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Subject: Puzzle Hunt 2006 rss

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Brad Johnson
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I'm posting this here because I don't actually know who the guy was who was running the Puzzle Hunt at bgg.con this week:

First, I applaud the creator(s?) of the puzzles -- There is absolutely no question about how much time, effort, creativity and puzzly goodness was invested in those puzzles. Based on the puzzle content, I'm guessing that it was pretty much all created just for bgg.con, although I suppose it's possible some of it was re-used from elsewhere. Very, very, very impressive. Did I mention how amazed I am at the amount of time that must have been invested in creating and setting up those puzzles??? Thank you for the hard work and fun!

However, I'm sad to admit that I ended up actually disappointed by the whole experience, for no good reason. It was really just a matter of setting expectations: With no prior experience and nothing to base my expectations on, I was originally thinking it might be 1-2 hours in duration, with puzzles being "medium-ish" in difficulty so that it would be more of a race than strictly an intelligence test. Then someone told me that it was planned for 2 hours, which seemed about right.

Then when the hunt started, we were told it was hoped everyone would be able to finish in 2.5 to 3.5 hours. 3.5 hours is a fair bit more than I really wanted to spend on it (there were too many games I wanted to make sure I got a chance to play!), but I hung in there anyway, because I really do love puzzles.

Long story short: 4.5 hours later, my team had finished maybe about 2/3 of the 1st set of puzzles, about the same amount of the 2nd set of puzzles (which we were given as a pity gesture because we had fallen so far behind), and had just received the 3rd set of puzzles (after guessing at the keyword because we were only 2 letters short). At this point we just had to quit, as we felt it had become almost ridiculous. As we walked back to the moderators' table, we found out there was actually a 4th(!) packet that we had never even seen, and they were calling it at an end in 15 minutes. I was told that 2 teams (out of 20-30?) had "sort of" finished it.

As my team had taken off to the relative peace and quiet of the atrium, I have no idea how many hints were being thrown out freely to the teams who stayed near the HQ, but I really can't believe that any one team was able to actually do all those puzzles unassisted, and I ordinarily consider myself to be no slouch at solving those things. ("Don't sell yourself short sir -- you're a tremendous slouch!")

So we didn't even get the satisfaction of eventually finishing (or even nearly finishing) the hunt after 4.5 hours of intensive work. Maybe I'm just a lot less clever than I thought, but we ended up returning to the con proper just feeling like we had wasted a prime afternoon of gaming time.

Anway, I apologize to the guy running the show, because it is not my intent to slam the hunt -- it was truly an amazing undertaking and it deserved to be enjoyed to the fullest by all of the participants. My feedback is just this: Please make sure you test this kind of thing with as many "average" geeks as you can to get a reasonable time estimate on it. And for an event like this where (I assume) most of the participants were there for something else and just wanted a brief interlude, you probably could have stopped at just the 1st packet, or cranked the difficulty level down by a _lot_. Just my opinion.
 
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Jimbo Carroll
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His name is Dave Arnot, and not being up on Tanga and some of the other puzzle sites, it really took me a bit to get into the idea. Luckily some of my teamates were more versed in the types of puzzles, but we still didn't come anywhere near close to finishing.

And some of the last puzzles making the leap to the Marx Brothers films, would have really escaped me. That being said, it was a lot of fun and I hope we didn't scare the Christian Coalition having their conference there too much when they found us randomly searching floors for the right hotel rooms.
 
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Jim Paprocki
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I agree that I wasn't prepared for the sheer length of the event. Our team made it to the final packet at 5:00, but had pretty much lost interest by then. I felt fatigued and battered, like I just completed a 3 hour calculus exam.

If this even repeats next year, I will need a clear indication that the length and amount of work will be cut in half, otherwise I will not participate. I lost too much boardgaming time, especially considering the opportunity to play monster games and new Essen releases.

Clearly the organizers did an outstanding job of putting this together, but in its current format it just isn't for me.
 
