A Scavenger Hunt with a Dragon at the End?

Although I’m the only one who works in the puzzle field, I’m far from the only member of my family with puzzly skills.

Mom is a whiz at cracking crosswords, Sudoku, and Jumble puzzles. My younger sister demolishes jigsaw puzzles, rules trivia games and bar trivia nights, and has a knack for tackling escape rooms. My older sister loves city-spanning scavenger hunts like The Great Urban Race.

And although the GUR is no longer running, plenty of other events around the country are waiting to be discovered to scratch the puzzly itch of enthusiastic solvers.

One of them is coming up in a few weeks, in fact. If you’re near Boston, you can join the Boxaroo crew for their third annual City Scavenger Adventure, The Dragon of Bostonshire!

On August 19th from 1pm to 5pm, Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park will be the starting point — and final destination — for a quest worthy of the name…

Once upon a present time, in a parallel universe known as Bostonshire, a loud rumbling echoed throughout the land. As the town became concerned, the noble Knights of Bostonshire went to investigate… and lo and behold! They discovered a ferocious, enormous dragon, raging and breathing fire. Alas, the Knights are in dire need of YOUR help- will you and your team be able to help them defeat the dragon before Bostonshire is destroyed?

Teams of up to 5 will race around Boston in order to take pictures, solve puzzles, accomplish tasks, and hopefully collect enough clues to return to the park in order to complete the final challenge and slay the dragon!

I reached out to the Boxaroo team for a bit more detail, and they kindly indulged me, explaining that the scavenger hunt aspect of the quest is a combination of puzzle-solving, running around, and accomplishing tasks. The puzzle-solving ranges from memory games and trivia to logic puzzles, with each location providing a different challenge to overcome in order to earn a clue.

It sounds like an awesome time, and I hope it’s a grand success for the players and organizers alike! Click here for more details!

What do you think, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Will you accept the challenge of the Dragon of Bostonshire? Have you competed in an event like this one? Let us know! We’d love to hear from you?


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The Great Puzzle Pursuit: Puzzle Hunting Across the U.S.!

Puzzle hunts are interactive solving experiences that often have you wandering around a certain area as you crack codes, unravel riddles, and conquer puzzles.

Whether you’re working alone or you’ve recruited a team to help with the hunt — perhaps solvers whose skills complement your own or fill a gap in your puzzling ability — it takes puzzles a step further, often making for a memorable puzzle experience, akin to Escape the Room challenges.

We’ve covered some puzzle hunts in the past, like BAPHL or the Trials Evolution hunt. We’ve also explored puzzle hunts that combine aspects of scavenger hunts and physical challenges to create a more physically demanding solving experience, like the Great Urban Race.

But I don’t know that we’ve ever covered something quite on the scale of The Great Puzzle Pursuit.

Instead of one city, you have 15 possible cities to test you. Instead of racing other teams over the course of a day or a weekend, you have a seven-month window of opportunity to test your puzzly mettle.

Intrigued yet? I certainly was, so I reached out to the team behind The Great Puzzle Pursuit to find out more about this ambitious solving experience. Co-creator Jason was kind enough to answer my questions about the event.


What inspired the Great Puzzle Pursuit?

A little background about us first. My wife Amy and I have been frequent participants in events like Warrior Dash, Urban Dare, and various scavenger hunts for the last 10 years. Now that I am older I can tell you that breaking both of my ankles previously ensured that I just cannot run like I used to.

So my wife and I, who are enormous fans of puzzles and the outdoors, tried various geocaching activities. Which we loved, but that is more just hide and seek. Then we went on to try various scavenger hunts and found the challenges to generally be silly tasks as opposed to actual puzzles.

After much research, we just couldn’t find exactly what we were looking for so we decided to make it ourselves, launching in Pittsburgh, PA.

You have 15 cities listed as possible points of entry into this puzzle hunt. What are the logistics involved in creating something of this scope? How many team members do you have running GPP?

The logistics in running multiple simultaneous hunts is somewhat of a challenge. In each city, we choose 7 locations — generally monuments, statues, or unique features — and then weave puzzle elements into these locations. Essentially you will need to solve 7 location puzzles and 7 on-site puzzles to complete your city.

[Glenn’s note: Location puzzles lead you to a location, while on-site puzzles can only be solved once you reach a given location.]

