Puzzling Virtually at Norwescon 43!

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Over the weekend, I participated in an online version of the celebrated sci-fi, fantasy, and horror convention Norwescon.

Although many of the convention’s panels and events have a writerly focus, plenty of attention is also given to art, films, games, and pop culture, so there was plenty for puzzle and game fans to enjoy at the event.

Naturally, since the convention was being held virtually rather than in person, some creativity was required to redesign events to be enjoyed from the comfort of attendees’ homes.

For instance, costumes were shown off through video or submitted photos — there was even a closet cosplay challenge held where participants had twenty minutes to create a costume based solely on what they could find in their closets!

As for my contributions, each year I host a themed scavenger hunt and an escape room for teen attendees to enjoy.

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The scavenger hunt adapted to the format easily. We cast volunteers to portray different characters from the film The Princess Bride, and players had scheduled times to actually interact with them through Zoom chats. Players downloaded a PDF of the rules and some puzzles to be solved, and they would receive a code phrase upon completing each of their assigned tasks.

(The code phrases, when properly combined, revealed a secret word which would “trigger” a surprise video.)

Their more puzzly tasks included using instructions to whittle down a list of 40 possible ingredients down to the three Miracle Max would need for his miracle pill for Westley, as well as solving a logic puzzle to find evidence that an ROUS was innocent of a royal guardsman’s disappearance.

And on the last day of the convention, they attended the wrap-up panel where we explained the hunt in full, thanked the cast, announced the winners, took suggestions for a theme for next year’s scavenger hunt, and even played a Cameo video from a member of the film’s cast as a surprise for all the attendees!

It was a rousing success.

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Adapting the Star Wars-themed escape room for a virtual format was far more daunting. After all, one of the most satisfying aspects of escape room solving is to actually physically solve puzzles, unlock containers, open doors, and defeat all sorts of key locks, combination locks, and more.

My solution to this problem was to still allow players to “unlock” and open something, just something virtual: password-protected PDF files.

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[This “panel” required a 5-digit code and a 3-digit combination to unlock.]

I created a webpage with images of all the “locked” panels for them to virtually open, each of which had symbols to indicate what sort of lock there was, as well as links to the password-entry screens. As they found keys and solved puzzles, they coordinated to try different panels and see which keys and codes unlocked the PDFs, which then opened to give them new tools and puzzles to solve.

It wasn’t the most elegant solution, but once players got the hang of it, they were soon racing through the room, using a built-in chat window to keep track of items they hadn’t used and working out passwords in real time.

One of the players even started livestreaming her efforts to solve a pipe puzzle on Twitch so everyone could solve along with her. It was a very cool and innovative way to virtually solve!

Hopefully, we’ll be back in person for next year’s convention and we can get back to opening locks and running around for a proper scavenger hunt. But either way, it’s nice to know we’re adaptable and creative enough to still pull them off in the virtual space when circumstances arise.

After all, as long as the players had fun, we can definitely call it a win.


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Make the Season Bright (and Puzzly)!

Christmas is fast approaching, but there’s still time to put a nice puzzly spin on this festive holiday.

Naturally, we have a few ideas for how to do that without shelling out more of your hard-earned cash. (This is why you won’t see puzzle boxes or those marble-run boxes for gift cards here. This is all DIY!)

So let’s look at some puzzle-inspired ways to enhance your Yuletide endeavors!


[Image courtesy of Destination Imagination.]

Scavenger Hunt / Puzzle Hunt

Yes, this is always the first suggestion on our list because it’s a fun idea you can tailor to any age group. Whether they’re solving riddles, figuring out vague references to places in the house, or simply searching for gifts like Easter eggs, it can freshen up the Christmas morning experience to exercise their brains before they put their arms to work tearing open wrapping paper.

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Puzzles for Presents / Puzzle Password

I know a couple who absolutely love cryptic-style crossword clues, and on more than one occasion, before one gives the other a birthday or Christmas gift, they’ll have to solve a cryptic clue.

Often they’re about the couple themselves, or multiple clues will spell out a message. It’s a sweet little puzzly way to “earn” your gifts, if you’re into that sort of thing.

You can easily do this with kids by pretending the wrapped gifts are “locked” and they have to figure out a code or find a “key” to free the present. (Heck, some ribbons are so resilient that you really can lock up a present!)

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Paper Locks

Similarly, you can create actual paper locks to be opened or employ the puzzly art of letterlocking to create a little mechanical puzzle to be unraveled before opening a gift.

There are some wonderful DIY tutorials and YouTube videos out there detailing how to create these whimsical little challenges, and it’s pretty impressive how much you can do with some paper, glue, and creativity.

[Image courtesy of Nadim’s Craft.]

Origami Puzzle Box

And speaking of all the things you can do with paper, it should come as no surprise that there are puzzle boxes out there that you can create with the Japanese paper-folding art of origami.

Some are simple, some are complex, and yes, none of these will stop a child determined to get to that gift, but these are wonderfully intricate and stylish ways to present someone you care about with a gift experience they’re remember.


Do you have any suggestions for making the holiday season puzzlier? Let us know in the comment section below! We’d love to hear from you.

