Puzzle Training

I realized the other day that the last puzzle I had actually solved (or even attempted to solve) was Artifact #5 in the Black Letter Game.  That was months ago, and we didn’t even finish!  With my work about to calm down for a bit (I anticipate), and with MIT Mystery Hunt coming up, it’s the perfect time to do a little puzzle training!  Not only will this be fun and help get me ready for January, but it should also help my puzzle-designing abilities as well.  It’s weird, but it seems I’m the type of person who has to really schedule time or make a regimen for doing hobbies I enjoy like reading or puzzle-solving.

So far, here’s what I’ve got on my list:

  • Previous MIT Mystery Hunt puzzles – Particularly the game-themed hunt from 2011 as recommended by Todd.
  • P&A Magazine – Been wanting to do one of these anyway!  According to Puzzle Hunt Calendar, the next issue comes out on November 24th.  Could be good but there’s a chance we’ll be on the road back from visiting family for Thanksgiving.
  • Shinteki Puzzle of the Month – I’m totally ashamed that I’ve never even tried one of these.  Consider my calendar marked for November 15th!
  • BANG 33 – The now-online charity BANG sounds fun, and like something I could gather some friends to play over a weekend!
  • Previous DASH puzzles – Though maybe I should save these for DASH warm-up?

That’s probably plenty, but if anyone has any recommendations I’d be glad to hear them.  I should probably do a little bit of work on things like crossword, cryptic crossword, sudoku, and MATH (ugh) puzzles as well since those are areas I usually avoid.  Though maybe there are just SO many puzzles at Mystery Hunt that you can stick to what you know?

I’d also like to finally finish up those last few extras on The Stone for personal reasons (I seriously doubt they’d help me in any normal kind of puzzle hunt!).

I’ve gotta train my puzzle muscles!

13 comments on Puzzle Training

    • clavicarius (author)

      Thanks! I had heard about that, but didn’t know you could still solve them. I’ll add it to the list.

  • Steve

    You’re welcome to help me work on the current (previous?) issue of P&A… We’re about half way done, and Foggy recently added a “completionists” bracket for those (teams and individuals) who solve all the puzzles by the time the next issue comes out.

    • clavicarius (author)

      I’ll let you know if I get caught up with a few other things and am ready to work on P&A! Though you guys might be done by then =) Thanks!

  • tabstop

    The advantage of the current P&A is that the hints are already out, so you don’t have to wait one or two or three weeks if you’re stuck. Plus there are non-meta puzzles in the front half.

    Blatant plug: the contest is over, but the puzzles remain; these were definitely designed to be newbie-friendly.

    For logic-y puzzles (ie sudoku, akari, corral, etc) the best place is Nikoli. I used to be a member, but I realized I only really liked doing about half the types of puzzle there so I stopped.

    It’s not so much the number of puzzles (although that helps) at MIT, so much as the number on your team. I think there are teams pushing 75-100 members, although I don’t know how many are on your specific team, so you almost have to fight just to see a puzzle in the first place. (There might be 150 puzzles in the entire event, but usually you can only access 10 to 15 at a time.) For that reason, you don’t necessarily have to be the jack-of-all-trades that you have to be to solve a P&A solo (for instance). The main thing here (I think) is that you have to know the puzzle types exist, so that when you get a grid with no instructions (as you will) that you can maybe recognize “this looks like an akari”. Then you can say “who wants to do an akari” and hand it off.

    • clavicarius (author)

      Thanks, didn’t really think about working on the current P&A, it seemed like a lot of the fun/excitement comes from trying to solve quickly like with BLG, but maybe that’s not the case?

      I’ll definitely try out your contest! Thanks =)

      Hadn’t even heard of Nikoli. Ahhh.. these types of puzzles hurt my brain.. I guess that’s healthy though..

      I’m told our team is rather “small” (around 40 members), so we’ll see how things go there.. I want to do my best, but I’d probably be content if I even just go to watch a bunch of other people be brilliant and solve puzzles all weekend, hah.

      • tabstop

        There’s certainly a leaderboard for the speedy, but it stands alone as a set of interconnected puzzles if you want to treat it that way.

  • Dan E.

    I’m sure you know this, but… solving by yourself is hard. Working alone, I get (at least temporarily) stuck on the average POTM for a while. I think my solo unhinted completion rate on Mystery Hunt puzzles would be something like 10%? Not that I’ve tried.

    Ideally, you’d have a friend who’s willing to read the solution and give you a targeted minimal nudge. Or who can say: “Don’t bother, this puzzle secretly depends on some cultural background you’re missing”. (Plenty of MH puzzles are like that, the idea being _someone_ on the team will notice that a puzzle which seems to be about A-Team episodes is actually about Albanian fight songs from the 1940s.)

    In any case, the key strength is not in “turning the crank” of a standard puzzle type, but in cracking the “a-ha” insight. That’s a funny skill that mainly comes from, yeah, doing it a bunch.

    • clavicarius (author)

      I hadn’t really considered the solo aspect.. I might check in with Todd from time to time to keep from falling into the trap of an essentially unsolvable (for me) puzzle! Thanks for the advice =)

  • Steve

    The last MH I worked on, there was one puzzle that was not only a physics puzzle, it was a specific subset of physics – we had to show it to multiple physics majors before we found one that understood it. That plus the “fighting to work on the puzzles against 100 teammates” issue is why I don’t personally bother with MITMH any more.

    • clavicarius (author)

      That actually sounds kind of fun.. haha.. I have good memories of having to call upon people with different skill sets for puzzles and them enjoying using their expertise to help. Though the example you gave does sound a bit more extreme… I don’t know, it still sounds fun!! I’m sure I’ll be jaded soon enough =)

  • Dan E.

    The good news is, the team you’re on has something like 30 people — it’s kept deliberately small. That means you won’t suffer from the “fighting for puzzles” thing as much as people are saying.

    The bad news is, since we’re a small team, we probably won’t have _that_ flavor of physics major, so there is some degree of “okay then, how about you and I read the Wikipedia page for and take a whack at this puppy”.

    To be sure, obscure-subject puzzles are a small fraction of a Mystery Hunt. Super-subtle-aha puzzles are much more common! Which is why a “hint buddy” might be a good idea, but mostly I just wanted to set expectations: Don’t feel bad if you have trouble. In the real Hunt, you’ll have help.

    • clavicarius (author)

      If there is anything beating The Stone taught me to do, it’s scouring Wikipedia articles for hours at a time with only the thinnest of leads to go on. Obscure puzzles don’t scare me! =) Looking forward to the whole experience!

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