Watch Celebrities Tackle an Escape Room for Charity!

I know the last few months have been hard for a lot of people. But it’s also been inspiring to see communities rally and work together, even while social distancing, to take care of each other. And loads of creative folks out there have been raising money for charity in clever and entertaining ways.

In the last few weeks alone, we’ve seen examples like the cast of the TV show Community reuniting on behalf of World Central Kitchen and Frontline Foods, Twitch streamer Rachel Howie supporting St. Jude through gaming, and a puzzle bouquet to support safe maternity care worldwide, masterminded by Andrew Chaikin (with puzzles by Mike Selinker, Kid Beyond, Alison Muratore, and Sandor Weisz) and distributed through Lone Shark Games.

One of the biggest annual fundraisers is Red Nose Day, a yearly international event dedicated to eradicating child poverty. There are often special TV events tied into the Red Nose Day, and this year was no exception.

NBC employed a more puzzly route than most participating networks, as they presented an hour-long show dedicated to a celebrity-filled escape room.

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[Image courtesy of EOnline.]

Musician and actor Jack Black hosted, serving as the exuberant and maniacal gamemaster for the event. Ben Stiller, Adam Scott, Courteney Cox, and Lisa Kudrow were the celebrity players, and they had one hour to escape Jack’s series of rooms. For each puzzle they successfully solved, they would earn $15,000 in charitable donations from the event’s sponsor, M&Ms.

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[Image courtesy of NoReruns.net.]

Jack explained the rules, and then informed them that they were allowed three hints to help them solve the puzzles. Each hint was represented by a red clown nose, the official symbol of Red Nose Day.

You can watch the entire special video below, or continue reading for a recap of the show and a breakdown of each puzzle:


RECAP

The celebs were escorted into an elevator and sent on their way. The team immediately started trying to figure out how to escape.

But the elevator wasn’t a puzzle room. Jack was just messing with them, sending the elevator up and down before opening it.

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The group’s first actual challenge was an 80’s themed room, which contained not only numerous references to the decade (posters, movies, decor, etc.), but references to each actor’s career to serve as a distraction. Jack Black informed the audience of two key locations to pay attention to — a photo wall and the table with pizza on it — but didn’t explain the actual puzzles.

Courteney Cox stumbled upon a clue — a recorded message from Jennifer Lopez — that sent the celebs to their yearbooks on one of the shelves. Inside, they each found a different variation of a picture of people sitting on a couch, each one with more people in it.

Ben Stiller not only realized that they needed to be placed somewhere in order, but spotted where to do so.

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The photo wall was a 3×4 grid, with 8 photos already placed and 4 open spaces. My first instinct would have been to place the photos in order of the rows (as if reading the photos in storyboard order from left to right, row to row).

But the photos had to be placed in column order from left to right, ignoring the rows. Courteney figured this out, and a couch folded out from the wall. Having successfully completed a puzzle, $15,000 was added to the team’s charity total.

By all sitting on the couch, they activated the TV, which aired a commercial for Rubik’s Cubes. Ben realized the pizza and tablecloth in the center of the room were covering a giant Rubik’s Cube. (Instead of being rotated and twisted, this one had removable magnetic blocks, which made solving it easier.)

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[Image courtesy of WhatsNew2Day.]

By completing the puzzle (and earning another $15,000), the room’s window opened onto a school hallway set.

Jack directed the audience’s attention toward a clue on the floor, a mascot head in the trophy case, and to the lockers along the corridor.

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[Image courtesy of WhatsNew2Day.]

The celebs immediately started checking the lockers, but they were all locked. While searching for their next puzzle, the celebs misinterpreted a banner that said “Let’s get loud” and started screaming.

It’s silly, but hey, in an escape room, sometimes you’ll try anything.

Ben spotted the clue on the floor, and Courteney realized that some of the floor tiles could be pulled up, revealing a picture puzzle to be assembled. They solved the puzzle — a picture of Jack in a mascot costume — and it opened the trophy case. That made their charity total rise to $45,000.

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When Adam put the mascot head on, the lights dimmed, and he began looking for the next clue. Three of the celebs tried the mascot head on, but they couldn’t find anything. So they used one of their red noses and asked for a hint.

