Pro tip for bloggers: If your post title is going to be an awkward joke about your previous post title, it’s probably not great if that previous post was 39 days ago. Most of your readers will just be confused.
A majority of the puzzlehunts I post about here are event-based, since those are the hunts I get most excited about… there’s something about the thrill of competition and knowing other people are solving what you are that gives this fairly pointless hobby a bit more meaning. (In that spirit, I really enjoyed this past weekend’s REDDOTHunt when it wasn’t proving my incompetence at assembling 3-D jigsaws, and I’m eagerly looking forward to Puzzle Potluck in a couple of weeks.)
But with more time on my hands until my employer decides the structure of our next academic year, I’ve been delving into puzzle suites that are less “everybody solve this at once” and more “get to this when you get to it,” and compiling a list of them to share. And since I plugged the blog during my appearance on this week’s episode of The Geek Bracket (which, if you like pop culture trivia, is a fun listen even when I’m not on it), I figured now’s a good time to actually post some content. So rather than waiting for the next big puzzlehunt kickoff, here are some things you can solve riiiiiight now! Or in one case, in the very near future.
Sudoku on Steroids
If you’re a word puzzle solver who hands all your logic puzzles to a teammate, you can go ahead and skip this section. Personally, I love abstract logic puzzles; I’m excited about the recent return of regularly posted puzzles on Grandmaster Puzzles, sad about the prospect of no US Puzzle and Sudoku Championships this year (since the world championships they feed into were canceled), and anxious for Nikoli to start shipping books again so I can replenish my Puzzle The Giants supply. But I have to admit that as a puzzlehunter, logic puzzles, especially sudoku, often lack the punchline that a well-constructed word puzzle might conceal. A good newspaper crossword will at least have a theme that makes it different from others, whereas a newspaper sudoku will probably occupy your attention for a few minutes and then fade away.
So I was delighted to happen upon two collections of interconnected variety sudoku (sudoku with additional constraints) with an overall goal. One is presented by Cracking The Cryptic, the puzzle video producers who recently went semi-viral with this video of a guy solving a two-given highly constrained sudoku… and if you don’t think a 25-minute logic puzzle solve can be dramatic, I beg to differ. But what I really enjoyed was this Sudoku Puzzle Hunt they posted, written by Ben Needham. The visual presentation is a bit offputting (those thermometers do not make it easy to put numbers in the squares), but there’s some deep hidden theming and content here beyond the logic solving, and as you make discoveries and gain momentum, the difficulty ramps from near-impossible to everything clicking into place in a really satisfying way.
If you’d like something a bit easier with not quite as many secrets, there’s this Zelda adventure in sudoku form, which is apparently based on Ocarina of Time, but which was perfectly enjoyable by this guy who didn’t play any Zelda games between Link To The Past and Breath of the Wild. It starts off as a vanilla sudoku with some weird squares in it you can’t do anything with, but as you make solving progress, you unlock new puzzles with interesting gimmicks. Note that you get rewards for completing 3×3 squares, which is the mechanic for moving on, but also means that if you’re stuck, you can trial-and-error a region and if you get it right, you’ll get confirmation. I used this fairly liberally, which made things easier but meant I wasn’t solving purely by logic. You can decide if you’re the kind of person who figures out 3 digits of a lock combination in an escape room and tries all possibilities for the fourth digit, and proceed accordingly.
Also, while it’s not a suite of sudoku, Jack Lance of the Pi Day Hunts released this intriguing collection of instructionless loop puzzles where you work out the constraints as you go. Like the Pi Day Hunt, I’ve gotten quite close to the end and am now completely stuck. But also like the Pi Day Hunt, I enjoyed the journey to where I got stuck. If you get past Set A and want to hint me, drop me a line.
Cryptic Crosswords, Also on Steroids
Unlike sudoku, variety cryptics tend to justify their own existence, as there is often a satisfying theme reveal. I don’t talk much about cryptics on this blog because a good puzzle alone does not a puzzlehunt make, and if I blogged about every puzzle I solved, I’d never make it to work in the morning. Assuming that at some point in the future I’ll be able to physically make it to work.
