

The Inkubator / Crosswords LA X

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Laura Braunstein is requesting submissions for an upcoming crossword puzzle subscription service. The Inkubator will feature twice-a-month publications of crossword puzzles constructed by women. Laura and Tracy Bennett will edit the puzzles and seem very open to themes and grid styles that challenge mainstream standards. Constructors may submit drafts and general questions to  inkubatorcrosswords [at] gmail.com. A crowdfunding campaign for subscriptions launches October 21.

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Crosswords LA X will be held this Sunday (October 21) at USC’s Hoffman Hall. Advance registration is closed, but a limited number of walk-in participants will be admitted on tournament day. Tournament organizer Elissa Grossman and puzzle wrangler Alex Boisvert have commissioned puzzles from some of the finest puzzlemakers in the country, and also one from me. Solve-at-home packets will be made available after the tournament and portions of the proceeds go to Reading to Kids. I’m excited to see everyone at the tournament!

 

Ten Words / Bart Bonte Games

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My friend Max Woghiren has posted a web game called Ten Words.

The goal is to fill a five-by-five word grid one letter at a time so that as many rows and columns of the completed word grid contain a word of at least three letters. You have two letter placement options at each turn but don’t know about upcoming letters, so you have to be strategic about your choices. You can play one game per day for leaderboard consideration and additional games in a “practice” mode. I love the press-your-luck element to the game, though I tend to set up an ambitious letter skeleton and then crash and burn in a spate of vowels. Give it a try, and see if you have better luck than me.

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Eric Berlin recently turned me on to the app games of Bart Bonte. I’ve downloaded and completed What’s Inside the Box, Yellow, and Red. Each game comprises a series of puzzle “quickies” that involve pattern induction, logical sequencing, spatial reasoning, and occasional wordplay. None of the puzzles have instructions, but you can request hints. “Lights Out” variants are a bit overused, but the overall puzzle collections are clever and the aesthetics are very attractive.

 

Puzzle Your Kids Videos

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Puzzle Your Kids creator Eric Berlin posted a YouTube instructional video titled How to Make a Word Search. Eric narrates the video and mentions that this will be followed by more videos related to puzzle construction and wordplay. It’s definitely worth a view if you want to learn the basics of word search construction, but also to hear Eric’s avuncular narration and his reactions to unusual bird names. Check it out!