EPP3: Puzzles From Wonderland
My Third PartyI think I may be getting a handle on these things -- these Puzzle Parties. My third Party, PUZZLES FROM WONDERLAND, was, for me, my most satisfying to date. Satisfying not only in the content of the puzzles and challenges I posed to the teams, but also in the way the whole event was run. I learned valuable lessons from the first two Parties, and by implementing various changes, managed to be far less stressed during the actual Party Day of 15 October 2005.
That's not to say it was a piece of cake. The amount of preparation I did for this particular Party was enormous. Some of that preparation was administrative: color coding team booklet pages, implementing an easier-to-grade scoring system for the puzzles, making sure I had a computer program written to check one of the more tedious problems, and implementing a spreadsheet to keep track of the scores during the Contest (instead of hand writing the scores on a whiteboard with a dry erase marker.
The other chunk of preparation came with the puzzles themselves. The puzzles and Puzzle Booklet that I prepared for the Contest were very much a "step above" my past Parties. The complexity of the puzzles was great (as should be apparent in the explanations below), and I also wanted to take my time and make a Booklet that was carefully themed. This was my chance to create a Puzzle Party around a story that I like very much, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, so I did not want to go at it half-heartedly.
On this webpage I will try to fully describe the Party and the Booklet itself. It will be a lengthy description. There was a lot going on. And by the end, of course, I will reveal which team took home the trophies.
Costumes Start the DayMonths before the Party I announced that players were encouraged to come dressed as characters from Lewis Carroll's story. The encouragement would come in the form of "Costume Points" that Players could earn that would then be applied to their team's score at the end of the contest. I made it clear that the focus of the day was a Puzzle Contest, not a Costume Contest, and that while the costumes could potentially earn some points, it would not dominate the scoring (an individual would earn between 0 and 300 points for their costume... so a five member team, all costumed, would earn 0 - 1500 points... the typical puzzle -- there were about 15 puzzles total -- would be worth a maximum of about 800 points).
Early on many participants seemed quite enthused about making their costumes. But as summer dragged on and fall approached, I heard suspiciously little talk about costume creation. I feared that people had procrastinated too long or just lost interest. Would anyone actually show up in costume?
Well, yes... they would. And man, oh, man, the costumes were GREAT.
All six members of the Purple Team dressed up (with the John's Hedgehog costume especially impressing everyone) -- pictured, left to right, at this link: Queen of Hearts (Christy), Dormouse (Emily), Hedgehog (John), Queen of Diamonds (Linda), Holder of Tarts (Billy), Jack of Clubs (Marshall).
And then there was Green Team. Only four of the six members arrived in time to participate in the Costume Contest, but they literally put on a show. Alice (Kelly Hollingsworth) opened and closed with a song, and in between she, the Mad Hatter, the Mock Turtle, and the Gryphon (all dressed in wonderful costumes), performed an original skit.
A skit which not so subtly poked fun at one particular referee/Puzzle Party organizer. For many reasons I can say I'm glad I was not a Judge for the costumes [grin].
There were three Judges, however, and I should thank them now: Lauren, Paul, and Sarah.
As planned, the costume shenanigans were over a bit before 1 o'clock, and with my brief introduction speech out of the way, I launched the actual Puzzle Competition a few minutes before the top of the hour.
The Competition BeginsEach team went to their "headquarters" with the Puzzle Booklets and Prop-boxes. As always, it got very quiet very quickly. I passed out a few more things which could not fit into the Prop-boxes, and then sat back and waited for answers to come in.
At ths point, the best way for me to explain things would be to detail the Booklet and Box contents. I'll try to sprinkle the explanations with anecdotes about teams' progress and such.
Some of these items had embellishments, the uses of which were not immediately apparent (e.g. the foldable pentominoes had letters printed on them for no known reason). Those uses will be explained later.
As always, I have an Introduction page. Also, I took care to include pictures and quotes from the story (some of these things were more than just decoration...)
Here's a summary of each puzzle:
Puzzle-QuadrilleEach Party I like to taunt my players with some pentomino based puzzle (I enjoy pentominoes much more than everyone else -- but if it really bugs them... let 'em throw their own Party [grin]). This time, instead of basic pentominoes to fill a two dimension rectangle, they got paper pentominoes which were to be folded so that they covered a wooden block of a peculiar shape (exactly 60 square unit surface area, of course). Only two teams solved this one. Robert (Blue Team) finished it first, while Kimberly (Orange) got it later. It was not easy to do.
