Puzzle Potluck 1 Wrap-up

Congratulations to the 68 teams that helped Nathan Drake find his way to Avalon! Special congratulations to The Honorable Hallmark Holiday for being the first team to finish, on Saturday 11/10 at 2:07pm PST, a little over 5 hours after our hunt had started. Fifteen other teams finished within the first day (24 hours) of our hunt!

Thank you so much to everyone who participated in the inaugural Puzzle Potluck. It was a new experience for all of us in the Puzzle Potluck Crew, and we’re glad that our venture into Uncharted territory was met with so much excitement and enthusiasm!

Since it was our first time running a hunt, we were very pleasantly surprised that there were 285 teams that signed up, 189 teams that solved at least one puzzle, and 68 teams that finished the entire hunt. Overall, an amazing turnout for a first-time event and so much more than we had hoped for, so thank you everyone :)

The next few sections of the page will cover our decisions while writing the hunt and some reflection now that it’s over. Feel free to skip over that and jump straight to the fun stats and stories at the bottom if you’d like!

Goals

We had a couple major goals for our first hunt. First and foremost, we wanted to run a hunt that would be fun for all puzzlers, regardless of their experience level. We always look forward to solving puzzles together in our friend group, so we wanted to share that joy with as many people as possible. We knew that some of the puzzles would be difficult for less experienced solvers, which is why we introduced the casual track with unlimited hints. We also knew we wanted to do a custom-tailored hint system, because it always feels frustrating when you unlock a pre-written hint and it turns out to be something you already figured out.

Second, we wanted to practice our puzzle writing and get it to a point where we’d be proud of releasing our puzzles to the public. Our group has been writing puzzles for some time now, but in the past, our puzzles felt disjointed and rough around the edges since we each wrote 1 puzzle in a vacuum. We decided with our most recent potluck that we needed to collaborate more closely on the entire hunt so that we could brainstorm together, iterate, and polish up our puzzles.

Format

Since the beginning of Puzzle Potluck, our hunts have always been just one round with a single metapuzzle, just because it was the easiest way for us to get started and organize. We didn’t specifically decide on the size (in terms of number of puzzles) of the hunt ahead of time, and it worked out that we could make the meta mechanic work with six puzzles. We’d like to keep Puzzle Potluck a one round hunt, in the spirit of allowing teams to solve it over a potluck gathering.

We set a recommended team size of 2-4 people at first, because with only 6 puzzles and a meta, we were worried that having a large team would result in solvers only getting to see one or two puzzles each. After further consideration, we thought that less experienced solvers would have a tough time getting through the hunt with a small team, so we upped the recommendation to 3-5 people.

Puzzle Writing Philosophy

Our biggest goal was to make sure our puzzles felt clean and intuitive to solve. We tried our best to eliminate as many crazy logical leaps, red herrings, and inconsistencies as possible. We still had a few ambiguities and frustrating portions of puzzles, so we want to improve on this more in the future.

We made a couple decisions in an attempt to be more “purist” and have our puzzles feel more clean and concise: we avoided using any flavor text and tried to avoid explicit numerical indexing. All of our story text was purely for story purposes and not meant to help solve the puzzles in any way. Looking back, we think that although this made the puzzles look a bit cleaner, it wasn’t worth it to trade off clarity. For our next potluck we’ll definitely ease up on these hard constraints.

Future

We’re excited about the future! The response we had to this hunt was generally positive, and we’ll definitely be running a second one next year. The main themes from the survey feedback so far are that people want more (and slightly easier) puzzles, live stats on the website, progressively self-unlocked hints (in addition to the contextual email hints), and more mobile-friendly puzzle pages. We hope we can improve on all of these things for next time. We’re so glad you joined us for Puzzle Potluck 1 and hope to see you all again for Puzzle Potluck 2!

Credits

Puzzle (and story) Crew: Curtis Liu, Darren Yin, Rajeev Nayak
Test-solving Crew: Bradley Wu, Julz Huang, Lindsey Shi, Stephanie Chang, Victor Hung, Stephanie Yu, Norman Cao, Dabin Choe, Clare Zhang, Joshua Fabian, Harley Zhang
Hint Crew: Bradley Wu, Curtis Liu, Darren Yin, Julz Huang, Rajeev Nayak
Website Crew: Julz Huang, Rajeev Nayak, Curtis Liu
Artwork Crew: Julz Huang

Fun Stuff

The Most Important Question

We've been having a heated internal debate on whether p u z z l e h u n t is one word or two, and decided to survey the puzzle community about it. The results are in: "puzzle hunt" wins 49 - 39! Some of us are rejoicing and the rest of us are sad.