Jack intervened and told them to direct the mascot head’s vision toward the lockers. On certain lockers, the mascot’s head revealed in invisible ink the birthdays of the four players. After some difficulty, Adam realized they should open the lockers in birthday order, which caused all four to open. (Four puzzles completed, $60,000 earned.)

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As the other players removed letterman jackets from the lockers, Courteney stepped into her locker (which was larger inside than the others) and Jack shut it behind her, seemingly locking her in. While trying to figure out how to free Courteney, they all decided to put their jackets on.

Jack directed the audience to pay attention to the janitor’s closet, the trophy case, and the cubby area for the next puzzle.

Courteney discovered her locker secretly led into the locked janitor’s closet. Meanwhile, the other players found prom tickets in their jackets.

The Red Nose Day Special - Season 2020

[Image courtesy of TV Insider.]

Unable to free Courteney (the inside door handle came off in her hand), the celebs were flummoxed again, even trying to play rock-paper-scissors to open the door. (Bafflingly, Ben doesn’t know how to play.) They decided to ask for their second Red Nose hint. Jack pointed them toward the janitor’s to-do list, which has four tasks on it, three completed.

The unfinished task referenced the water fountain, and upon investigating it, Adam found the door handle for the janitor’s closet, freeing Courteney (and earning another $15,000).

Doing so activated the TV in the trophy case, and special guest “Principal” Kelly Clarkson provided a year-in-review that recounted the trophy won by each celeb, and suggested they hang up their jackets on the Wall of Fame (the cubby area).

The celebs missed the trophy clue and just hung their jackets up (not realizing that the trophies — first place, second place, third place, and fourth place — indicated the order of the jackets).

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They tried birthday order again, then headed back to the trophy case, realized their mistake, and put the jackets in the correct order, earning another $15,000 for charity.

Part of the locker wall then opened up to reveal a room decorated for prom, complete with balloons and a space for couple/group photos. Jack directed viewers to pay attention to the clock on the wall, the photos of couples on the wall, and the photography setup.

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Relying on the clue “it’s almost time for crown the king and queen,” they puzzled out that there are clocks on all of the photos, but it reads 9 PM for the crowned couple.

Courteney eventually realized there was a stepladder that would allow her to reach the clock, and rotated it until it read 9 PM. (Their charity total was now $105,000!)

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Completing the puzzle activated the lights in the photo area. They posed for their picture, and when they snapped it, the balloon wall burst, revealing a gym decorated for prom. (It also scared the daylights out of them, which made for a great prom photo.)

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Jack then fully explained the next puzzle to the audience, as the celebs had to match the images on their prom tickets to certain champagne bottles (filled with M&Ms) on the refreshments table, which would then point them to particular light-up squares on the electronic dance floor.

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The celebs immediately zeroed in on the symbols on the champagne bottles, but didn’t know what to do with them. Jack taunted them, hoping to goad them into using their third and final hint, until Courteney spotted the matching symbol on her prom ticket.

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Now finally pairing up bottles of M&M champagne, Courteney again figured out that the colors of each pair of bottles should combine to match the color of the podium they’re placed on. It’s a pretty impressive bit of puzzling, I must admit.

Each time they placed a pair of bottles correctly, part of the dance floor lit up.

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Unfortunately, they confused the colors required to make pink with the colors needed to make orange, which slowed them down. Fixing their mistake and completing the puzzle, they ran to the dance floor with another $15,000 for charity.

The dance floor was a 4×4 grid, with each player standing in a different colored square in the bottom row. As the dance floor lit up in a sequential pattern of lights, the team realized they were playing a Simon-style game where they had to step forward in a certain order to match the pattern of colored lights displayed on the floor.

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There were three rounds of the game. The first (and simplest) required a single step each onto the second row. The second required two steps (meaning eight total moves in order), and third required three steps (meaning a more complicated twelve-step order).

Once they sorted out their timing issues in the first round, they flew through the second and third rounds, solving the puzzle and earning another $15,000.

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Jack then instructed the group to go onstage and sing their way out of the room as their final challenge. He noted they only had 9 and a half minutes left to escape.