There were also letters printed on the paper pentominoes, but I gave no clue as to why...
CryptogramThe cryptogram was quite easy. Not only was it a basic substitution cipher, but the fact that it was an encoded version of the longest poem in the story ("Old Father William") made it fairly easy to spot. Most teams got this quickly as they realized that they only needed to decipher parts of the poem in order to get the whole cipher-key (and even less if they just went for letters in the phrase "Queen of Hearts").
This short cut strategy might come back to bite them later, however, as some people soon noticed that a few of the words in the poem were decrypting incorrectly. 95%+ of the poem was perfect... but here and there the code would translate back to a wrong word -- not a jumble of junk -- but a word that was not in the original poem. Why? I would not tell those who asked me. I simply said it was not a typo...
Wonderland WordsearchA pretty straightforward puzzle.
Many sharp-eyed players asked about the italicized words (and there were even a few italicized letters in the grid). Why? Again, I wouldn't say beyond "not a typo"...
Pangrammic MadnessMy intuition about this puzzle was exactly backwards. I thought Part 2 was much more accessible than Part 1, but it turns out no team improved upon my example in the second half, and three teams got some type of answer for Part 1 (as a player, I don't think I would have seriously tackled Part 1).
No team found the best pangrammic string in the story. Blue Team did quite well with a score of 462. The best possible is 549 (a string near the end of the story of length 196). After the Party Tracy (Green) pointed out that by sheer coincidence, the quote I included on the introduction page contained a very short pangrammic substring (which would have scored 503). I wish I could say I did this on purpose, but it was not a clever trick on my part.
Christy (Purple) and I did discover a surprising discrepancy: the electronic text I had downloaded from the website to use in my program to check teams answers actually differed slightly from the text in the printed copies supplied to the teams. There was a part of a sentence in Chapter 12 which was omitted from the e-text. Fortunately this did not cause a major problem as Purple team supplied a different substring later.
Raucous Caucus RaceThis puzzle actually did have a typo in it, one that made it impossible to solve; and for that I sincerely apologized to the players (I have corrected it in the downloadable copies above, but in the original, I accidently switched the Dodo and Duck in statement #6). At least three of the teams came to me with problems that centered around this mistake, and once I realized my error, I announced the change to be made. As bad as I feel about this, I am still proud to say that it was the only critical flaw I made in the whole Booklet (not a trivial boast once you see its full complexity).
Ricochet CroquetI liked this type of problem when I had seen it on other puzzle competitions, so I made my own (those who have ever played the Ricochet Robot boardgame will appreciate the rhyming title). I don't think all are actually fully solvable, but since it is a "partial scoring problem", a team was welcome to bang their collective heads on it only as long as they wished.
(Dis)appearing catI had found a 7x7 sliding puzzle/game at K-mart months ago. The tiles had letters on them, but I covered those letters with cut up squares that formed a picture of the Cheshire Cat. I thought it nice to include this classic puzzle type at one of my Parties.
The page for the puzzle, however, seemed to contain extraneous informations (what are all those ENSW notations?). Maybe the letters beneath the taped paper tiles would not be irrelevant after all...
Wonderland MultiplicationAs a solver, I actually don't enjoy these types of cryptic math problems that much, but as a puzzle author I could not pass up the quote from the story about "four times five equals twelve..."
It's the type of problem that requires a lot of brute force trial and error (somewhat tempered by some basic arithmetic knowledge).
Instead of a quote from the book, the botom of this page had a string of numbers and letters... curiouser and curiouser...
Dropped LettersBill (Blue Team) came to me early an asked, "are there supposed to be more (any) instructions to this?) Nope. Once a player figured out what the puzzle was, it was not too hard to solve. Every team ended up solving it.
Word LaddersI love the fact that Lewis Carroll himself is usually credited with inventing this type of puzzle. How appropriate is that? The surprising thing is that Blue Team got all of these while Green Team (with three tournament Scrabble Player members) did not. I think it was Tim and Bill on Blue Team that solved them all (some of them quite hard)... good job.
"Who Are You?"I had no anagram puzzles in my past two Parties, so I was overdue. This was pretty easy and straightforward, so it was really one that involved speed (timed scoring).
The caption below the picture on this page reads: "DEEP AS THIS FOG"...