But sometimes a cryptic author creates multiple puzzles that fit together, and that warrants mention here. The latest example of this I’ve seen was written by National Puzzlers’ League member Negroni (since their real name isn’t on the puzzles, I won’t include it without permission, though they did give me the green light to link to the puzzles). This collection consists of four cryptics and a metapuzzle, and Negroni intended to bring it to this year’s NPL convention in Toronto which was unfortunately but understandably canceled. So they’ve generously shared it online, and it looks really fun.
I haven’t had a chance to solve Negroni’s puzzles yet, because looking at them reminded me of Ucaoimhu (Kevin Wald)’s similar multi-cryptic NPL Con suites. Negroni mentioned being inspired by Uc’s work, and I know of at least three other people who have also written crazy instruction-heavy cryptics inspired by Uc’s puzzles (I’m one of them). For the last few years, Jackie and I haven’t gotten around to finishing Ucaoimhu’s Con cryptics for almost a year, and last night we wrapped up his Ruby/Cinnabar/Garnet triptych from last year’s Boulder convention. I don’t know if three cryptics where the third refers back to the first two counts as a puzzlehunt, but if you like challenging cryptic crosswords and don’t mind a LOT of bookkeeping, every Ucaoimhu cryptic is worth your time. You can find all of the previous Con cryptics on Kevin’s page here (including eight three-puzzle suites), as well as years of Mystery-Hunt-themed cryptics here, and way too many other cryptics here. Do not try to solve all of Uc’s cryptics. No one has that much free time, even in quarantine.
Some of my friends are using their superpowers for good, as while their puzzles aren’t being offered for free like the options above, instead of taking money themselves, the authors are encouraging and/or requiring solvers to donate to a good cause. Puzzle Bouquet is a little out of date now, as it was published for Mother’s Day, but it’s written by some highly competent constructors (and in one case their offspring), and it’s the sort of puzzle collection where just glancing at it makes me appreciate what a difference good visual presentation makes. The authors raised over $11,000 for Every Mother Counts, and while there are a lot of different causes that could use our help right now, add this one to the list if your wallet allows.
The one thing I’m going to plug in this post that’s not yet available is Eric Berlin’s Social Distancing Puzzles. This is a collection of puzzles and a metapuzzle that are designed to be solved by two people each looking at a different packet, forcing the solvers to collaborate and share information in order to solve each puzzle. Jackie and I test-solved this and had a great time… and we never looked at each other’s pages, so I can confirm that this is solvable even if you’re nowhere near your partner, and the ways in which the information is split are very varied and creative. When it comes out, find a friend you haven’t seen in a while, hop on Zoom or Skype or Hangouts or Meet or Teams or Facetime or Slack or Discord or Hoodwink or iBall or Zinf or… okay, I admit I started making up app names after a while. Use one of the ones that actually exists, have fun solving, and help raise money for Feeding America.
And I’ve plugged Scott Weiss’s audio escape rooms before, but he has a new room in his repertoire, Book Smart, which is reportedly his longest and most puzzlehunty to date. I’m hoping to play in the next few weeks, but we had lots of fun questing for the purple unicorn, and it sounds like the new room is more in my wheelhouse (and potentially in the wheelhouse of folks who read this blog). You can sign up for live sessions here, and you can pay what you can either to Scott or to one of his preferred charities.
Finally, having said that this is a post about non-competitive non-timed puzzlehunts, let me completely break that rule and point out Pilcrow Bar, a gorgeous sequence of “pop-up restaurant” puzzles produced by Sandor Weisz’s Mystery League and Alinea, the Chicago foodie mecca at which I will probably never eat because I prefer my dessert in a non-exploding-at-me format. The puzzles have been popping up at a rate of one or two a week, and solving one allows you to enter to win a cool food-related prize (I’m still bummed I didn’t get the mocktail book), as well as giving you an answer relevant to a future metapuzzle with the biggest prize at all. This is another puzzle set where the visual design is constantly jaw-dropping, and if you’re looking for a cool puzzle to start with, I think Sparvelous Moons and Word Salad have been my favorites so far.