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A video wall across the room activated, and Adam and Mike, the two remaining Beastie Boys, wished them luck. When Jack started playing guitar over the intercom, Ben recognized the song as “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (to Party),” which they’d have to sing karaoke-style to escape.

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But Lisa didn’t know the song, and she consistently botched the rhythm on each of her turns. Thankfully, that didn’t hinder the group too much, and after being startled one last time (with victory confetti), they escaped the prom with a total $150,000 for charity, and a little over 6 minutes to spare.

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Honestly, as a fan of escape rooms, I really enjoyed this. It’s a great — if highly budgeted — example of this puzzle genre, and a strong introduction for anyone who has never tried them.

The puzzles ranged from simple to moderately hard, but for the most part were fairly intuitive. Also, while it’s embarrassing in the moment to try silly things and draw dumb conclusions while trying to solve puzzles, it’s also very entertaining to watch someone else do the same.

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[Image courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter.]

All in all, it was a fun event hosted for a great cause, and the four celebrity players (plus gamemaster Jack) made an engaging cast of characters. The little interviews interspersed throughout also added a lot. (Plus, at the end, we found out Courteney loves escape rooms, which explains her mad puzzle skills.)

If you’d like to contribute to the fine charity work Red Nose Day represents, please click here for more details.


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Our Annual TableTop Tournament Starts Next Week!

With International TableTop Day fast approaching, we are once again teaming up with our pals at Penny Dell Puzzles to put together an in-house TableTop Tournament to celebrate the upcoming holiday (Saturday, April 27).

It’s a 12-person two-week tournament with different games to play every week, and round 1 kicks off next Tuesday. (This is actually the fourth year of the tournament, with all three previous champions competing again this year.)

One of the things I like about the layout of the tournament is that there are no one-on-one match-ups until the final. Instead of a single-elimination tournament, competitors are slotted into groups of three. Each group of three will play two games, and the two winners (one from each game) from each trio and move on to the next round.

So to survive round 1, I’ll need to win either Timeline or On the Dot.

Timeline is a card game where every card depicts a different moment in history, and the players are trying to place cards from their hand into a historically correct timeline. Players take turns adding cards to the timeline, placing them before or after previously played cards. You don’t have to know the exact year the event on a given card took place; you simply have to figure out when it happened in relation to the other events that have already been played.

You play your card, and then flip it over to reveal the actual year the event occurred. If you’re correct, the card stays, and you have one fewer card in your hand. If you’re wrong, the card is removed from the timeline and you draw a new card. The first player to place every card in their hand wins.

On the Dot is a pattern-matching game. Each player has four clear cards with randomly placed colored dots on them, and it’s up to the player to arrange all four cards so that the colored dots showing match a given pattern. The first player to match three patterns moves on to the next round.

Timeline can be a bit of a crapshoot, depending on your knowledge of a given subject and whatever cards you draw. I suspect I’ll have a better chance of making the second round with On the Dot; I’m fairly quick with pattern recognition and manipulation, and actually won three games in a row last year to secure my spot in the next round. Hopefully I can repeat the same feat this year.

But you never know. With new competitors and returning champions in the tournament this year, there are sure to be some diabolical surprises.

Here’s hoping when it’s all said and done, I’ll be wearing the Game Geek crown and holding the scepter high…


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Mary Engelbreit Loonacy

[Note: I received a free copy of this game in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that. And this concludes the disclaimer.]

If you’re looking for frenetic, quick-play card games, they don’t come much quicker or more chaotic than Loonacy.

In Loonacy, players compete to dump all of the cards in their hand by dropping them one-at-a-time into various piles. They do so by matching one of two symbols on their card with the symbol atop the discard piles. For instance, if you’ve got a card with an owl and a queen on it, you can drop that card onto a pile with an owl on top or a queen on top.

But since every player in the game is doing the same thing at the same time — there’s no taking turns here — it’s a race to drop a matching card from your hand before any of the other players can drop a card from theirs.

Looney Labs has published two previous editions of the game — Loonacy and Retro Loonacy — but neither is as eye-catching, as lovely, as charming, or as unexpected as the latest edition, Mary Engelbreit Loonacy.