"Who Stole The Tarts?"Another pure logic puzzle; this one without any critical flaws. Not terribly difficult as far as such puzzles go. Every team solved it. I very much enjoyed making this puzzle hold references to the design of playing cards ("one-eyed", "man in a dark suit", etc).
Twenty-One SquaresOver the summer I built a LEGO mosaic of the solution to this puzzle. A few of the players asked if they could temporarily leave my house to visit Parker Hall on the Auburn University campus where the mosaic is on display. Of course, I said no.
The Croquet GroundsSometimes I feel a little guilt rounding up a bunch of people to solve all of these puzzles indoors when the weather is absolutely perfect outside (for EPP3 we have cloudless skies, low humidity, and a temerature of 82 degrees). Therefore, I wanted to have a puzzle that would force players to move about my yard around my house. This was very much just a "data gathering" type of puzzle. It didn't even require that you find every card outside... many people could deduce the quote from just a few of the clues.
But as with the Cryptogram puzzle, taking short cuts might have unexpected consequences.
A-mazing WonderlandI feel one of the trademarks of my Parties is that I always have some siginificant, physical props -- puzzles for which you have to be there in person. Holding a giant wooden soccerball with a maze covering its surface is definitely such a prop.
There was more than one way to solve this, but that did not make it a guaranteed quick solve. In fact, some team members spent over two hours on this. Four of the five teams eventually did solve it. One solution I knew would work was by starting at the "Rabbit Hole" space and then traversing the maze to locations in the order which Alice visits them in the text of the story:
Mad Poker-PartyThis was the very first puzzle I typed up months ago for this Party; and boy was it a tough one. I went all out and composed two pages of text... creating a whole "scene" which I felt fit nicely with Carroll's original style. The puzzle itself was certainly one of the toughest. I did not know if anyone would be able to solve it. Three teams did, but it took them a couple of hours. Amazingly, though it took so long, the time between Green Team (1st place) and Yellow Team (2nd) was literally only ten seconds. Yellow Team came to me with the answer as I was verifying Green Team's. Wow.
Each team was supplied a deck of cards, of course, to help with the solving of this problem. Curiously there were black marks along the edges of each card in the deck. What was going on here?!
There's More Than Meets The EyeI hope that readers of this webpage are suspicious at this point in the same way the players at the Party should have been: not everything was as it seemed. There were a number of anomalies throughout the Booklet and Props. Seemingly important codes and strings that were not even mentioned. Letters here, italics there. And what about this golden key in the Property-Box (which had the following quote attached to it: "she tried the little golden key in the lock, and to her great delight it fitted!").
And even curiouser... it didn't seem like there were enough puzzles. I had made a point of lengthening the competition time to 5 hours this time, but many of the teams felt like they were zipping through these puzzles. Had I completely misjudged the solving time of the collection of challenges?
Heh, heh, heh.
Not at all.
Hidden PuzzleAt 3:30PM, halfway through the competition, I gave each team an envelope with text on the outside which read, "HIDDEN PUZZLE". Inside the evelope was a new page of instructions (shown as page 19 of the downloadable Booklet). I was hoping that the teams would have come to me at this point and requested the "hidden puzzle", but none of them had, so I just passed them out.
How would the teams possibly have known to ask for the Hidden Puzzle?
Well... let's revisit those paper pentominoes of the first problem. Remember the little letters scattered about the pieces? If the pieces were arranged according to the 6x10 rectangle solution I provided front and center on that page, the letters, when read left to right, top to bottom revealed the following: "h i d d e n p u z z l e t e l l r e f e r e e" -- that is, "hidden puzzle tell referee".
There were timed points available for this hidden trick as well. The first team which might have asked about the Hidden Puzzle would have received 800 bonus points, the second team 500, and so on. However, since no team asked for the Hidden Puzzle, I just handed it out at 3:30 and awarded no extra points.
As you can see from the text on that new page, however, just because the teams now knew there was a Hidden Puzzle, they didn't know what the puzzle was. they now had to search for the Hidden Instructions.
Hidden InstructionsOnly one team actually found the Hidden Instructions by 4:45PM (Green Team, which was awarded 800 points for their discovery). The other teams were given the Hidden instructions at that time (no points awarded).
How were they to find these Hidden Instructions (page 20 of the downloaded Booklet)?