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Puzzly Ideas to Keep You Busy!

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We’re all doing our best to keep ourselves and our loved ones engaged, entertained, and sane during these stressful times.

And after weeks of doing so, it’s possible you’re running out of ideas.

But worry not! Your puzzly pals at PuzzleNation are here with some suggestions.

Please feel free to sample from this list of activities, which is a mix of brain teasers to solve, puzzly projects to embark upon, treasure hunts, unsolved mysteries, ridiculous notions, creative endeavors, and a dash of shameless self-promotion.

Enjoy, won’t you?


Puzzly Ways To Get Through Self-Quarantine

In all seriousness, we hope these ideas help you and yours in some small way to make the time pass in a fun and puzzly fashion. Be well, stay safe, and happy puzzling.


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Go Big, Then Go Home: The World’s Biggest Scavenger Hunt

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[Image courtesy of Cornell.edu.]

Have you ever done a scavenger hunt, fellow puzzler? They can be a lot of fun.

Some simply challenge you to find a bunch of random items, while others create a laundry list of activities to complete. Over the last decade or so, businesses have even sprung up to fulfill any party, group, or even city that might require a scavenger hunt for an event.

Yes, you can easily gather a group of friends, hit up any city at a certain point in the year, and find a scavenger hunt event waiting for you. They often involve puzzles, trivia, and other obstacles to success, rather than just a list of tasks to accomplish.

I’ve served as tech support for several, as well as an organizer for themed scavenger hunts at various sci-fi, fantasy, and writing conventions. I was supposed to be running one this weekend; that event, like so many others, was cancelled due to preventative measures to contain COVID-19.

So, as you might expect, I’ve got scavenger hunts on the brain. And with ample time to ponder, I couldn’t help but wonder… how big could you go?

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[Image courtesy of Guinness Book of World Records.]

I mean, if we’re talking a city-wide competition, you’d probably need to complete a half-dozen or a dozen objectives, based on previous city-themed hunts I’ve seen.

But what if it was the biggest scavenger hunt in the world? How many would it be then?

If you said as many as you could from a list of 150, then you have some impressive and specific guessing skills.

On September 10, 2017, the city of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, hosted a mass scavenger hunt to celebrate the city’s 150th anniversary. (For comparison’s sake, the one listed on the website for this year involved twenty obstacles.)

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[Image courtesy of Ottawa Citizen.]

So, how many people showed up to tackle 150 challenges for this world-record-setting scavenger hunt?

2,733.

Many of them wearing costumes.

Each of them pitched in on answering trivia, solving puzzles, exploring the city, and taking pictures of specific items or scenarios throughout the area.

It sounds like an absolute blast, one that Ottawa went all out for.

I wonder who will try to topple a record like that.

Well, if they do, I can’t wait to see it.


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Puzzly Ideas Just in Time for Valentine’s Day!

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Valentine’s Day looms large, and sometimes it’s hard to find that perfect way to express your love for that certain someone… particularly if that certain someone is the puzzly type.

But we’ve got a few suggestions…

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Jigsaw puzzles are the perfect metaphor for relationships, as they require separate pieces working together to complete the picture.

There are necklaces and other pieces of jigsaw-themed jewelry, as well as do-it-yourself jigsaw patterns you can utilize. You could depict anything from a favorite photo to a specific Valentine’s message in the completed image.

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Now, you can always start with something simple, like a subscription to a puzzle service like The Crosswords ClubThe American Values Club Crossword, or The Inkubator. New puzzles every week or every month are a great gift. (Especially the Valentine’s Deluxe Sets for the Penny Dell Crosswords app! *wink*)

If they’re more into mechanical puzzles, our friends at Tavern Puzzles offer several brain teasers that incorporate a heart shape.

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But if you’re looking for something more personalized, why not make a crossword for them yourself?

(Yes, you can also commission a top puzzler to do one for you, but you’d usually want to get the ball rolling on something like that well before Valentine’s Day.)

Now, to be fair, crosswords can be tough and time-intensive to make, so if that feels a little daunting, why not try a Framework puzzle or a crisscross instead? They incorporate the same crossing style, but don’t require you to use every letter.

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It allows you to maintain a terrific word list all about you and your significant other without all the effort of filling in every square crossword-style.

Or you could write the object of your affection a coded love letter! All throughout history, people have employed different tricks and techniques to keep their private messages away from prying eyes, and you could do the same!

Whether it’s a simple letter-shifting cipher or something more complex, make sure your message is worth reading. =)

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[Image courtesy of ibookbinding.com.]

Plus you could learn a bit of letterlocking to some flair — and a sense of puzzly secrecy and personalization — to your message.

Even if you don’t go the encryption route, the unique presentation of a letter-locked message makes a simple card or a heartfelt note feel more precious.

[Image courtesy of YouTube.]

Have you considered a puzzle bouquet? You could grab some newspaper crosswords and origami them into flower shapes for a fun puzzle-fueled spin on a holiday classic.

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Or you could hide jigsaw pieces around the house that, when put together, spell out a Valentine’s message or a picture of the two of you.