Unlike the cartoony character-centric images of the original or the nostalgia-fueled artsy icons of the retro version, Mary Engelbreit Loonacy brings a peaceful, almost folksy sense of style and humor to the game.

The imagery is gorgeous and heartwarming, depicting uplifting images that would fit in with any kitchen or living room. Words of wisdom like “She who laughs, lasts” and “Sooner or later, we all quote our mothers” mix with scenes of familial bliss, childhood innocence, or simple pleasures.

In a game that’s all about observation, decision making, instantaneous pattern matching, and rapid reflexes, juxtaposing that sort of anxiety-inducing gameplay with these peaceful, fun images is a stroke of genius, one that forces you to pause, even for just a moment, in order to simply enjoy Engelbreit’s delightful art.

Mary Engelbreit Loonacy bridges the gap between the kid-oriented silly imagery of the original and the adult-oriented artsy feel of the sequel, making the best of both in one family-friendly package.

Mary Engelbreit Loonacy is available from Looney Labs and other participating retailers.

It’s also featured in our Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide, alongside all sorts of terrific puzzly gift ideas, including other Looney Labs products like Zendo, Get the MacGuffin, Star Trek Fluxx, and more!


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PDP Tabletop Tournament: Round 1

The spirit of puzzly competition is alive and well. Not only are we still basking in the afterglow of the ACPT, but the third round of the World Puzzle Federation Puzzle Grand Prix is this weekend! AND registration for this year’s Indie 500 Crossword Tournament is now open!

But that’s not all!

The crew at Penny Dell Puzzles put together a Tabletop Tournament in honor of the upcoming International Tabletop Day on Saturday, April 28.

It’s a 16-person four-week tournament with different games to play every week, and round 1 kicked off this week. (This is actually the third year of the tournament, but this year has more competitors than ever before! Plus, both the 2016 and 2017 winners are competing again this year.)

One of the things I liked about the layout of the tournament is that there are no one-on-one match-ups until the final. Instead of a single-elimination tournament, competitors were slotted into groups of four. Each group of four would play two games, and the two winners (one from each game) would come from each foursome and move on to the next round.

The two games for Round 1? On the Dot and Bananagrams.

Bananagrams is a tile game where, much like Scrabble, players pull letter tiles and try to form small crossword-like grids. But in Bananagrams, you can anagram and rearrange the grid as needed, instead of being locked into using the words you’ve already played. Each player starts with a certain number of tiles, and each time you’ve used all your tiles, you say “Peel!” and each player grabs a new tile. This continues until the tile pile is depleted. Then the first player to complete their grid and say “Bananas!” is the winner, moving on to round 2.

On the Dot is a pattern-matching game. Each player has four clear cards with randomly-placed colored dots on them, and it’s up to the player to arrange all four cards so that the colored dots showing match a given pattern. The first player to match three patterns would move on to the next round.

This two-winner-per-group arrangement is nice, because it offers people with different puzzle/game skills multiple chances to move on, instead of a one-and-done scenario. The two games also allow two different quartets to compete at the same time; as one group plays Bananagrams, the other plays On the Dot. Since we only had our lunch hour to complete round 1 (and 16 competitors crammed into the conference room), time was of the essence.

My group was first to compete in Bananagrams, and as the sole representative for PuzzleNation in the tournament, I was determined to make a strong showing for the brand.

Things started off smoothly. We had 21 tiles to start with, and I quickly formed a strong anchor word with DONKEY. But before long, my puzzly competitors proved their own skills were formidable, as cries of “Peel!” began to ring out, and the tile pile quickly diminished.

Honestly, I don’t think I said “Peel” once. I was always close to completing my grid, but never fast enough. But I seized my chance once the tile pile was empty. I only had a few letters left, and some quick anagramming had me confident. I called “Bananas!” and the judges came over to check my grid.

But alas, I’d made an error. I had originally played the word MAKO in part of the grid, then stole the M and A to form other words, intending to come back and fix that part later. But in my overzealousness, I left KO in the grid, which is not a word, so I was disqualified. Curses!

The player to my left was only about a half-second behind me, and she made no clumsy errors. Her grid was clean, and she was declared the first winner from our group to move on.

I would have to try my luck at On the Dot if I hoped to salvage the day.