Remember the quirky word(s) in the Cryptogram? WEll, as I said, the altered words were not a mistake on my part. Throughout the whole poem nine of the words had been changed before I encypted it. When deciphered those nine words were, in order: "USE HIDDEN CARDS CREATE BEST FIVE CARD POKER HAND".
The fact that some strangeness was afoot on this page was further hinted at by the quoted passage at the page's bottom: "Not quite right, I'm afraid," said Alice, secretly; "some words have got altered." (and, in fact, the word "secretly" was an alteration too; the actual text uses the word "timidly").
Teams which had zipped through the Cryptogram puzzle in the shortest way possible likely only found one or two of the altered words which formed the Hidden Instructions. Of course, now that they knew that there was a Hidden Puzzle in their midst, they should have been revisiting everything with sharp eyes.
Once all the teams had the Hidden instructions (whether earned or given), it was now obvious what they had to do: find the Hidden Cards and form the best possible five card poker hand.
Hidden CardsSo where were these Hidden Cards? Well, there were actually thirteen different cards concealed throughout the Puzzle Booklet. Some of them easy to spot, others buried very deeply. Lets start back near the beginning...
Looking at the Cryptogram Puzzle yet again, one should notice something about the plain text/cipher text table:
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z K N Y M X Q W A Z P D E I G H T O F C L U B S R J VMost of the team discovered this one, the EIGHT OF CLUBS.
With the (Dis)appearing cat puzzle, the notation of ENSW was quite important. The last sentence of the instructions for the puzzle actually hint that one might want to remove the squares of paper from the letter tiles once the initial puzzle is solved. If the tiles are uncovered in the solved configuration, the bottom row clearly contains a word (and the only word among the otherwise scrambled letters): "THESE" (which fits in the first set of five blanks). If one then moves the tiles according to the compass directions in the first group, the resulting tile configuration will reveal the word "CARDS" (fitting in the second set of five blanks). Continuing in this way results in two more words: "PAINTED" and "ROSES".
"THESE CARDS PAINTED ROSES".
Referring to the text of the story, one learns that the three cards in the Rose Garden who are painting roses are the TWO, FIVE, and SEVEN OF SPADES. Three Hidden Cards in one puzzle! Only Green team discovered these cards.
Next we go to Wonderland Multiplication: the string of numbers and letters at the bottom of the page can be decrypted using the result of the puzzle (with a little ambiguity of "L","T", and "W" all equalling "3" easily being overcome). The message is a quote from the book: "TAKING THE LITTLE GOLDEN KEY AND UNLOCKING THE DOOR".
Reference to that golden key... but no cards... hmmm... we'll come back to that.
The "Who Are You" puzzle dealt with anagrams, and the odd caption on that page "DEEP AS THIS FOG" can be rearranged to "EIGHT OF SPADES". Tracy Cobbs (an expert Scrabble player) found this one for the Green team. Yellow team also discovered it.
On The Croquet Grounds puzzle: the quote that is revealed in the chart is, "Why is a raven like a writing desk?" -- famous words of the Mad Hatter. One might have noticed that the red Sharpie marker in the Property-Box had a piece of paper on it with that exact quote. Why would I possibly refer to that quote with a red marker?
Well, it turns out that all of those cards that I hid in the yard around my house came from two separate decks; one with red backs, one with blue backs. If one went back outside and re-examined all of the cards and colored the corresponding grid cells of the red-backed cards with the red marker, the cells revealed a "K" and a Heart symbol. KING OF HEARTS.
Obscure, you may think?
Just wait... now we're starting to get serious...
The Mad Poker Party had two Hidden Card clues. First, on the second page, the heading was not underlined with a simple line. The underlining the title was actually extraordinarily tiny text (like 3-point of something) which read:
2500=F,1764=A,1369=K,1225=O,1089=S,841=N,729=U,625=E,576=O, 361=D,324=D,289=O,256=J,225=B,121=T,81=E,64=N,49=E,36=H,16=C,4=YMath savvy folks will note that those twenty-one numbers are all perfect squares. Hmmm... twenty-one squares... where have we seen that before? If one takes the letters above and places them in the corresponding squares of the solved Twenty-One Square puzzle a phrase can be discovered: "FOUND BOTH ONE EYED JACKS".
That got the Green and Yellow teams the JACK OF SPADES and JACK OF HEARTS.