The locations are different but the puzzle elements are identical between cities so we can ensure it is a fair competition. Assuming a team bests their city challenge, all teams across the country share one last Meta puzzle. To date only 4 teams have unlocked this final challenge and now qualify for the cash prize nearing $1,200.

My wife and I are the owners and operators and we have a team of 8 that helps us create the challenges, scope out future locations, etc.

How many groups/competitors are involved right now?

We are nearing 300 teams now, with 4 total finishers [people who have completed a city challenge and the meta puzzle]. Two for Pittsburgh, one from Buffalo, and one from Hartford. All teams have until September 15 to finish so we expect to see a few more by then.

What lessons did you learn from season 1 that have informed this season’s event?

What we learned from season 1 is that people want to be challenged. In season 1 we made a puzzle hunt that was difficult but 50% of all teams completed it.

The vast majority said they wanted it to be even harder! So this year we added that 15th and final national puzzle that only the best of the best will be able to unlock.


Thank you to Jason and Amy for taking the time out to talk to us today! You can find out more about the Great Puzzle Pursuit on their website here and on Twitter here!

And remember, there are 15 possible cities to conquer:

  • Austin, Texas
  • Baltimore, Maryland
  • Boise, Idaho
  • Buffalo, New York
  • Cleveland, Ohio
  • Columbus, Ohio
  • Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
  • Hartford, Connecticut
  • Indianapolis, Indiana
  • New York, New York
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • St. Augustine, Florida
  • Springfield, Massachusetts
  • Washington, D.C.

Let us know if you’re going to accept the Great Puzzle Pursuit challenge in the comments below!


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It’s Follow-Up Friday: Melancholy Mastermind edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today’s update is all about the Great Urban Race.

I had the privilege of providing puzzly tech support for my sister as she ran several Great Urban Race events, and it was both a terrific challenge and a marvelously fun experience.

Each race was totally different, designed around the host city, and the questions could involve anything from trivia and cryptography to anagrams and pattern-matching, along with some serious chops when it comes to Googling in a hurry.

[A glimpse at a sample set of challenges from a previous event.]

So I was sad to find out that this year’s competition, which wrapped up with the championship round in Vancouver back in August, will be the last GUR event.

From their website: “After eight fun and action-packed years, Great Urban Race will no longer be touring the country.”

[A team crosses the finish line at a GUR event.]

I reached out to friend of the blog and GUR Senior Manager Jordan Diehl, who had this to share:

The decision to retire Great Urban Race was not an easy one, but ultimately the best move for our company.  We are excited to continue to produce unique and exciting events like Warrior Dash, American Beer Classic, and Firefly Music Festival and will be focusing our efforts on these ventures and others that we will be launching in the future.  

On behalf of GUR and Red Frog Events, we wholeheartedly appreciate the support of our participants over the past eight years and hope to see them at a future Red Frog event! 

While I’m disappointed that the puzzlerific Great Urban Race that we know and love is no more, I’m excited to see what else the creative minds at Red Frog Events come up with. I’ll be sure to update you if anything particularly puzzly arises in the future.

Until then, I wish all the best to the GUR crew, and heartfelt congratulations to all the masterminds who traveled the country accepting the Great Urban Race challenge.

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

Think outside the house…

[A friendly reminder that not everything is available online.
Stickers (and the story of their creation) can be found here.]

Summer’s almost here, and although we all love puzzles (and we’ve been talking about apps a lot lately), I think it’s safe to admit that puzzles have always been something of an indoor activity. So what’s a parent to do when puzzle-loving kids don’t want to go outside?

Why, take the puzzles outside, of course!

Do your kids enjoy shapes? Why not create some large-scale tangram puzzles for them? All you’d need is a sheet or two of posterboard and a pair of scissors. There are numerous designs online that you could recreate (minus the lines that show how the pieces make each shape) and challenge your young solvers to mimic with their pieces!

You could even cut the posterboard into Tetris pieces and play a game of Tetris where each kid takes a turn placing a piece, trying to leave as few open spaces between pieces as possible. (Though you’d have to be a real magician to make complete lines disappear like in the game!)

Do your kids like trivia? Why not grab a few frisbees, a hula hoop or two, and create a mini-game show!

[Frisbee golf provides the perfect model for an easily improvised puzzle game.]

