I didn’t participate in last week’s MIT Mystery Hunt, but I dropped in on my team’s Slack channel throughout the weekend to monitor my team’s progress. I also accessed the Hunt website to get a sense of this year’s puzzle structure and theme. The organizing team Death & Mayhem (rebranded as Life & Order) designed a Hunt that took place inside the head of fictional puzzle enthusiast Miss Terry Hunter, with liberal references to the Pixar film Inside Out. The puzzle rounds were themed around reigning in the five anthropomorphized emotions and then retrieving four core memories, ultimately enabling Terry to go on the final runaround. The hunt, titled Head Hunters, had an engaging story and polished puzzles and metas. I was very proud of my team completing the Hunt first in a close finish with several other talented teams.
L&O used an interesting gimmick for the core memory puzzle rounds. The memories represented four different stages of Terry’s youth and adolescence. Rather than present these rounds in a uniform order for all teams, L&O allowed individual teams to choose the order. A team becoming eligible to unlock a new core memory round received cursory information on the available options and then made a selection. The structure was innovative, but also controversial. “Choose-you-own-adventure” supporters appreciated having more agency in the Hunt experience and L&O mentioned during the wrap-up meeting that the structure allowed them early vetting of the core memory rounds. Opponents of the choice system pointed out that the core memory rounds included scavenger hunts, physical puzzles, and other specialty items that are more manageable when timed with particular solving shifts. A team discovering that the chosen round is not suited to the current contingent of awake puzzlers would likely feel screwed by poor luck of the draw.
The controversy was good food for thought in my explorations of immersion and escape room design. Immersive artists would applaud the introduction of choice, but the stakes are different when the experience is a theatrical experiment or art installation such as House of Eternal Return. The Pastore home was designed to illustrate how experience is non-commutative. Impressions depend on the order in which we perceive the data. On the other hand, Pine and Gilmore in The Experience Economy warn that too much variety can be harmful in a business context because the participants become overwhelmed with choices and consequences. Business owners should strive for customization and personalize experiences with a combination of moderate client interaction and empirical research. I suspect that the Pine and Gilmore approach would have benefited Mystery Hunt teams, but it would be a dealbreaking effort for the organizing team to customize solving trajectories for a hundred participating teams.
All current Puzzah! adventures feature a strictly linear narrative. Teams must solve puzzle A before solving puzzle B. In some cases a team making good time can unlock a bonus puzzle between two puzzles on the schedule. This is an example of customization based on automated assessment of a team’s skill level. But teams still recognize that they are being leash-led down a singular path and request having more control over their journey. I have some ideas on introducing more agency in our next room, but I must keep choices manageable and benign. At the end of the day, it’s all about providing the experience of success.
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Mystery Hunt solving team Palindrome was one of the top finishers this year. Members of Palindrome constructed a practice Hunt called Damn This Traffic Jam. The Hunt was distributed among teammates earlier this month and now is publicly available on The P&A website. I finished the Hunt yesterday and enjoyed it immensely. It contains several puzzles that are suitable for beginning solvers. Check it out!
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.
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.
Foggy Brume of P&A Magazine has launched a Kickstarter to fund creation of the fourth installment in his Puzzle Boat puzzle extravaganza series. Puzzle Boat ganzas generally involve around 100 hunt-style puzzles with associated metas and meta-metas and well suited for teams of five or six puzzlers. The project has met its goal and is estimated to roll out in October. There are many pledge levels, including ones that offer smaller extravaganza sets suitable for smaller solving teams. Check out the site here.
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The P&A site is also hosting a donation-based distribution of Eric Berlin’s pencil-and-paper escape room suite Escape from the Haunted Library. The puzzles are appropriate for younger, novice puzzle solvers. Link to the donation screen on the P&A main page.
Puzzle Your Kids has been providing innovative, kid-friendly puzzles for a little over a year using a subscription service. PYK creator Eric Berlin has revamped the puzzle site to provide weekly puzzles for free, along with premiums for site supporters. Please enrich the lives of your young friends and loved ones by stimulating their interest in puzzles! Visit the Puzzle Your Kids website
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Tortoiseshell Studio puzzlemaster Nathan Curtis is expanding his online puzzle footprint with a periodical called Hatched. The project is designed to provide an editorial forum for new constructors and create a venue for pencil-and-paper puzzle types not regularly featured in mainstream media. This is a great opportunity for puzzlemakers who are looking for a supportive community in which to create and showcase their wares. Check out Hatched web page for more details on the project and a submission specifications.
Francis Heaney has put together a collection of word and variety puzzles titled Puzzles for Progress. The collection includes works made by many heavy-hitters in the industry the website credits: Erik Agard, Patrick Berry, Patrick Blindauer, Emily Cox & Henry Rathvon, Peter Gordon, Andy Kravis, Robert Leighton, Andrea Carla Michaels & Jonathan Gersch, Mark Halpin, Tony Orbach, Joon Pahk, Erin Rhode, Mike Selinker, and Ben Tausig.
The collection is intended to support organizations that work for advocacy and civil rights. To receive the collection, make a donation to one of the organizations listed on the project website and send the receipt to Francis. He will send the puzzle collection in PDF format, and additional materials for charitable donations of higher amounts.
For more information on the project and a list of organizations visit the Puzzles for Progress website.
Patrick Blindauer has launched a Kickstarter for a weekly series of easy crossword puzzles. Piece of Cake Crosswords will be delivered electronically and contain no obscure vocabulary, including crutch entries like APSE that make the cut in many early-week crosswords because of handy letter patterns. Subscription tiers include copies of Patrick’s Puzzlefest crossword suites and master classes with Patrick on crossword construction.
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Patrick Berry has released a sequel to his The Crypt cryptic crossword collection. Son of the Crypt is a set of 13 never-before-published cryptic crosswords including five block-style diagrams and eight are variety cryptics. The collection is available exclusively on Patrick’s A-Frame Games website.
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Registration has already closed but I want to make a late announcement for the DC Puzzle Hunt Race, or DCPHR (pronounced “decipher”), being held on October 15 in the DC area. Todd Etter of The Famine Games fame organized the event and I expect that puzzle hunt will have some excellent production values.