Puzzle Potluck 2 Wrap-up

Congratulations to the 121 teams that helped Professor Layton solve the case of Dame Perdita Mortum’s murder! Special congratulations to Quarks and Gluons for being the first team to finish, on Saturday 6/15 at 2:28pm PDT, about 5.5 hours after the hunt started. 31 other teams finished within the first day (24 hours) of the hunt!

Thank you so much to everyone who participated in Puzzle Potluck 2. We recognized a bunch of familiar names from last time and also saw a lot of new ones!

We were really happy to see that there were 399 teams that signed up, 270 teams that solved at least one puzzle, 134 teams that finished The Professor, and 121 teams that finished the entire hunt. Those numbers beat out Puzzle Potluck 1 across the board, 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

Coming off the back of Puzzle Potluck 1, we had a few goals in mind for this hunt, in addition to the everlasting goal to provide a hunt that would be fun for all puzzlers, regardless of their experience level.

The first was to have more puzzles with a shallower difficulty ramp. We felt that with just six non-meta puzzles and a big jump in difficulty from the easiest to the second easiest puzzle, it was easy for teams to get stuck and frustrated after solving that first puzzle. We hoped Restaurant, Office, and Bookstore provided teams with more to chew on before diving into the harder puzzles. (We were also very impressed with the number of teams that proved proficient in cryptics and solved Bar!)

Based on some feedback from Puzzle Potluck 1, we also wanted to provide teams with self revealable hints so that teams wouldn’t be as bottlenecked on our ability to respond to emails.

Finally, we hope the puzzles rendered better this time on mobile. Alas, Bowling Alley still seemed to have trouble on some iOS devices; we’ll keep working on it.

Format

Puzzle Potluck has always been a one round hunt, in the spirit of allowing small teams to solve it in a single day over a potluck gathering. We think there are a bunch of great hunts out there that are longer and more intense, so we’re planning to keep the format pretty similar for next time. We’ve been really happy to see that so many teams, regardless of experience level, are able to finish our hunt within one weekend.

Puzzle Potlucks 1 and 2 were actually written in parallel almost a year ago, by splitting ourselves into two separate writing groups (if you look closely, you’ll notice that most of the puzzle writers are different). Although the first draft of Potluck 2 was mostly written already, we were still able to take what we learned from running the first potluck and use that knowledge while iterating on the puzzles. The first draft also ended at The Professor, so the final two Clue-themed puzzles were brand new. We hope that this potluck ended up better than the first!

One specific lesson we learned from last time was that it was tough to get started on some of our puzzles, so we made sure to include helpful flavor text this time around. Another major issue last time was the wording ambiguities in our konundrum puzzle (The Resistance: Avaloon), so we did a crazy amount of test-solves on our new konundrum (School) until we felt like it was really solid. We also considered adding a live leaderboard, but we didn’t want it to spoil the surprise of the additional puzzles after The Professor.

Story

For those of you who only got to work on a few puzzles, or those of you who blazed through the puzzles without paying close attention to the story, here’s a brief rundown.

Spoilers Ahead! Skip spoilers

Professor Layton, archaeologist and puzzle aficionado, gets a call from his old friends at Scotland Yard to investigate a disappearance. Layton decides to investigate six suspects (and generally villainous persons) whom he believes may be connected to the case: Carmen Sandiego, Thaal Sinestro, Jadis the White Witch, the Grinch, Mystique, and Waluigi. After solving six puzzles posed by these suspects (and three other independent puzzles), Professor Layton realizes that the disappearance that he has been asked to investigate is actually a murder, which took place in the SALON.

Using a hand-drawn map of the mansion and a bloody trail left behind by our widow victim, Professor Layton deduces that she had a particular bad habit: an OPEN DOOR POLICY. In other words, any old murderer, murderess, or murderperson could waltz in there and just murder, murder, murder to their murderous hearts’ content. Working backwards from here, Layton discovered that our murderer was, in fact, noted author and cryptology enthusiast DAN BROWN. What in the name of Luke Triton is going on here?