Different hula hoops could be different categories or difficulty levels (either prop them up or let them sit on the ground), and the kids could show off their athleticism AND their trivia knowledge in one fell swoop! (Replace the frisbees with beanbags or softballs or whatever you like. This is a game meant to be cobbled together from whatever’s on hand.)

And of course, there’s always the ultimate fusion of outdoor adventure and puzzly skills:

Scavenger hunts are great, because you can tailor them to your audience. Do your kids love puzzles? Make the clues as puzzly as possible, incorporating riddles and anagrams and wordplay galore. Do your kids like searching more than puzzling? Be creative in crafting the list of items to find.

Since the dawn of the modern era of mobile phone technology, a new variation on the scavenger hunt has emerged: the photo scavenger hunt. Instead of finding numerous items and bringing them back to a predetermined spot, you take pictures of various items (or provide photographic proof that you’ve completed certain activities or accomplished certain tasks) and bring your phone back as evidence.

Some companies, like our friends at The Great Urban Race, offer city-specific scavenger hunts for adults, replete with puzzles, physical challenges, and all kinds of outdoor fun. Their website is a treasure trove of ideas for your own adventures.

Actually, you know what? That sounds great. Forget the kids, I’m gonna go recruit some people and go scavenging!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

5 Questions: Alumni Edition

Undoubtedly one of the most popular features on the blog in 2013 was 5 Questions, our interview series featuring puzzle constructors, authors, filmmakers, game designers, puzzle enthusiasts, and creative people in general whose work and play relates to puzzles.

As 2013 was winding down, I reached out to our 5 Questions alumni to catch up and ask them what they’d been up to since appearing here last. (Or when I’m not pestering them for crossword construction advice or New Year’s Resolutions. *laughs*)

And so many of them were happy to share their latest projects with the PuzzleNation audience!

Author Robin Sloan’s marvelous novel Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is out in paperback, and the prequel story Ajax Penumbra 1969 is available as an eBook. I asked him about what he’s been doing, and his answer was brief and exciting:

Let’s see… I’m hard at work on a new novel!

That’s about it 😀

Can’t wait to see what he’s got in store for us next.

[Click here to check out Robin’s session of 5 Questions, as well as our book review of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore here.]

Great Urban Race Senior Manager Jordan Diehl was also happy to bring us up to speed on what the GUR crew has been up to:

We just finished a successful Championship event in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It was our first time outside of the continental US, and the race was really well-received. Like in years past, a total of $10,000 was given out, but this year it was divided among the top 8 teams as opposed to years past where only first place received cash prizes.

The division of prizes will remain as we enter our 2014 season:
First place: $6,000
Second place: $2,000
Third place: $1,000
Fourth – Eighth place: $200 each

And speaking of, we are excited that our 2014 season is just around the corner!

We’ve consolidated our schedule for 2014; our first event is in late January and the last regular-schedule event of the season will be June 7. This leaves us room for another new Championship location in a potentially colder climate that we could not typically do in November/December (the usual dates of our Championship) as we are looking at an August/September Championship date.

Here at Great Urban Race, we’ve decided that 2014 is the “Year of You,” and we are focusing on listening to participant feedback more than ever. We put out a vote for Championship locations as well as several other campaigns like it through our social media pages.

[Be sure to check out the Great Urban Race website for more details, and click here to read Jordan’s session of 5 Questions.]

Kathy Matheson (a.k.a. puzzle blogger Crossword Kathy) had some interesting news to share, not only regarding her puzzle-constructing aspirations, but interacting with the PuzzleNation readership as well!

After the 5 Questions interview appeared, I was pleasantly surprised to get feedback from a couple of your readers! One is a fellow journalist here in Philly — I recognized his byline but have never met him, and didn’t know he was a puzzler, too. He told me about a local constructor he interviewed a few years ago, when she was 95! Now she’s about to turn 100, and he said she’s still making crosswords. Amazing. I hope to write a story about her myself, somehow tying it in to the just-passed centennial of the crossword.

The other person who contacted me is a constructor I admire who very kindly offered to help with my grid-building dreams. Part of me really wants to take him up on the offer, but part of me is very independent and wants to do it alone.

The truth is that I haven’t spent as much time constructing as I should, so perhaps I should do more of that before asking for help. I did send the L.A. Times one of my puzzles, which was rejected by a very nice note saying that “there’s some good work in your grid, but the theme puns are too stretchy” for their taste. Oh well.