Continuing with the Mad Poker-Party. Once (If) that puzzle is solved and the deck of cards is stacked in the correct order, the black marks on the sides of the cards can be examined. there are dots on both short edges but only one of the long edges of each card. If all of the unmarked long edges are oriented along one side, the remaining three sides have their marks align to form letters. the leters form words. The three words form the phrase: "SLEEPY DORMOUSE SNORES".
SLEEPY DORMOUSE SNORES.
Look back at yet another puzzle... the Wonderland Wordsearch. Top row, centered is the word "SLEEPY". The bottom row is also peculiar... a whole bunch of Z's are there -- not a complete row of Z's, but three groups. Finally, near the center of the letter grid is the substring "ORMOUS". Almost "DORMOUSE". In fact, the "D" and "E" also appear in that same row, only separated a bit. Separated by a gap on each side equal to the gaps between the Z's on the bottom row.
Look even closer and the top and bottom edge of the border of the letter grid has sections of lighter gray which exactly match those gaps as well.
What could this all mean?
If one folds the page of the Puzzle Booklet in a fashion similar to the old MAD magazine trick pages of years past, something interesting happens. Folding the page so that the Z's come together in a continuous string and "DORMOUSE" is properly formed, not only do you get the words "SLEEPY DORMOUSE ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ", but the highlighted words that were discovered in the wordsearch originally come together to form a "4" and a Heart symbol. The FOUR OF HEARTS.
But let's not stop there. Don't forget that some of the letters in the grid were italicized. While the page is folded, those italicized letters are the initials of words that form the sentence: "With Words Encrypted Solve Again Use Different Pen".
Yep... the thirty words listed should now be encrypted (guess what encryption should be used?). The encrypted versions are also hidden in the full word grid.
I'm not kidding.
If all of the encypted words are found, then the ones that are italicized in the list will form yet another card: SIX OF DIAMONDS.
And by the way, I gave a clue on the Hidden Instructions page itself:
Putting the words in order of the pages you get the question: "Have you tried punching out the dark furrows?"
"Dark furrows" are mentioned in the instructions of the Ricochet Croquet problem. If the dark squares on that page are punched out, and that page is laid atop the Dropped Letters page (hopefully discovered after some searching and experimenting), the only letters that are not masked-out spell out: TWO OF DIAMONDS. Blue team was the only team to get this Hidden Card.
I know, I know... but that's only eleven Hidden Cards total.
And I still haven't said what that darned golden key was for...
Only Purple Team found out on their own.
Near the end of the competition one of their teammates (Billy) was fiddling with the buckyball maze... and he heard something inside of it.
I hear that at this point Emily wanted to smash the thing open. John decided to examine it less violently. His sharp eyes noticed something: on the image of the Jack of Clubs executioner for the Croquet Grounds Pentagon, the club design on his back had been altered. It wasn't so much a club now... but rather, a KEYHOLE!
He felt the surface of the maze at that location... and it was hollow behind...
Grabbing the little golden key, he punched through the surface of the wooden buckyball ("it fitted"). He turned it a bit and yanked back. The pentagon face dislodged...
Were there cards inside?!
There was a page with two more puzzles on it ("aaarrrgh!").
So here is a list of the Hidden Cards:
Are you worn out yet?
All of this came to an end at 6PM. The pizza arrived for everyone, and within 10 minutes Purple Team member Christy helped me finalize the scoreboard (we just had to see which teams got some of their Word Ladder scores doubled, and I had to record the Costume scores, which had be kept secret until then).
Here is a chart showing the results:
Congratulations to the Green Team! From the chart above it would seem that they won simply because of the Hidden Instructions and Hidden Cards, but there is little doubt that Green Team was an amazingly organized group. Their methodical analysis of all of the puzzles and props helped them work very closely as a team.
First place or not, I hope everyone on every team had a fun time.
TrophiesOh... so what did Green Team get for their exemplary efforts?
Finally, the use for those litle thimbles in the Property-Boxes are revealed. Each winner received a framed document with a small trophy attached. The thimbles were attached by tiny magnets to complete the little trophies. The text of the certificates read:
PUZZLES FROM WONDERLAND
My next Party (Spring 2006) will actually be much smaller. Partly so I don't have to spend a full six months preparing as I did for this one, and partly because I have grand plans for fall of 2006 as well.
Here is a list of all of the participants as the Party-Day finally arrived:
* * * * * * * * * * *Thanks again to everyone.