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Chaddyboy
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I agree with all the comments so far. The first hour or so was fun, but had I known just how much longer and how much work the puzzle was going to end up being, I would have just quit after that first hour. Every time we solved something, we thought "this has to be the last step" only to be swamped with yet another series of puzzles. I wish we had been shown just how many steps there were to the puzzle so we could have just hung it up early to go play some games!

Even had we gotten to the end, the final answers were a set Marx Brothers movies. I hardly even know who the Marx Brothers are, much less the titles of any of their movies! I was pretty disappointed to see that the final answer would have required some pretty specific knowledge. Granted, we were still a good few hours of puzzle solving away from the final clues anyways, but it was still disheartening to hear that even if we had gotten that far, the final answer would have still been unattainable anyways without that specific knowledge of pop culture.

All that having been said, it was an amazing job by the puzzle designer to have all those clues come together like that! I can't imagine how much time it must have taken to put it all together. It's just a shame that such a great puzzle turned into a negative experience for nearly all the participants.
 
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Marshall P.
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We quit after 2 hours. I won't go into the specifics of the puzzles but I generally consider myself pretty good at puzzles and my teammates were no slouches but somehow we did not connect with the logic behind these puzzles at all. If I had to describe them with one word I would say "arbitrary". Some of the leaps in thought you needed to make struck me as quite arbitrary in nature.

I actually feel like we won by quitting ONLY two hours in. After the puzzle hunt we played a 3.5 hour game of Canal Mania (some rules struggles included). After we finished Canal Mania we noticed two teams STILL working on the puzzles (merely out of stubborn pride at this point). No thanks.
 
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Jorge Montero
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I didn't think it was bad at all... and I was in one of those teams that spent as much time as necessary to reach the end.

The first set of puzzles was relatively easy: we had most of them done in the first hour. We only used the hint sheet in 1... too big of a hint sheet IMO

The second set was significantly more challenging. Even after knowing what to do, it took a good amount of time to solve the problems. Some hints were too easy, but others still made the puzzles difficult.

We had little trouble with one of the third puzzles, but the rest took a good while. We were halfway through three when they called it.

There's only one puzzle I was really disappointed with: The list of knizia games. I don't think anyone in their right mind would have solved that one in a reasonable time frame without access to an internet connection or asking for a hint. It still took us 15 minutes after we received a list of games!

I'm glad we finished it, but the amount of work necessary to solve a few of the puzzles should have been down a notch or two.
 
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Lincoln Damerst
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The puzzle was quite hard for us, but it was very rewarding. I've never done anything like it before and by the show of hands before the puzzle began it appears I wasn't the only one. It definitely took a lot of time but it really was a series of amazing games. It was an experience that I will never again have the opportunity to do, and the FEW games I might have missed playing will eventually get played. As for the Marx Brothers movie puzzle, you don't need any knowledge of the movies. You only needed to make a connection between the titles and different references within all of the puzzles. Our biggest problem was getting everything organized for that puzzle. Hurrah for an amazing puzzle hunt and I hope I have the opportunity to try one again.
 
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Mike Haverty
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I, too, applaud the puzzle creators and those who ran the event - they were fantastic challenges and I'm sure it was a heck of a job setting it all up and making it go.

However... I knew up front the rough time estimate, but what sort of deflated us a bit was that we had gone downstairs to work in relative peace (the puzzlers said there was no harm in working wherever you wanted to). Imagine our dismay when, after taking on the first pack of puzzles for an hour and getting most of the answers, we sent a team member upstairs for an item and were told there was a clue sheet we didn't have. This clue sheet half-solved (or more) most of the puzzles we just sweated over! We eventually got to the second packet, which were tougher (in our opinions) and again, worked them over for 2+ hours, solving a couple before we decided to head upstairs before time was called. Imagine our even greater dismay when we learned that yes, there was a clue sheet for THAT pack, too, that we didn't have; this second clue sheet also half-solved most of the puzzles that we had just melted our brains over. At that point, with time running low, we basically threw in the towel.