[I have no doubt we’ll be seeing Kathy’s name in a puzzle byline in 2014. Click here to check out her session of 5 Questions!]

Puzzle poet Peter Valentine regularly posts his latest creations on Twitter and Tumblr — I’ve posted his poem “Birthday” for the 100th Anniversary of the crossword above — and has recently added another social media platform to his arsenal.

I’ve started an instagram feed, @peterboothby, which helps to reach many more folks and generate discussion.

[You can check out the full archive of his poems here, as well as his session of 5 Questions here.]

As you might’ve expected, constructor and puzzle historian David Steinberg has kept himself very busy between his own crossword construction and his work on the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project, which recently passed the 14,000 puzzle mark!

On December 21, the crossword centennial, I gave a talk at the Palos Verdes Peninsula Center Library on crossword history, the Pre-Shortzian Puzzle Project, and crossword editing, solving, and constructing. Also, I constructed a special centennial puzzle for the Focus page in The Orange County Register.

[Check out The Orange County Register, where David serves as crossword editor, as well as his session of 5 Questions here.]

Prolific constructor Robin Stears has been puzzling up a storm since last we spoke.

The dust has settled from the 100th anniversary celebrations, and of course, the other holidays took up some time, but I’m ready to get back to work. My daughter took pity on me and spent a day fixing my Tumblr blog so that it’s easier to find, sent out messages to all my Tumblr followers, and helped me set up a Tumblr-exclusive giveaway (to make up for my ineptitude). She even tweaked it for the holidays!

I’m starting off the year with a 21×21 StearsWords puzzle entitled “Things to Look Forward to in 2014.” There’s so much to look forward to, it needed a giant-size puzzle.

The Trivia Challenge puzzles seemed to be popular, so there will be more of those. I’ll continue to invite social media fans to send me their ideas and watch them come to life–a Reddit fan suggested “Doctor Who,” a Tumblr fan is responsible for the “Game of Thrones” puzzle, and a Facebook fan challenged me to do a “420” puzzle; clearly, I’m open to just about anything. (Someone asked me to do a cryptogram/crossword, where solvers have to decipher the clues, and then solve the puzzle. It sounds like a lot of work, but also a lot of fun; it also sounds perfect for a contest.)

Naturally, I’ll be keeping a close watch on what’s hot, just in case there’s another “Sharknado”-like event that begs to be immortalized in crossword. And solvers will still find the majority of my work in Penny/Dell puzzle books. They’ve been printing my puzzles for over twenty years, and I’m a huge fan of their puzzle books, as evidenced by the ginormous stack of Good Time Crosswords in my office.

[You can also join Team StearsWords by clicking here, and check out her session of 5 Questions here.]

As you might expect, David L. Hoyt has been busy. The most syndicated man in puzzles continues to produce his signature Jumble puzzles, but he also has a new puzzly product to share.

Just 2 Fun (pictured above) is David’s latest creation and his first app for younger players (ages 9 and up). The app is available for iPad, iPad mini, iPhone 4 and 5 and iPod touch devices. Just 2 Fun is a kids’ version of the enormously successful puzzle app Just 2 Words.

[You can explore all of David’s puzzly creations on his website, and check out his session of 5 Questions here.]

Even our latest interviewee, New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz, had something to share with us in the few weeks since appearing on the PuzzleNation Blog.

You may recall him mentioning his favorite pastime:

At the moment I’m close to finishing a personal goal — to play table tennis every day this year. As I write this (on Dec. 17), I’ve played every single day since Jan. 1 — 351 days in all.

I’m happy to report that Will did in fact complete his 365 days of table tennis for 2013, even throwing a party to celebrate. (I suspect New Year’s Eve may have also contributed to the festivities.)

[Check out Will’s contributions to NPR’s Weekend Edition here, as well as his session of 5 Questions here. We hope to have more information on his new puzzle magazine Will Shortz’s WordPlay very soon.]

Thank you to all of our 5 Questions alums! They helped make 2013 a banner year for PuzzleNation Blog, and as we head into 2014 with new interviews to come, I promise to keep you posted on everything these brilliant puzzly folks are up to.

Thanks for visiting the PuzzleNation blog today! You can like us on Facebookfollow us on Twitter, cruise our boards on Pinterest, check out our Tumblr, download our Classic Word Search iBook (recently featured by Apple in the Made for iBooks category!), play our games at PuzzleNation.com, or contact us here at the blog!

