Crowdsourcing: Language-Neutral Puzzlehunts?

Oh boy, this new WordPress interface is going to take some getting used to.

Labor Day puzzles tomorrow! Get psyched if that’s a thing you get psyched for.

I recently received a message from a reader for whom English is not their first language, who said they really enjoy solving puzzlehunts but often need assistance with word-intensive puzzles like crosswords. (I’ve never tried to solve a crossword in a foreign language, but I have been trying to solve British cryptics from The Listener recently, and in some ways that’s a similar experience… it’s weird to have to reference a big book or virtual equivalent on almost every clue.)

A lot of good puzzlehunts have a diverse mix of puzzle types, though word puzzles still tend to be pretty prevalent, which makes sense given that most metapuzzle structures rely on words; the thing each puzzle resolves to for metapuzzle interaction is almost always an English word or phrase, and if our puzzle has to generate letters, it’s easiest to do that if your puzzle revolves around letters. I know that when I write a logic puzzle for a hunt, the biggest stumbling block is figuring out how the puzzle will yield an answer when solved; in my case, that responsibility often gets passed off to a “lookup” grid of random mostly unused letters that helps translate a sequence of positions into a sequence of letters.

But puzzlehunts that are relatively language-neutral are not unheard of. Earlier this summer I posted links to a sudoku puzzlehunt and a Zelda-themed huntesque set of sudoku, as well as From Muddled to Clean, a set of instructionless loop puzzles that I have to admit I never finished (though with the help of a friend, I got past a particular stumbling block and reached an absolutely jaw-dropping aha moment). I also believe there have been puzzlehunts at some of the World Puzzle Championships, where the main program is language-neutral by necessity. I’m not sure if any of these are archived online; if they are, and people know about them, I’d love to see them. If the pandemic clears up, I believe next year’s WPC will be in Canada. I’m reasonably confident that it will feature some sort of hunt, in that if nobody else writes one, I probably will. (The WPC itself sometimes has rounds with an interesting meta-structure, though these generally don’t get released after the fact… the US retains rights to publish them in this country, but I think the one book of WPC puzzles that came out in America didn’t sell all that well. I bought it!)

Even among the non-linguistically-neutral puzzlehunts, some are more linguistically neutral than others. The aforementioned reader cited DASH as a hunt they found frequently accessible. Those puzzles certainly have word answers, but maybe they’re less heavy on word puzzles since the meta-structures tend to be light. I also remember a lot of visual puzzles in Australian hunts… I feel like it’s more frequent in those events than in others that I open a puzzle to find a weird one-page visual display of colors/shapes/dots/lines that is completely impenetrable until you figure out what it’s actually supposed to represent or how it’s supposed to be processed.

So I’ll open this up to the gallery… do you have any memorable Hunt puzzles or entire puzzlehunts to share that don’t rely heavily on wordplay? Or failing that, any individual puzzles in the non-word genre you found particularly rewarding? Inquiring minds want to know.

5 thoughts on “Crowdsourcing: Language-Neutral Puzzlehunts?

  1. I never finished From Muddled to Clean, either, but I did reach “Set ?” and what I assume was the jaw-dropping moment you’re referring to. Just couldn’t quite figure out how to bring it home. Did you ever do the “The Witless” set that inspired this set? I ended up doing that one afterward, and enjoyed it.


  2. I recently finished From Muddled to Clean and I can add my recommendation to that set. It was brilliantly constructed to leave the solver confronted with tremendous difficulties and then some very satisfying breakthroughs.

    A few years ago I constructed a set of 6 logic puzzles that fed into a hidden meta-puzzle in a way that is not heavy on wordplay. The final answer does make reference to source material that is widely known and available, but is certainly not universally familiar, so some solvers did find that final answer less than satisfying. I’ve chalked that up as a learning experience.

    But since you asked for examples, here’s what I did then:


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