I have nothing against the clue sheets, per se, it just would have been nice to be told of their existence and possible use, prior to our team setting off to a secluded work area. By 6pm, my team was spent and those of us who had signed up for the poker tournament withdrew because we (a) had headaches and (b) were in the mood for some actual gaming by that point.
 
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Andrew Hertz
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Greetings. I'm really sorry that many of you were frustrated and disappointed by the event. Was it really a negative experience for everyone?! That actually shocks me. I thoroughly enjoyed the puzzle hunt, but then I'm also a puzzle geek that loves puzzle hunts and ... I was on the team that got the final answers and won the race. I think I can say with confidence that the main reason we won is that a couple of our team members have a lot of experience doing puzzle hunts. And experience at these kinds of puzzle hunts helps mightily. For a puzzle hunt geek like me this wasn't a particularly long event, though it was very involved and intense, and I too was pretty fried at the end of it. But for me it's the same sort of fried that I get after an intense game of Roads & Boats or Age of Steam etc. Y'know, a mental whipping, but in a good way.

Since I'm really into these sorts of puzzle hunts I feel compelled to support, defend, and generally say good things...

Some of the comments on this thread really startled me because it made me realize what my experiences in these events have taught me, not so much in terms of puzzle solving, but in terms of the psychology of events like this. In a puzzle race we never try to solve everything, only enough puzzles to get us to the next step (packet of puzzles or location). There were several puzzles we never solved, one we barely looked at involving a deck of cards, and one which we solved but later had to go back and fill in the rest of the grid to find one of the Marx Brothers movie titles. In a format like this it's perfectly acceptable to guess what the keyword might be if you don't have all the letters. If you're right it save you a lot of time But the single most important thing I've learned, and heed me well potential puzzle people, if you find yourself no longer making progress and/or no longer having fun...go get a hint!!! Especially when there's no penalty for doing so. As soon as we found ourselves stuck on whatever puzzles we had left we went and got a hint. I think we got two or three hints. I can assure you it was not Dave's intent to make anyone miserable. If he really wanted to torture a roomful of gamers he could have saved himself a lot of time and trouble by simply going up to the library and removing all the english rules translations from the Essen titles.

Gauging the timing on a puzzle hunt is unbelievably difficult. It's particularly hard with *average* geeks, as tempus42 put it, because the people likely to volunteer to spend 3-6 hours on a weekend playtesting puzzles are likely to be somewhat into puzzles. A lot of really really smart puzzlers have spent condsiderable energy trying to figure out ways of keeping teams from getting too far apart, especially on longer puzzle races. Creating extra puzzles to slow down really fast teams, creating hint systems to aid slower teams etc. It turns out to be a really hard puzzle... The clue sheets that were handed out were to push teams along because the organizers knew how many more puzzles were left and that teams were behind schedule. I'm pretty sure their intent was to get you to the answer to that packet quickly so you could move on to the next set. I agree it's not elegant and is frustrating to be handed the answer after you've spent considerable time on it. After seeing the first clue sheet we didn't look at the others unless we were stuck on a puzzle that we weren't finding fun.

I agree that the Knizia puzzle was surprisingly difficult (and I own like 50 games by him). I also thought it inelegant that sometimes it was the english title and sometimes the german one. But I have to laugh, I mean, it's not like there wasn't a room down the hall with a crapload of games in it, of which many had to be by Dr Knizia.

The suggestion I would make, which I've seen done at puzzle events, is to separate teams into two categories, racers (who want to be competitive and not take hints) and walkers (who want to be more casual and be able to go up and ask for hints freely and without guilt).
 