Following Dan Brown’s trail to Connecticut, Professor Layton makes his final discovery (or so he thinks). With his knowledge of the facts of the case, and the aid of a cryptex mysteriously left for him, Layton concludes that the murder was commited with a SWORD and goes to confront Dan Brown with this information.

Dan Brown, of course, remains perfectly whelmed. In fact, Mr. Brown drops an incredible truth bomb on Professor Layton: Layton lives in a fictional story world created by Mr. Brown (and perhaps, on a tertiary meta-level, created by some intrepid potluckers). Layton reworks the cryptex with this newfound information to arrive at the correct murder weapon: a QUILL.

“It was DAN BROWN in the SALON with the QUILL.” He “murdered” our victim simply by writing her death into existence. Yeah. Heavy stuff. Think about that the next time you delete your files to save space on your desktop.

Further details regarding character development are explored in the appendix below.

Future

We’re already excited to start working on Puzzle Potluck 3! It’ll be the first hunt written by our entire crew all together, and the first time we’ll be starting a hunt from scratch after the experience of running one for real. We’re hoping we can address even more of your feedback next time!

Here are some of the things we’re already thinking about improving based on the hunt and the survey feedback so far: making our puzzles more printer-friendly, actually adding a live leaderboard, partial answer confirmation for intermediate clue phrases (like OPENDOORPOLICY), avoiding puzzles based around niche pop culture references, and no more duck konundra :). While we received significantly fewer hint request emails this year than last, we can definitely fine tune the hints we do give, and add a little resistance to assist solvers that don’t want to be tempted by the hints. We also apologize if any of you were affected by our website outages later in the week; we’ll make sure that doesn’t happen again next time.

We’re so glad you joined us for Puzzle Potluck 2 and hope to see you all again for Puzzle Potluck 3!

Credits

Puzzle Crew: Lindsey Shi, Bradley Wu, Julz Huang, Stephanie Chang, Curtis Liu, Rajeev Nayak, Darren Yin
Story Crew: Lindsey Shi
Test-solving Crew: David Wong, Norman Cao, Yaning Zhang, Dabin Choe, Landon Carter, Victor Hung, Stephanie Yu
Hint Crew: Rajeev Nayak, Julz Huang, Bradley Wu, Curtis Liu
Website Crew: Julz Huang, Rajeev Nayak, Curtis Liu
Artwork Crew: Julz Huang

Fun Stuff

Leaderboard race

Here's a graph of the top 15 teams' effective puzzle solves over time. When a team solved The Professor, they automatically got credit in the graph for solving all regular round puzzles. We also added Eggplant Parms, who were the first to solve The Professor, and Mystik Spiral, who had the fastest time between first solve and finishing the hunt, in just under 4 hours.

Guess Log

For your enjoyment and amusement, here is the full guess log for the entire hunt.

Funny Stories

We compiled our favorite stories from teams (and ourselves) from this hunt. Here they are, with occasional commentary from us in italics:

The Puzzle Potluck Crew

Halfway through the first day, while we were at our HQ, one of our writers Lindsey asked, "Wouldn't it be funny if Dan Brown was doing our hunt? He could sue us for slander." We all laughed for a bit. Later, we got the following email from someone on Belmonsters. Needless to say, we were very amused.
Belmonsters followed up: "We had Dan Brown on our team, and his quill was indeed quite mighty. He strongly denies all slanderous charges that have been made."

The Puzzle Potluck Crew

On Saturday morning, two of our crew went to get breakfast for everyone. Someone wanted a ham breakfast sandwich, but the Starbucks we went to didn't have any. The two of us who went out couldn't get the attention of the people at HQ on messenger, so we submitted answers for The Professor on our test account to get HQ's attention. It worked :)

B'eren Planet

In working through the Bowling Alley puzzle, we ended up naming about half of them for ease of communication, and it became a very funny conversation referring to the different balls as their names (usually after superheroes, candy, or desserts.)

Bunsolvable Baconundrum

For Bowling Alley, we made this ridiculous, messy tree of possible ball weights, which actually somehow helped us visualize our way to the answer. The digital version turned out way neater than our pencil-and-paper version!

