Puzzles in Pop Culture: The Challenge: Champs Vs. Stars

One of the first reality TV shows to make an impact was MTV’s The Real World, which debuted back in 1992. A show wherein seven strangers would live together in a house and have their lives and interactions taped, it is credited with helping launch the modern reality TV genre.

In the decades since, one of the show’s longest-lasting spin-offs has been The Challenge, a competition show where former Real World alums and other reality show figures compete against each other in physical and mental games, both individually and as teams. There is also a social element to the show, as players form alliances, scheme against other competitors, and often vote out players at regular intervals.

As you might expect, puzzles have worked their way into The Challenge from time to time. Memory games, sliding tile puzzles, and variations on the Tower of Hanoi puzzle.

The most recent iteration of the show, The Challenge: Champs Vs. Stars, pits celebrity guests (athletes, reality stars, actors, etc.) against some of the top competitors from previous seasons of The Challenge. Each player earns money for a certain charity as they win challenges and outmaneuver their opponents.

At this point in the game, there were four teams of two remaining: the all-stars team of Louise and Casper, the all-champs team of CT and Tony, the star/champ team of Kailah and Drake, and the star/champ team of Wes and Robert.

In last week’s episode, as the four teams arrived, there was a puzzly surprise waiting for them: the Text Tile Challenge.

In teams of two, the competitors had to roll a giant crate across a length of beach — one player lifting and rolling the crate while their partner scrambled atop it to avoid falling to the ground — until they reached an empty grid.

An empty crossword grid, complete with clues. (Technically it’s a criss-cross, but hey, most non-puzzlers don’t know the distinction.)

The competitors then broke open their crates to retrieve lots and lots of letter tiles, which then had to be placed into the grid.

The teams had varying strategies. CT and Tony opted to just fill in words as fast as they could, choosing to ignore that other competitors could cheat by looking over at their board. (Kailah and Drake, in fact, did precisely that, stealing looks at everyone’s boards in order to make up time.)

Louise and Casper, on the other hand, laid out their tiles in the sand, spelling words out and eliminating tiles, but not making it as easy for other players to cheat off them.

The criss-cross itself was pretty underwhelming, consisting mostly of straightforward clues for contemporary slang and Internet terms, like NO FILTER, THIRSTY, WOKE, and SHADE.

Although Casper and Louise’s technique was good, and they were the first team to get their crate to the grid area, CT and Tony ended up completing their grid first, and achieving victory.

In the end, CT and Tony would choose Casper and Louise to go into elimination, and the remaining three teams voted Kailah and Drake to join them, meaning that Wes and Robert were safe, and made the finals alongside CT and Tony. The winner of Casper and Louise vs. Kailah and Drake would be the third and last team in the finals. The loser would go home.

Honestly, if the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament is looking to beef up the level of competition, this might be a cool place to start. If nothing else, it would make for one heck of a pairs challenge.

Although this wasn’t the most difficult puzzle-based event I’ve seen in previous editions of The Challenge, it was a nice variation and certainly kept the competitors on their toes. I look forward to seeing if there are any puzzly obstacles awaiting the three teams that’ll be competing in the finale of The Challenge: Champs Vs. Stars.

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PuzzleNation Reviews: ROFL!

Here at the PuzzleNation blog, we love spreading the word about new puzzle-solving experiences of all sorts.

So we were intrigued when we heard about a new puzzly party game that utilized textspeak and abbreviations. We contacted the folks at Cryptozoic about it, and they were gracious enough to pass along a free copy of ROFL!, allowing us the chance to give it a thorough PuzzleNation vetting.

And ROFL! is a seriously fun time.

Masterminded by John Kovalic (artist for games like Munchkin and Apples to Apples, creator of the comic strip Dork Tower), ROFL!’s concept is simple.

Players try to create abbreviations of pop culture terms, phrases, and quotations for other players to decode, using only the symbols available on a standard keyboard. (So basically, numbers, letters, punctuation, and a select few others.)

So everyone takes turns being The Guesser (the one who must unravel the abbreviations conjured up by the other players, The Writers), starting with the person who used the fewest characters in their abbreviation. You award points for correct guesses (to both Guesser and Writer), and whoever has the most points after three rounds wins.

Groups of up to seven can play (three is the minimum needed), and with hundreds of possible messages (the cards are double-sided to maximize options) across six categories, you’re not likely to run out of new abbreviations to solve anytime soon.

(Plus with personal whiteboards, markers, erasers, and tokens, you have everything you need boxed up and waiting for you.)

ROFL! slots beautifully into the same party-game niche as Taboo and Scattergories: games that rely on the ingenuity of your fellow players to make the most of the gameplay, and ones that evoke fits of laughter with total ease.

I recruited four fellow puzzlers to try it out over lunch, and not only were we playing within minutes, but the laughs were rolling soon after.

I’ll give you an example from our second round:

The quote to guess was “It’s quiet over there. Too quiet.”

So I quickly scribbled “ITS QT > THR, 2 QT”

13 characters. So I placed my marker on the 13, and luckily, I used the fewest characters, so the Guesser turned to me first.

There’s only one guess per Writer, but I was optimistic.

The guesser got the first part easily. “It’s quiet over there…”

But then she paused. Uh-oh.

“It’s quiet over there… Two quarts?”

Everybody burst out laughing. (She did end up getting it on her second try, but the points go to the second Writer in that case.)

From a puzzle perspective, figuring out how to abbreviate quotes and sentences (all while the sand in the timer quickly dwindles) is a terrific puzzly challenge. After all, anyone who solves crosswords is intimately familiar with unscrambling unlikely (and sometimes baffling) abbreviations, and with the proliferation of textspeak thanks to greater and greater smartphone use, you’re sharpening your ROFL! skills every time your phone vibrates.

But writing your abbreviation is also an exercise in strategy. Do I risk using fewer characters in order to go first (first guess is worth the most points), or do I hedge my bet and go for clarity, even if I’m second or third to go?

Here’s an example from our game:

The quote was “Live long and prosper.”

So I put all my eggs in one basket and wrote “L L & PSPR”, hoping that “prosper” would carry the load and the Guesser would be able to figure out the rest from there. With only 7 characters, I was the first Writer on the board.

The Guesser was stumped, though. Time ran out before she could even guess.

The next Writer stepped up. (She used 9 characters and was next in line.)

Her abbreviation was “Lg Lv & PSPR”, and even though she accidentally mixed up the order of “live” and “long”, the Guesser immediately blurted out “Live long and prosper!”, securing them 2 points a piece.

In this instance, it was worth using a few extra characters and sacrificing being first in order to get the points.

With the social aspect, the improvisational aspect, and the puzzly aspect, ROFL! pushes a lot of ideal game-playing buttons, and it does so with style.

(And don’t tell the bosses, but the game was so popular that we played again during work hours the same day. *wink*)

All in all, it’s a good time for puzzlers and board game fans alike. John and the Cryptozoic Entertainment crew have a real winner on their hands here.

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