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Sean Tompkins
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I was on one of the teams that finished the entire hunt, although it was an hour+ after the game was over. I really enjoyed puzzle solving, and I *did* have fun during the whole thing, but didn't leave completely satisfied. After talking to a few people about it, I decided that on another day with nothing to do, this would be an awesome event. But it took a LOT of time, and I would have liked board gaming better, since it was the BGG.con. I think a lot of the emotion from it is the exhaustion at the end of it, and just not knowing what in the world I was in for up front. Our team also was plowing through things at a pretty decent clip, but getting left in the dust... and the hint sheets invariably came out just as we had finished the hardest puzzles, and laid out exactly how to solve them. That was a bit frustrating... it felt like we had wasted the time actually DOING the puzzles. I *loved* the interactive element of going to different rooms, of figuring out how to get hints, and all of the unique BGG in-jokes in some of the puzzles (like Grognads post).

Would I do an event like this again? Absolutely. I might NOT do it at BGG.con again, just because there's limited time there... And even the frustrating memories are at least a great story to tell, which is half of what con going is all about. We were proud to finish, even if we were late. And I want a copy of some of those puzzles, just so I can prove how tough they were...
 
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Randy Cox
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Having not attend, I can't say for sure, but I have participated in a puzzle hunt run by Dave before and the one I remember had a Marx Brothers theme and solution. Don't know if the BGG.CON one was derived from that or not.

But I will say that I've joined the fun in several such hunts at The Convention Which Shall Not Be Named. And I'm always amazed that what would take my team 5 hours to do is often solved in less than 3 by several other teams. I'd hate to have to come up with one of these knowing that there are puzzle geeks out there who are extraordinarily good at these things. They're just on a different plane from the rest of us.

Also, it sounds like not a lot of BGG con attendees have done these before (judging solely from comments on this site), whereas at the other con, there are some sharks who regularly attend the MIT Hunt, which is a damn sight harder.

So, maybe the main problem was not knowing the level of puzzle geekiness/devotion of attendees at a 2-year-old con. If this were to continue for years to come, I suspect there would then be a core of puzzlers who finish in the expected time frame.

Just my guess.
 
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Scott Nicholson
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Gurgeh wrote:

The suggestion I would make, which I've seen done at puzzle events, is to separate teams into two categories, racers (who want to be competitive and not take hints) and walkers (who want to be more casual and be able to go up and ask for hints freely and without guilt).


That is a fantastic suggestion! This is a great idea and one that I plan on stealing myself. The people who want to seriously compete don't get the hint sheet and get no hints without penalties.

The people who say, "Hey, I just want to try my hand at the puzzles" can give it a shot, go and get hints when needed, or just say "I'm stumped. Can I move on?" and just have a chance at enjoying the puzzles and doing the things they are strong at.

(as an aside, our group also left the area, and were quite annoyed after working on the first set of puzzles for some time to learn there was a hint sheet available...)
 
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Andrew Hertz
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Randy Cox wrote:
Also, it sounds like not a lot of BGG con attendees have done these before (judging solely from comments on this site), whereas at the other con, there are some sharks who regularly attend the MIT Hunt, which is a damn sight harder.


You are a master of understatement Randy. The MIT hunt, which I've not done, is like the hunt at BGG.con only for an entire 3-day weekend instead of 4 hours. If you're feeling in need of humility, check out those puzzle hunts: http://www.mit.edu/~puzzle/hunthistory.html

Peter Sarrett (of game show fame) is part of the team that put together this hunt: http://www.mooncurser.info/ which sadly I did not participate in. Speaking of humility, I have little doubt that the puzzle hunt team of which Peter is a member would have finished this BGG.con puzzle event in two hours or so. I know they regularly finish hours ahead of our team. Genius bastards! They're definitely on that other plane. And I don't have a ticket...
 
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Kendall Miles
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I know our team really put a ton of time and effort into the puzzle but after a while it became way too much like work and I think in the end most of us were pretty disappointed we hadn't just chosen to game that day. I do think making the puzzle was a tremendous effort and the whole thing was very neat, though.

One suggestion I would have is at the beginning make sure there's a clearer understanding of what people are getting into. In addition to the time estimate which was way off, I know on my team some of us signed up thinking it would be something that involved a lot of game knowledge and finding various game items, it was only when we opened the first packet that we found out it was something completely different.
 
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