Puzzlehunts

I’ve been meaning to write about puzzlehunts! Coincidentally last night, an episode of Elementary revolved around a puzzlehunt. Puzzlehunts (Puzzles + Scavenger Hunt) are puzzle-solving competitions where participants race to solve a series of puzzles. The most famous example is the annual MIT Mystery Hunt (http://web.mit.edu/puzzle/www/), held on the Martin Luther King long weekend. It’s a massive competition with thousands of contestants split up into multiple groups. The prize is the “coin” (a keepsake that isn’t always an actual coin) and the honour of planning the next year’s Mystery Hunt.

The “coin” rewarded to the winners of the 2011 MIT Mystery Hunt


The puzzles used in the Mystery Hunts have all been logged and indexed online, and the puzzles are TOUGH. I can see why some teams consist of hundreds of people.

Another prominent puzzlehunt is DASH (Different Area Same Hunt), which has the same puzzlehunt being played simultaneously across different cities.

Puzzlehunts never caught on in Toronto. I’ve done a little research and the majority of similar events have had stronger physical components making them more similar to the Amazing Race. I’ve found 3 events held in Ontario that seem like puzzlehunts, but I haven’t had the opportunity to attend any of them.

Chromatin Events (http://mercury.chromatin.ca/) hosted a bike-based puzzlehunt, with the theme that you are applying for a job at an evil courier service. He previously also hosted a puzzlehunt themed like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book.
FISH (http://www.fishhunt.ca/past-fish/fish-toronto-2011/) seems mainly based in Vancouver, but held a halloween puzzle hunt in Toronto a few year ago.
Spies of Barrie (http://www.whodunnitevents.com/Spies_of_Barrie.html) has participants play the role of a new spy being tested by the agency for placement in future missions.

I think puzzlehunts might be an interesting avenue of marketing for escape room businesses! The population of people who might enjoy puzzlehunts has definitely grown in the past year. Teams of players roaming the city solving puzzles would make a company’s name/logo highly visible.

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5 comments

  1. Absolutely! Totally, 100%, agreed.

    One relatively accessible step in the right direction is Puzzled Pint, which offers deliberately accessible puzzle hunt-style puzzles to teams in a not-very-competitive environment and sets up an atmosphere where everyone gets to solve everything. It’s something a little like a (very newbie-friendly) puzzle hunt that doesn’t move anywhere. 🙂 It has been happening in 10 locations in the US and London, but this month it debuted in Montreal as well. If it can happen in Montreal, no reason at all why it can’t happen in at least most of the CFL cities. All it needs is someone to be first on the dancefloor, and a metro area that can support literally dozens of escape games certainly has a looooooooot of puzzle fans.

    But, while you’re waiting, you can play Order of the Octothorpe online, which is brilliant and which also firmly has the puzzle hunt nature. 🙂

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  2. Compare to this blog post from Enigmatic Escape. The Escape Room brand has at least half a dozen locations in Malaysia; 30 teams in total representing those six locations gathered in Kuala Lumpur in September for an event with quite a bit in common with a puzzle hunt, knocking the thirty down to a final six teams for a time trial of an exclusive 20-minute escape room to determine who won overall. That goes to show what can be done. It starts to get really exciting when you think that the Escape Room brand could quite conceivably sponsor international competition of some sort at some point down the line, too.

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    1. I’m sure it’s only time before an escape room business does it. Maybe after that, puzzle hunts will be a regular thing! I can only dream. I wouldn’t mind some Liar Game styled compeitions as well.

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    1. whoops! Totally forgot to mention it, thanks for reminding me Ryan. Well before any of the escape games started entering the market, a few friends and I attended Murder at the ROM (http://www.urbancapers.com/murder-at-the-royal-ontario-museum/). There are riddles that have answers in the form of exhibit items. I expected something a little different.. maybe more like a puzzle hunt, or maybe with a more iron clad solution! The price also covers admission into the museum, so it’s not a bad idea if you want to visit the ROM.
      I did send some friendly feedback to the people who ran it. I think I talked about puzzle hunts and escape rooms even back then! Escape rooms are pretty distant from their business model but puzzle hunts seem like they might have been a good fit.

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