Cardinality Rejects

On country club, where we were stuck for hours after ID-ing pokemon silhouettes and Monopoly street names.
Hassler: "Is there like a thing that like relates Pokemon and Monopoly together?"
Leon: "Oh yeah, there's a Pokemon Monopoly game!! I was OBSESSED with that game as a child"
rest of us: hello? how did you not make the connection earlier?
On dance hall, as we were trying to solve some of the individual puzzles:
Amruth: "I think the last one is Smash related...like Fox...Link...and so on"
rest of us: "How did you make the connection?"
Amruth: "Well truth be told, I was getting bored, and opened up twitch to see if there were any Smash streams going on.....and then I read the last puzzle and noticed the names LOL"
teamwork makes the dream work :P

Covered in 🐝🐝🐝

I think our best pointless diversion was trying to figure out how the characters could get to their respective rooms on the Cluedo board (we got the Cluedo link very quickly, including the room matches, then got stuck for ages working out how to determine which Cluedo room Layton might be looking in!).

Extraction o'Clock at /r/PictureGame

just look at this beautiful spreadsheet magic i wasted time setting up before realizing i could program it in 5 minutes. so sad.
wow this is frickin' beautiful

Luck of Herrings

We were trying to guess the final stage of the meta just with wordplay when we didn't realize it was a separate puzzle. I thought it had to be WORDS, since that fit the reality vs fiction theme and anagrammed sword. When it was wrong, I was like, oh, PEN, because that's MIGHTIER than the sword. Which was wrong, too. My puzzle partner jokingly suggested QUILL... but of course we never entered it in. Cue the groans and laughter six hours or so later when we finish solving the meta and discover that the answer was QUILL this whole time.
Many teams thought the same thing, and during the hunt, we were so, so glad we ended up not using either of these guesses as our final answer!

Möbius Strippers

I picked up on the duck names in the School Buck, Buck, Goose puzzle quickly, but it didn't hit me until more than halfway through that it was a Duck, Duck, Goose Konundrum puzzle.
It's always a duck konundrum ;)

qu🐜um eleph🐜s

We have two members of the team stylized as "clue" (first initial + last name). It was glorious when we discovered the meta involved the game Clue. My two favorite guesses for meta 2 were "open door police" and "deng xiaoping" (from China's open door policy).
Those were some of our favorite guesses too :)

weareyoung

We anagramed CFEDBAG for bar before we realized it was an ordering.

The Puzzle Potluck Crew

Sometimes teams get to an answer and feel stuck, but there's not much left to do...

The Puzzle Potluck Crew

Probably the most suspicious thing we saw was one team guessing just the meta answers in quick succession on Sunday afternoon. Good thing they followed up with an incorrect answer :P

Appendix: Lindsey's Notes on Character Development

My goal from the start was to find “thieving” characters with strong color associations that corresponded with their respective Clue suspects’ colors and genders, though I’m not sure we fully embraced the “thievery” idea. Carmen Sandiego and the Grinch are clear examples, and you might say Jadis stole something insofar as she usurped the throne of Narnia.

The others are less clear. I suppose that Sinestro, Mystique, and Waluigi have likely stolen things in their general villainy and skullduggery, but I couldn’t point you to a concrete example from the top of my head. So the characters ended up being “colorful but shady characters who are likely up to no good” rather than “colorful thieves.”

Suspect notes are presented in order of development/finalization:

Carmen Sandiego

Design: Carmen was the first suspect I decided on. In fact, in my crossover headcanon, Miss Scarlet and Carmen Sandiego are one and the same -- dashing young ingénues of crime with just a hint of sultriness. Certainly, Lesley Ann Warren could have portrayed a live-action Carmen back in 1985, when both Clue (the film) and Carmen Sandiego (the character) debuted.

Carmen’s design and treatment didn’t change much from the original draft. I intended that solvers would identify Carmen early on, which would clue them in that the suspects had real fictional identities. During Potluck 2’s revision period, Gina Rodriguez’s animated Carmen Sandiego was released on Netflix, further injecting Carmen into the cultural zeitgeist. I took this as a sign of encouragement from the universe.

