Now Is The Autumn of Our Puzzle Content

It’s the penultimate day of August, and I was going to say that I just squeezed this entry in under the wire to maintain monthly posting… and then I looked back and realized I missed July, and in fact it’s been more than 80 days since I wrote anything here. So, um, hi! How’ve you been? Hope you’re surviving a pandemic mixed with the increasingly disturbing moral decay of a nontrivial subset of the country I live in.

Given that I didn’t post much in the summer, and I expect a full semester of online teaching to be mentally draining, you can probably expect even less frequent posting in the immediate future. But there are some exciting events happening over the next couple of months, at least one of which I promised my former Teaching Assistant that I’d plug, so let me bring you one more “list of links” post before I’m swallowed by a blizzard of Gradescope, Explain EDU, and Zoom.

I’m going to split this up into “heavy” hunts and “light” hunts. Heavy hunts are likely to take the average solver/team a long time, because they have a lot of puzzles and/or very hard puzzles. Light hunts are lighter. Heavy hunts are the ones I get jazzed about, because I’ve seen and solved a lot of puzzles and appreciate a challenge I can sink my teeth into.

Heavy Hunts

Mark Halpin’s Labor Day Extravaganza, as usual, is the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, which is September 5. Mark has been writing these since 2006, starting with a very holiday-specific Labors of Hercules puzzlehunt and moving on to various themes inspired by classical literature. Every time I look at one of these, it seems roughly the length of a P&A issue (more on that below) until I actually start solving and remember that Mark doesn’t pull punches on the difficulty scale. For me, they put up just the right amount of resistance, so this is one of my favorite online hunts on the puzzlehunt calendar. This year’s title is “Balancing Act,” and I have a guess at the source material, but I was sure that last year’s “Distressed” would be about Samson and Delilah, so what do I know? These puzzles are free, but please tip your constructor.

The seventh Puzzle Boat sets sail on Saturday, October 10. Puzzle Boat is heavy more due to length than average puzzle difficulty; the Puzzle Boat puzzles tend to be at roughly the level of P&A puzzles (which makes sense since they come from the same author, Foggy Brume) but with dozens of puzzles, there’s room for the kind of interesting unlock structures and metapuzzles that usually only arise in Mystery Hunt. This is the one puzzle event where I usually guilt my friends into visiting my house in the suburbs. That obviously won’t be happening this year, but I look forward to solving with Mystik Spiral online. Registration is $100 per team, but well worth it for the quantity of puzzles you get.

In a year without the ambitious and format-bending Galactic Puzzle Hunt, I was excited to hear about Matt and Emma’s Birthday Bash, an upcoming 40ish-puzzle hunt brought to us by team mate, the sister team of Some Pictures of Planes Galactic Trendsetters Some More Pictures of Planes, starting on October 23. The kid’s birthday theme screams, “There’s something else going on here,” (again, I have a theory, and again, I’ll probably be wrong), but the format/timing/authors suggest that this will be the closest approximation we get to GPH in 2020, and I am here for it. Registration is free, but again, tip appropriately.

And it’s a long way away, but it’s the heaviest hunt of them all, so it’s worth mentioning that Galactic have confirmed that January’s MIT Mystery Hunt will be online and full-sized. It was pretty obvious that Hunt was not going to be in person in a traditional way, so in that sense moving online was not news. But I would not have been shocked if they decided to have a short or crowdsourced Hunt and ask the community to punt their real turn to 2022. Writing a full-length Hunt without on-campus elements and turning over next year’s Hunt to the winners as usual is a noble sacrifice and a real contribution to the Hunt community. As many others have said, GT have over the last few years created the closest event to a fully online Mystery Hunt (with Puzzle Boat closer in number of puzzles, but GPH closer in you-want-us-to-solve-what factor), so while writing MH 2021 is far from an ideal situation, I can’t think of a team I’d trust more to pull it off.

Light Hunts

The next issue of P&A drops on September 12. This would probably go in the medium category if I had one, but I don’t, and anyway, if you read this blog regularly (or as regularly as one can read less than a dozen posts a year), you probably know what P&A is; it’s basically one round of Puzzle Boat, usually with a few very accessible puzzles, a few toughies, a cryptogram and/or anaquote I’ll bend over backwards to skip, a logic puzzle my wife will refuse to let me solve, and a metapuzzle we’ll either break into after solving five puzzles or bang our heads on all afternoon. Sounds like a good Saturday to me! $10 per issue, with many earlier issues less expensive than that if you have a backlog and want to catch up.