Incorrect Guesses

  • The usual suspects: LASSIEORSIRIUS for Isle of Dogs (some teams went further by guessing both LASSIE and SIRIUS), MOON and WREATHOFVICTORY for Alchemy 101, ARTHUR + random 4-letter strings for The Resistance: Avaloon, AREACODES for The Square Table, and TAKETHEUNDERGROUNDRAILROAD for Passage to Avalon
  • PP Team spent quite a while guessing random islands for Coast to Coast. Some examples: ALDERNEY, VANUATU, CARRIACOU, MARTINIQUE
  • Puzzkill guessed every single combination of GUI?LA for Coast to Coast: GUIALA, GUIBLA, GUICLA, ... , GUIZLA
  • Similarly, we saw many variants of AREA?ODES for The Square Table: AREAAODES, AREABODES, AREADODES, AREAPODES, and even AREAZODES
  • This rapid-fire series of guesses from Erotic Camgirls of /r/PictureGame on Coast to Coast made us laugh: HELP, PLEASEHELP, CABBAGE
  • Eggplant Parms submitted this great guess for Alchemy 101: ISWEARIPLAYEDLITTLEALCHEMYTWOALLTHEWAYTHROUGHSCHOOLWHYISTHISPUZZLEIMPOSSIBLEIHATEEVERYTHING
  • Gunmetal Steel successfully solved Alchemy 101 with LAUREL but had to add in an extra incorrect guess a few seconds later: YANNY
  • Two different teams thought HARRIETTUBMAN might be the final answer of the entire hunt. Two teams!
  • For your enjoyment and amusement, here is the full guess log for the entire hunt.

Funny Stories

We compiled a bunch of funny anecdotes from teams (and ourselves). Here they are, with occasional commentary from us in italics:

The Puzzle Potluck Crew

We got an unexpected email from Galactic Puzzle Hunt over the weekend regarding a hint. Upon opening it, we found that one of the puzzlers had accidentally emailed them instead of us:

Potluck & Dragons

misread grailroad for railroad LOL
So did everyone else - we even got an email from a different team with the answer in the email:

Frumious Bandersnatch

"We already solved the first puzzle, but you'd have liked it." "Was it puppies?" "Yes." "Really??"
Who doesn’t like puppies? 🐕🐕🐕

Aviation Laws

Chickentree Parms

For Coast to Coast, we got every island except Puerto Rico and Trinidad and Tobago. The result was a "map" on the crossword that looked ridiculously similar to Italy, especially when the "mainland" was connected by all the Xes. Cue lots of guesses about Italy, the Tyrrhenian Sea, and its surrounding islands etc.

Panda Expressionists

In Alchemy 101, before we realized the clue to RPS-101, someone on the team actually went to the trouble of playing Little Alchemy 2 to get to a Medusa and a sword, and trying to combine them to see if all the lists we could find had omitted that reaction.
In The Square Table, after we had decoded the bottom 9 words, we were stuck until we used a pattern matcher on the movie character transformation rule and found that CINCINNATI was a valid result, from which we backed out TITANIC to then confirm the associated word and general mechanic. Probably not the way that step was intended to be figured out..."
Haha definitely not. Impressive way to do it though!

Cardinality Rejects

When extracting "Resistance: Avaloon", I saw "QW" i and I was convinced I had done the puzzle wrong.
Backspace backspace. So did a lot of other teams.

Erotic Camgirls of /r/PictureGame

(EC refers to any member in our chat, not all the same person, not all the same team)
1:56 PM EC: are we expert or casual track
1:58 PM EC: @EC just go into your team, click “-> switch to casual”, and you’ll know what track you’re on then

Yuki

Me and LJ thought the "Objects Drake often finds" clue in Bullion was going to be a diss at the singer Drake because neither of us played Uncharted and we hadn't been paying attention to the story at that point either. We were waiting expectantly for something juicy, but ultimately let down when we solved it from the other directions. LJ was the one who filled in "relic", but he only found out that that Drake was the same from the story after the meta was finished. (He dismissed it as just some Drake who looked for relics.)

The Puzzledome

Going through RPS101 was a nostalgia trip for us! We played it as children so seeing it again after 10+ years was really funny for us as we went through all 101 things and reading every single possibility..

HecticPuzzlers

In the crossword, it took us a while to get the aha, and for me the thought was initially: oh I wrote FLU/INE, just replace the / by French gold which is "or" (like hinted in one of the clue), and it makes a word! It's only 5 min later that I realized that this makes sense because it's "FLU" or "INE", with the English meaning of "or"... (disclaimer: I'm French, so I may have been thinking in French during this moment).
Wait a minute... after test solving (multiple times) and answering countless emails about Bullion, I JUST got it from reading this! - Potluck test-solver