Backstory: I envisioned Layton and Carmen as old rivals from his archaeology days. For several years, the pair would clash at dig sites -- Layton would constantly have to fend off Carmen’s attempts to purloin his hard-earned buried treasures. Then, one day, he simply stopped showing up to dig sites. In fact, he was nowhere to be found -- quite the reversal for Carmen! Somewhat disappointed from the sudden disappearance of her rival, she scoured the earth looking for Layton until she found an address where she could send a telegram. His reply: “FINISHED POSTDOC STOP PUBLISHED IN CAMBRIDGE ARCHAEOLOGY JOURNAL STOP DONE WITH FIELD WORK STOP BEST WISHES IN YOUR CAREER STOP” -- a true gentleman through and through.

Hints for Carmen:

  • Worldly possessions
  • Tea from South Africa
  • China from...China
  • Prominent jawline
  • Refers to Layton as “Detective”
  • Items stolen in the 1996 computer game (Googleable)
  • The Khyber Pass
  • The Steps to the Tango
  • Uluru
  • The Baton Used to Lead the Vienna Boys Choir
  • Carmen stashed the entire Strait of Gibraltar in a bag
  • A nod to the suspension of disbelief that remains a hallmark in the series
  • “acme”

The Grinch

Design: He’s a mean one, Mr. Green Mr. Grinch! There’s no denying his color or his thieving ability -- outside of general humbuggery, he’s pretty much only known for thieving. The Grinch was also decided on early in the process and didn’t change much. He certainly checked all the boxes: an unscrupulous male-presenting figure with a strong color association.

Backstory: Layton and the Grinch actually went to college together and met on the rowing team their first year (they both quit after a semester). While Layton went on to excel in his studies, the Grinch had no interest in going to classes or doing homework. Instead, he learned how to hustle unsuspecting marks in virtually any game: darts, cards, draughts, chess, Scrabble, cornhole, or snooker. Despite his grimy outward appearance, the Grinch has done quite well for himself, for a simple charlatan. He made a series of prudent investments and is now sitting on quite a large nest egg. You wouldn’t be able to tell from just looking at him, though.

Hints for the Grinch:

  • Anapestic tetrameter, as in:
  • ’Twas the Night Before Christmas
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
  • “Undersized heart”
  • Prevented Christmas pies

Mystique

Design: It took me a while to settle on Mystique as Mrs. Peacock. Is Mystique a villain? Antihero? Certainly she has sympathetic qualities. At the end of the day, though, she worked counter to the X-Men in a sufficiently large capacity that I felt comfortable labeling her as a villain. Mystique is one of the most prominent LGBT characters in comics -- in our narrative, she presents as a man, proving once again that gender is merely her plaything. There’s also a very slight tie-in to Clue.

Backstory: When Layton first started bridging the gap from archaeologist to amateur detective, he knew of Mystique by reputation. She was an information broker -- an underground black market dealer in secrets and intrigue. Layton was admittedly anxious the first time he turned to the beguiling blue beauty for information, but found that she was surprisingly professional and easy to work with. Over the years, they have built a friendly rapport, though at times Layton still feels like he’s playing an extended game of cat-and-mouse. It’s unclear to him who is who.

Hints for Mystique:

  • Described with men’s features, yet unambiguously referred to as a woman
  • Morphs into a raven in the post-solve scene
  • Mystique’s name is “Raven Darkhölme”

Jadis, the White Witch

Design: At first I resisted Jadis because I thought her color connection was a little too obvious -- her full name and epithet has the word “White,” after all. But the opportunity was too good to let go, and her personality was a pretty good contrast to the characters I had picked so far. Carmen is playful, the Grinch is sleazy, Mystique is, uh, mystical, and Jadis is haughty.

Originally, we had Jadis skating on a frozen pond in the middle of summer as she speaks with Layton. This setting changed to the bookstore to better unify the setting with the corresponding Clue room (Library), better connect to the answer (TRILOGY), and better connect to the character herself.

Backstory: When Professor Layton was a young boy, his (adopted) great aunt had an old, mysterious “armoire” in the attic of her home. One summer, when Layton was nine years old, he stayed with this great aunt for a few months while his (adopted) parents went on a short sabbatical to Senegal. While exploring one day, he crept up to the attic where he spotted the armoire. Intrigued, he began to open it when a voice behind him sent a chill down his spine.