We switched games with the other competing foursome at the table, and distributed the clear cards for the next contest: On the Dot.

Although I was disappointed with my performance in Bananagrams, I remained confident going into On the Dot, since I’m fairly strong in pattern-matching and similar forms of puzzling.

The first pattern to match was revealed, and we were off!

On the Dot really consists of two skills: being able to place the cards so the dots are in the right places AND hiding the dots and colors you don’t need. That second part can be more difficult than simply matching the pattern, honestly. If you need a yellow dot in a certain spot and nothing near it, it’s not good enough to have a yellow dot in that spot and a purple one right beside it.

I quickly cracked the first pattern, earning 1 point (and a few groans from the other competitors in my quartet).

I was able to follow that with two more victories, earning three points and a clean sweep. I was officially bound for Round 2. Huzzah!

Several other competitors that day turned in similarly dominating performances in On the Dot, while other rounds were hotly contested and came down to the wire.

The rounds of Bananagrams were a little bit slower, but still interesting. I wasn’t the only competitor who was snake-bit by improper words in Bananagrams that day. NAT disqualified one competitor, while NI disqualified another. (At least, according to the online Scrabble Dictionary we were using as our source. No matter what those knights say.)

One of the games ended in a deadlock, as neither player remaining could complete their grid. Another ended in so contentious a fashion that a tiebreaker game was needed to determine a winner!

Fortunately, the judges were prepared for this possibility, and a quick round of Slapzi was used to settle any such ties/issues.

Slapzi is a quick-reaction game where each player is dealt five double-sided cards. Each card has a unique image on each side — everything from dogs and fire hydrants to ladybugs and lawnmowers. Then a description card is played — “has two syllables” or “made of wood,” for instance — and the first person to play one of their cards that matches the description drops that card from their hand. The first person to empty their hand wins.

Between the three games, eight competitors moved on to round 2 (including last year’s champ), one step closer to a grand prize of a Game Night Gift Pack, complete with snacks!

But that’s not all. The winner would also get a crown and scepter to carry around, in order to better lord their victory over their vanquished foes!

With a prize pack and a shot at becoming Tabletop Tournament Royalty on the line, things just got a lot more interesting.

To be continued…

[You can check in on the next round of the tournament live on Tuesday on our Instagram account!]


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A Barrage of Brain Teasers!

[Image courtesy of SharpBrains.com.]

One of our favorite pastimes here on PuzzleNation Blog is cracking brain teasers. From riddles to logic problems, we accept challenges from all comers, be they TV detectives or fellow PuzzleNationers!

I got an email a few days ago from a reader who needed help unraveling a few brain teasers from a list she found online. She was proud to have solved most of them, but a few had eluded her.

We’re always happy to assist a fellow puzzler, so let’s take a look at those brain teasers!


In case you want to try them for yourself before we reveal the answers and how to solve each puzzle, I’ll list the original puzzles here and put a nice spoiler-safe break between the questions and the answers.

QUESTION 1: If you have a 7-minute hourglass and an 11-minute hourlass, how can you boil an egg for exactly 15 minutes?

QUESTION 2: Name the next number in the following sequence: 1, 11, 21, 1211, 111221, 312211, _____.

QUESTION 3: Four people want to cross a river, but the only option is a narrow bridge. The bridge can only support two people at a time. It’s nighttime, and the group has one torch, which they’ll need to use every time they cross the bridge. Person A can cross the bridge in 1 minute, Person B in 2 minutes, Person C in 5 minutes, and Person D in 8 minutes. When two people cross the bridge together, they must move at the slower person’s pace. Can all four get across the bridge in 15 minutes or less?

QUESTION 4: During a recent census, a man told a census taker that he had three children. When asked their ages, he replied, “The product of their ages is 72. The sum of their ages is the same as my house number.” The census taker ran to the man’s front door and looked at the house number. “I still can’t tell,” she complained. The man replied, “Oh, that’s right, I forgot to tell you that the oldest one likes chocolate pudding.” The census taker then promptly wrote down the ages of all three children. How old are they?