Put your own spin on the idea. A little bit of effort can go a long way, plus it doesn’t cost anything.

With a little more effort, you could whip up a scavenger hunt! You could leave clues around leading to a gift, or a romantic dinner, or some other grand finale. Maybe offer a rose with each clue.

Show off how much you know about him or her. You could make each clue or destination about your relationship or about your partner, allowing you to show off how well you know them… where you first met, favorite meals, favorite movie…

If you don’t want to leave things around where anyone could nab them, keep a few small tokens on you, giving one for each destination reached or clue solved. Heck, you could enlist a friend to text clues to your special someone once they’ve reached a particular destination!

Or for something less formal, you could make a game of your romantic wanderings and play Valentine’s Day Bingo.

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[I found this blank template on Makoodle.com.]

Maybe go for a walk or take your loved one out to dinner, and see if they can get bingo by observing different things. A couple holding hands as they walk, a Valentine’s Day proposal, outrageously priced flowers…

The possibilities are endless when you put your mind to it.


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Beer + Puzzles = Viral Marketing Hijinks

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[Image courtesy of Busch]

We recently discussed the art of viral marketing in our post about an upcoming Cartoon Network show. This year alone, we’ve seen some very clever viral marketing techniques — the Game of Thrones promotion that had people scouring the globe for replicas of the Iron Throne comes to mind — and last week, the folks at Busch Beer got in on the puzzly fun.

The concept was simple: launch a pop-up shop (a short-term retail venue where the location and the brief duration are selling points for the store) in a secret location and leave clues for interested customers to follow in order to find it.

News stories like this one hyping the Busch Pop Up “Schop” began appearing all over the Internet on July 15th and 16th.

The promises were intriguing. Limited-edition merchandise. Free beer. The commitment to plant a hundred trees in a national forest for every visitor who makes it to the Schop. Plus, a random drawing where one lucky visitor wins Busch Beer for life.

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[Image courtesy of Busch.]

After the launch video, additional clips with clues were posted once or twice a day from the 17th to the 19th.

On the 17th, solvers received this clue: Kansas to the left of me / Illinois to the right / here I am stuck in ____ with you. Can you guess what state I’m in?

On the 18th, they received this clue: “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” I’m actually in the forest. Can you guess which one?

Later the day, another clue appeared: “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” Which is why I can tell you I’m in an area with a lot of vertical wooden objects.

On the 19th, they offered a final clue: First syllable: Abel’s brother. Second syllable: Rhymes with duck. Can you guess where the trailhead starts?

Later that day, they made things less opaque: Ok, final clue. If you were hypothetically hiking to the Busch Pop Up Schop, you might hypothetically start at the Kaintuck Hollow Trailhead. Hypothetically speaking, of course.

So, from the clue on the 17th, we got the state: Missouri. By the 18th, we knew it was the Mark Twain National Forest. And the day before the event, we even knew where to start hiking: Kaintuck Hollow Trailhead.

On the day of, the Busch Twitter account shared the following advice:

-No need to hurry, you do not have to be first to arrive to win, it will be a random draw after we close
-We’re open 10AM-5PM
-Bring your hiking boots
-Stay hydrated, it’s going to be a hot one

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[Image courtesy of Ryan James Hausmann.]

Unfortunately, the “No need to hurry” line looked quite bad in retrospect.

It seems that Busch severely underestimated the number of people who would be attending. (The expected number seemed to be between 75 and a few hundred people.) Though the event was scheduled to run from 10 AM to 5 PM, they reportedly closed off the Pop Up Schop by 10:30 AM because they’d already reached capacity. (Some online reports said they closed the shop by 9:30 AM, before the event had even officially started.)

Naturally, since these are anecdotal reports, details are contradictory, but the vast majority claim that the merch was gone quickly, attendees either got a warm beer or no beer at all, and the only consolation rested in the fact that you could still sign up for the free beer for life contest before being turned away.

According to one attendee on Twitter:

We walked there and were told we couldn’t go up the trail because they were at capacity and out of beer and merchandise. We got to enter for the drawing, hike back to the car and attempt to turn around on a one lane road.

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[Image courtesy of Nick Schmidt.]

A few later reports suggest the Pop Up Schop was restocked at some point, given that there are stories of attendees arriving between 1:30 and 3:30 and getting drinks. Perhaps they were simply overwhelmed by the early morning onslaught… or maybe the promotional team was doing damage control and seeding a few positive reports in with the negative feedback. It’s hard to say given the general lack of coverage for the event. (Despite the many reports hyping the event, as far as I can tell, none followed up with the results of the promotion.)

Either way, a viral marketing campaign with great traction and excellent turnout had a lackluster result. Hopefully those who made the journey had fun and the marketing team learned something from all this.

And, in their defense, it does seem that many people enjoyed the adventure, even if the end result didn’t exactly meet their expectations. The staff was routinely praised for their professionalism and grace under tough conditions (especially in 100 degree weather).

There’s always next time. I mean, a summer day, a nice hike, a puzzle, and free beer? That sounds like a recipe for major turnout to me.


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You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!