Boxaroo is my favorite escape room company in the Boston area (once you’re ready to go to things in person, The Storyteller’s Secret is one of my favorite rooms in the country, and Conundrum Museum is also quite good), and like many companies in that industry, they’ve had to pivot to paid online experiences. Boxaroo didn’t make any of their rooms virtual, but for years they’ve also been running occasional team puzzlehunts, which I admit I haven’t played because they seemed a bit pricy. This year they put a multi-round hunt called Colby’s Curious Cook-Off online, on a pay-what-you-want basis with a recommended price of $25 (more reasonable than the prices that turned me off in the past). I haven’t solved this because the sample puzzles felt easier than I’d like, but I was very impressed with the online solving interfaces of all the samples, and I’ve heard good things from everybody who’s played through it. Likely a good starter hunt if you enjoy puzzles with a through-line but find things like the Mystery Hunt intimidating.

And speaking of starter hunts, the DP Puzzle Hunt, starting on September 18, claims to be exactly that… it’s a puzzlehunt with a similar aesthetic look to Galactic (they appear to be using their website design with permission) but promising an easier experience for teams new to puzzlehunts. I have no idea who’s writing this, whether it’ll be any good, or what the name stands for, though there is a badass phoenix in their logo.

The FAQ for DP mentions mentions inspiration from a spring competition hosted by inteGIRLS, and they’re not the only ones; there are a handful of recent and upcoming puzzle competitions, often written by high school students, that cite inteGIRLS as an influence. Now, I’m 100% in favor of young people writing puzzles and getting their work seen, but I admit I was more than a little underwhelmed that one of these events has a FAQ that says, “A puzzle hunt is an event where teams race to solve a packet of puzzles!” I’m not sure that I buy that a packet of puzzles without metapuzzles or a release structure qualifies as a puzzlehunt. As someone who loves creative puzzlehunt structures, I’d hate to see puzzlehunt culture drift toward putting a whole bunch of unrelated puzzles on a website at once. That doesn’t mean these are bad events… it just means I wouldn’t consider them within the puzzlehunt purview of this blog, despite their advertising. #puzzlehuntsnob

(Also, one of the authors of one of these events pretty blatantly plagiarized a Mystery Hunt puzzle; they’ve publicly apologized, but if they’re reading this, it would be nice if you apologized to the puzzle authors specifically, rather than to the Mystery Hunt in general as if it were one person. It wasn’t me, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling bitter on the authors’ behalf.)

I hope getting that last complaint off my chest doesn’t put too much of a downer on what’s an exciting slate of upcoming puzzle experiences. The end of the year is often a time when hardcore puzzlehunters are counting down the days until Mystery Hunt, but this looks like a busy autumn. Let’s enjoy some puzzles while we social distance, in the hopes that next year can have some more puzzling in person like the good old days.

5 thoughts on “Now Is The Autumn of Our Puzzle Content

  1. I know who is writing the DP hunt and have reason to expect that it will be good. (Because people will be prone to speculate: no, it’s not me or any subset of my Mystery Hunt team.)

    Find me somewhere other than here and I’ll provide you with more details.

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  2. I won’t share my opinion in the “puzzle hunt” vs “puzzlehunt” debate, but as a teammate from teammate I can clarify one thing: “teammate” is one word, not two 😄

    Looking forward to all the great hunts this fall!

    Liked by 4 people

    • Oh no! I always assumed it was like “Team Edward” or “Team Jacob,” but more anagrammy.

      I promise that in the future I will be as careful about the accuracy of team mate’s name as I am about the name of Yikes Were Those Planes Galactic Trendsetters Yeah Those Must Have Been Planes Because Three More Just Went By. Which is to say, not very. 😉

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Small correction: Mark Halpin’s puzzles drop September 5, not September 1.

    Not to tell tales out of school, but to the best of my knowledge “DP Puzzle Hunt” doesn’t stand for anything–it’s a gag on two earlier inteGIRLS-inspired events, BN Puzzle Hunt and Co-puzzle Hunt. (I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a twist, though.)

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    • I’ll fix the Halpin date, thanks. And coincidentally I learned the same history of the DP name on the mysteryhunt subreddit last night… thanks for posting the explanation here for my readers!

      Like

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