QUESTION 5: There are five bags of gold that all look identical, and each contains ten gold pieces. One of the five bags has fake gold, though. All five bags are identical, and the real gold and fake gold are identical in every way, except the pieces of fake gold each weigh 1.1 grams and the pieces of real gold each weigh 1 gram. You have a perfectly accurate digital scale available to you, but you can only use it once. How do you determine which bag has the fake gold?


[Image courtesy of AwesomeJelly.com.]

Okay, here’s your spoiler alert warning before we start unraveling these brain teasers.

So if you don’t want to see them, turn away now!

Last chance!

Ready? Okay, here we go!


[Image courtesy of Just Hourglasses.com.]

QUESTION 1: If you have a 7-minute hourglass and an 11-minute hourlass, how can you boil an egg for exactly 15 minutes?

A variation on the two jugs of water puzzle we’ve covered before, this puzzle is basically some simple math, though you need to be a little abstract with it.

  • Step 1: Start boiling the egg and flip over both hourglasses.
  • Step 2: When the 7-minute hourglass runs out, flip it over to start it again. (That’s 7 minutes boiling.)
  • Step 3: When the 11-minute hourglass runs out, the 7-minute hourglass has been running for 4 minutes. Flip it over again. (That’s 11 minutes boiling.)
  • Step 4: When the 7-minute hourglass runs out, another 4 minutes has passed, and you’ve got your 15 minutes of egg-boiling time.

QUESTION 2: Name the next number in the following sequence: 1, 11, 21, 1211, 111221, 312211, _____.

The answer is 13112221. This looks like a math or a pattern-matching puzzle, but it’s far more literal than that.

Each subsequent number describes the number before it. 11, for instance, isn’t eleven, it’s one one, meaning a single one, representing the number before it, 1.

The third number, 21, isn’t twenty-one, it’s “two one,” meaning the previous number consists of two ones, aka 11.

The fourth number, 1211, translates to “one two, one one,” or 21. The fifth number, 111221, becomes “one one, one two, two one.” And the sixth, 312211, becomes “three one, two two, one one.”

So, the number we supplied, 13112221, is “one three, one one, two two, two one.”


[Image courtesy of Do Puzzles.]

QUESTION 3: Four people want to cross a river, but the only option is a narrow bridge. The bridge can only support two people at a time. It’s nighttime, and the group has one torch, which they’ll need to use every time they cross the bridge. Person A can cross the bridge in 1 minute, Person B in 2 minutes, Person C in 5 minutes, and Person D in 8 minutes. When two people cross the bridge together, they must move at the slower person’s pace. Can all four get across the bridge in 15 minutes or less?

Yes, you can get all four across the bridge in 15 minutes.

This one’s a little tougher, because people have to cross the bridge in both directions so that the torch remains in play. Also, there’s that pesky Person D, who takes so long to get across.

So what’s the most time-efficient way to get Person D across? You’d think it would be so send D across with Person A, so that way, you lose 8 minutes with D, but only 1 minute going back with the torch with A. But that means only 6 minutes remain to get A, B, and C across. If you send A and C together, that’s 5 minutes across with C, and 1 minute back with A, and there’s your 15 minutes gone, and A and B aren’t across.

So the only logical conclusion is to send C and D across together. That’s 8 minutes down. But if you send C back down, that’s another 5 minutes gone, and there’s no time to bring A, B, and C back across in time.

So, C and D have to cross together, but someone faster has to bring the torch back. And suddenly, a plan comes together.

  • Step 1: A and B cross the bridge, which takes 2 minutes. A brings the torch back across in 1 minute. Total time used so far: 3 minutes.
  • Step 2: C and D cross the bridge, which takes 8 minutes. B brings the torch back across in 2 minutes. Total time used so far: 13 minutes.
  • Step 3: A and B cross the bridge again, which takes 2 minutes. Total time used: 15 minutes.

(It technically doesn’t matter if A returns first and B returns second or if B returns first and A returns second, so long as they are the two returning the torch.)


QUESTION 4: During a recent census, a man told a census taker that he had three children. When asked their ages, he replied, “The product of their ages is 72. The sum of their ages is the same as my house number.” The census taker ran to the man’s front door and looked at the house number. “I still can’t tell,” she complained. The man replied, “Oh, that’s right, I forgot to tell you that the oldest one likes chocolate pudding.” The census taker then promptly wrote down the ages of all three children. How old are they?