“I wouldn’t open that if I were you, child.”

Layton fainted. When he came to, she was gone, and there was no trace of anyone else in the attic. The armoire was simply an ordinary, empty armoire.

This wouldn’t be the first time they would encounter each other, but it would certainly be the most memorable for Layton.

Hints for Jadis:

  • Bookstore itself
  • “in between the fantasy and religion sections” = Narnia
  • “Mythological beings and monsters”
  • Answer to puzzle is TRILOGY, but Layton begins to say “there were seven —”
  • Description
  • Haughty demeanor
  • Familiarity with Englishmen
  • Layton refers to Jadis as “Your Majesty”
  • Magic
  • Carries a wand
  • Threatens to turn Layton to stone
  • “end all life in your realm with a single Word” capitalized

Thaal Sinestro

Design: There are not a lot of yellow villains out there. Reverse Flash? Yellow Diamond? Mr. Burns? The Minions? As far as recognizability goes, Sinestro is not at the top of the list, but certainly he’d be familiar to fans of Green Lantern and DC Comics in general. The fact that we have a member of the Green Lantern Corps/Sinestro Corps playing a colonel was a fantastic coincidence.

The original draft had Sinestro as the proprietor of a comic book store (a little too on-the-nose, perhaps), but “Gallery” definitely fits in better with “Hall.”

Backstory: Sinestro had attempted to recruit Professor Layton into the SInestro Corps on several occasions. To Sinestro, Layton was a prime candidate: he was a demanding (but fair) professor with a gigantic precedent reputation who instilled great fear in his students semester after semester. Scotland Yard’s detectives likewise lived in constant terror of losing their jobs due to Layton -- his effortless ability to crack cases contrasted sharply against their own incompetence in solving even the most basic puzzles. And of course, Layton’s athleticism and fencing prowess made him a fearsome foe for scoundrels and ne’er-do-wells the world over. So it’s not difficult to understand just how absolutely crushed Sinestro was when Layton turned him down. “A gentleman does not seek to suppress others through fear. Also, I dislike wearing jewelry.”

Hints for Sinestro:

  • “[A] collection of paintings depicting extra-terrestrial life in comic books”
  • Appearance
  • Gaunt
  • Pencil mustache
  • Receding hairline
  • Floating
  • Your species is usually quite prone to fear…”
  • Needed to keep his lamp (i.e. lantern) charged

Waluigi

Design: Poor, misunderstood Waluigi. Excluded from Smash Bros. and nearly excluded from this hunt. In a previous iteration, Professor Plum was Kilgrave/Purple Man, antagonist to Jessica Jones. But Kilgrave didn’t test well -- he was not as well-known and therefore hard to guess. He would also have been the second Marvel character (after Mystique) and the third comic book character (after Mystique and Sinestro). The switch to Waluigi occurred late in our process, but it wasn’t too hard to integrate him. The puzzle remained the same and we kept the LUXURY theming consistent, moving from a “Penthouse Suite” to a “Country Club.” It also gave me the chance to show off Layton’s physical abilities.

Backstory: Layton and Waluigi had never met before their tennis match. But Layton was able to observe a few of Waluigi’s earlier matches that day, and found some of his tactics questionable at best. Waluigi tangoed and moonwalked all over the court -- there were quite a few moments where it appeared as if he was somehow slowing the flow of time itself. Layton rubbed his hands together in anticipation. He was very rarely a smug or petty person, but Layton was going to enjoy putting this desperado in his place.

Hints for Waluigi:

  • Tennis match with Toads providing commentary:
  • “mushroom heads”
  • One Toad calls the other “Captain”
  • Waluigi’s debut was in Camelot’s Mario Tennis (2000)
  • Lanky, skulking, dark overalls, and orange shoes
  • Words that start with “WAH” or “WAL”:
  • Wallop
  • Wales
  • WAAAHP!
  • Waaaah?!
  • Wall
  • Walnut
  • Waltzing
  • Walk