5 Questions with Jordan Diehl and The Great Urban Race

Welcome to the third edition of PuzzleNation Blog’s newest feature, 5 Questions!

We’re reaching out to puzzle constructors, video game writers and designers, writers, filmmakers, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life, talking to people who make puzzles and people who enjoy them in the hopes of exploring the puzzle community as a whole.

And I’m excited to have Jordan Diehl as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

Jordan is a Senior Manager for the Great Urban Race, a city-spanning puzzle competition that combines puzzle-solving, scavenger hunts, and physical challenges to create a unique, whirlwind challenge based around the landmarks and curiosities of a given city. (Previous GUR events have taken place in Seattle, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, and many other American cities.)

Teams gather to tackle the numerous mental and physical obstacles in a certain amount of time as they explore the city. Players are allowed to have remote help as well, often recruiting friends as “tech support” to hunt down locations for them en route. (I’ve served as tech support for my sister on several occasions. Check out our previous GUR adventures here.)

It’s a terrific workout, a great mental exercise, and some serious fun.

With the latest edition of the Great Urban Race hitting New York City in two days, Jordan was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!

5 Questions for Jordan Diehl and the Great Urban Race

1.) The race is a combination of mental dexterity and physical endurance, often requiring contestants to solve on the fly. How much does each city impact the puzzles the contestants encounter? Do you choose certain cities with puzzles/questions already in mind, or do the cities dictate the puzzles?

Great Urban Race is all about finding the hidden gems of the city we are in, so we like to incorporate interesting and historical facts about the city whenever possible when creating puzzles!  We have a group of cities that are perfect for Great Urban Race, and we love visiting those on an annual basis. (Full list on our website here) There are some types of puzzles that we can incorporate in multiple cities, but in general we like to be pretty city-specific.

We do puzzles of all levels of difficulty, but some of our favorites are Sudoku, logic puzzles, as well as word-puzzles.  Our site is actually being updated now with some example clues—those can be found here.

2.) The Great Urban Race has held events all over America. Which city offered the most challenging race, either in terms of puzzles or the physical challenges?

The cool thing about Great Urban Race, both as a participant and as an Event Director, is that every year AND every city are completely different and pose their own challenges.  Each race has at least one challenge that will put Masterminds (what we call our participants) out of their comfort zone in either a fun or scary way—some past examples of this have been jumping off a 50 ft platform onto a large inflated airbag, rock climbing, walking on fire, and eating some pretty gross things.  It’s our favorite to plan but also the most challenging piece of each race for us as well!

3.) How many people contribute to each race’s puzzles? Do you have a resident puzzlesmith, or does everyone get a chance to contribute?

We have a team of eight dedicated Event Directors for Great Urban Race.  Everyone gets a chance to contribute to the city’s puzzles, but we do have one “Cluepervisor” who is our resident expert on writing clues and thinking of new and exciting challenges.  The Cluepervisor and her team have a pretty awesome job—they take everyday items and think of how to make it a fun challenge for our participants and do a LOT of puzzle solving for inspiration.

4.) What’s next for The Great Urban Race?

Our regular season is in full swing and will conclude November 2nd in San Diego.  We are so excited to announce that our 2013 National Championship will be held in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  The top 25 teams from each city qualify for this event where the stakes are even higher and the cash prizes are much bigger as well.  New this year, we will be distributing the cash prizes as a total of $10,000 between our top 8 teams.  We’ve also re-launched several of our 2014 locations and registration is available now!

5.) What is one thing you’d like every competitor (and aspiring competitor) to take away from the experience?

We are focused on providing a fun and unique experience for our competitors. We want you to be challenged both mentally and physically, but also give you a Saturday to remember! The cool thing is that it can really be what you make of it—you could run upwards of 8-10 miles and have a really great body and mind workout or take public transportation and run less than 2 miles but learn a lot about your city and complete some really fun challenges along the way.  There’s definitely something for everyone in Great Urban Race!

Many thanks to Jordan Diehl for her time. Check out the Great Urban Race on their website for plenty of race pics and details! I can’t wait to see what they’ll cook up next.

Thanks for visiting the PuzzleNation blog today! You can like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, check out our Classic Word Search iBook (three volumes to choose from!), play our games at PuzzleNation.com, or contact us here at the blog!