Their ages are 3, 3, and 8.

Let’s pull the relevant information from this puzzle to get started. There are three children, and the product of their ages is 72.

So let’s make a list of all the three-digit combinations that, when multiplied, equal 72: 1-1-72, 1-2-36, 1-3-24, 1-4-18, 1-6-12, 1-8-9, 2-2-18, 2-3-12, 2-4-9, 2-6-6, 3-3-8, 3-4-6. We can’t eliminate any of them, because we don’t know how old the man is, so his children could be any age.

But remember, after being told that the sum of the children’s ages is the same as the house number, the census taker looks at the man’s house number, and says, “I still can’t tell.” That tells us that the sum is important.

Let’s make a list of all the sums of those three-digit combinations: 74, 39, 28, 23, 19, 18, 22, 17, 15, 14, 14, 13.

The census taker doesn’t know their ages at this point. Which means that the sum has multiple possible combinations. After all, if there was only one combination that formed the same number as the house number, the census taker would know.

And there is only one sum that appears on our list more than once: 14.

So the two possible combinations are 2-6-6 and 3-3-8.

The chocolate pudding clue is the deciding fact. The oldest child likes chocolate pudding. Only 3-3-8 has an oldest child, so 3-3-8 is our answer.


[Image courtesy of Indy Props.com.]

QUESTION 5: There are five bags of gold that all look identical, and each contains ten gold pieces. One of the five bags has fake gold, though. All five bags are identical, and the real gold and fake gold are identical in every way, except the pieces of fake gold each weigh 1.1 grams and the pieces of real gold each weigh 1 gram. You have a perfectly accurate digital scale available to you, but you can only use it once. How do you determine which bag has the fake gold?

With only one chance to use the scale, you need to maximize how much information you can glean from the scale. That means you need a gold sample from at lesst four bags (because if they all turn out to have real gold, then the fifth must be fake). But, for the sake of argument, let’s pull samples from all five bags.

How do we do this? If we pull one coin from each bag, there’s no way to distinguish which bag has the fake gold. But we can use the variance in weight to our advantage. That .1 difference helps us.

Since all the real gold will only show up before the decimal point, picking a different number of coins from each bag will help us differentiate which bag has the fake gold, because the number after the decimal point will vary.

For instance, if you take 1 coin from the first bag, 2 coins from the second, 3 coins from the third, 4 coins from the fourth, and 5 coins from the fifth, you’re covered. If the fake gold is in the first bag, your scale’s reading will end in .1, because only one coin is off. If the fake gold is in the second bag, your scale’s reading will end in .2, because two coins are off. And so on.


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Puzzles in Pop Culture: Twin Peaks: The Return

On Tuesday, I concluded a multi-part series about the history of American codebreaking. In a related story, a fellow puzzler pointed out that there might be a new code out there awaiting an enterprising codebreaker.

In a recent episode of the television show Twin Peaks: The Return, there was a brief scene with an airplane flying over a snowy mountain. Sharp-eyed viewers noticed that the plane’s windows seemed to disappear and reappear as it flew.

Naturally, when you have a show that’s all about trying to unravel mysteries and finding deeper meaning in even the most obscure clues, fans leapt onto this possibility and began trying to crack the code of the windows.

There are six windows, and they disappear and reappear numerous times in the brief scene. (There’s also a spot closer to the tail that also appears and disappears.)

[One solver’s breakdown of the plane window pattern.]

Charting out a possible pattern in the windows has led to several intriguing theories. While attempts to translate the pattern into morse code, binary, and other languages have yielded nothing so far, some fans posit that it’s a musical pattern, since one of the characters, FBI agent Gordon Cole, plays a 6-hole flute. (A villain from the original series, Windom Earle, also played a flute.)

While this may simply be a red herring, I suspect there’s more to the window mystery than just providing a distraction in a show littered with distractions.

People have gone so far as to track down the original footage of the plane flying, so they can see what was altered to produce the window pattern:

What do you think, PuzzleNationers? Is there a message or a tune lurking in plain sight on Twin Peaks: The Return? Or is this much ado about nothing?


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