Liam & Liana's Puzzle Party

Paul solving Leggo my Eggsact Duplicate

Summer 2005

The Puzzle Party was a terrific success!

Back in May, I found Eric's Puzzle Party on the web. In it, a small horde of people come together for about four hours and solve a booklet of about 10–20 puzzles. I had always wanted to do something like this, as I remember going on a sort of puzzle-solving scavenger hunt when I was about ten years old. I talked to Liana about the idea, who didn't want to participate, but did want to help run it. She had the better house for it, too, so we picked an empty date three months into the future and told all our friends.

Many notoriously late people showed up early for the event, arriving as early as 11:30. The earlycomers started chatting among themselves, and all but three people were present when we started the second puzzle, Name Tag (the first being trying to find a parking space). There was a moment of silence as the partygoers studied their cryptic team assignments, then general noise as people started looking for their team members. Once everyone established who was on their team (save for the last person, who hadn't arrived yet), conversation started up again. Then the last person showed up, and we started, at about 1:15. Some teams had already chosen names, without even realizing that we wanted them to do so.

Janet solving Unsettled

I made some simple announcements about the format of how things would occur, and noted bathroom locations to all participants. The teams were handed a bag of materials, and disappeared to their various assigned rooms.

The most exciting part of the day for me happened right then. All the teams were sitting down, poring over the documents that would rule their lives for the next four hours. Seeing the intense concentration on everyone's face was really worth all the time and effort that was put into this party. Near-complete silence, as quiet as the house got that day.

We didn't have to wait long for our first puzzle to be turned in. Waiting for Orange Hat turned in their solution for You Want Candy within 15 minutes. And then we watched the puzzles trickle in over the course of the day.

The members of each team.
The
Armadillos
Waiting for
Orange Hat
The
Cunning
Linguists
The
Lone
Wolves
Buddha
Diane
Elliot
Paul
Phil
Dan
David
Jacob
Kat
Persis
Joe
Kristin
Sam
Spam
Todd
Greykell
Janet
Kaaren
Marian
Sarah

Both Liana and I were kept fairly busy, running about to answer questions, and scoring sheets already turned in when we got a chance. There were no disasters, but we found one or two typos, which have been corrected in the versions you can download.

Like game design, any first attempt at something this large involves many snags and some unexpected successes. Stacked was definitely the most confusing question, with many clarifications needed. I was worried that Solve This would prove to be nigh unsolvable, but two teams solved it completely, and it seemed to be very much enjoyed. There were some truly evil problems, such as the hard questions on Seeing is Describing, anything past three digits in Primeum Minutes, and trying to get a perfect score in Pop Quiz.

I wish I had more time to actually watch the participants try to solve these puzzles, as that would have given me better feedback than any form. I managed to catch snippets of how people went about solving their problems, and I was generally quite happy with what I saw. We did pass out forms asking people to rate problems by difficulty and fun had, and constructed a pretty chart from those results.

Base scores achieved by each team per question. First, second, third, and fourth places indicated for turning in puzzles.
# Question Arm WfOH CL LW Difficulty Fun
Total 21754 15786 15551 13381 3.61 3.78
1 Mmoovviieess 810 860 880 920 2.93 4.06
2 Primeum Minutes 600 0 1000 600 4.22 2.56
3 Unsettled 4000 2000 0 0 3.33 4.11
4 Delicious N-Gony 1020 120 420 280 4.55 2.80
5 Leggo my Eggsact Duplicate 3886 3963 3892 3768 3.57 4.43
6 Acronystic 2000 466 2000 500 3.53 4.25
7 Pyramid Power 1350 1200 1650 600 3.67 3.83
8 Coloring Between the Lines 1080 1200 1140 1260 3.11 3.89
9 Seeing is Describing 100 500 250 550 4.50 3.10
10 Penny Wise, Path Foolish 2045 1757 1745 837 2.60 5.00
11 Solve This 2600 1700 500 2600 3.67 4.50
12 Stacked 850 100 0 0 4.12 2.89
13 Pop Quiz 2000 1800 2000 1500 4.00 4.20
14 You Want Candy 1900 1000 1350 1200 2.71 3.29

Each team was allowed to turn in puzzles whenever they liked. In order to speed things along, we would only give full credit to the first team that turned in a puzzle, and subsequent teams would get a smaller fraction of their base score. Two puzzles did not use this adjustment, since only one team could solve the puzzle at a time (Leggo My Eggsact Duplicate and Seeing Is Describing). Also, any teams that turned in the same puzzle within five minutes of each other were considered tied for that place.

Liam coding up the solution to Stacked

Time wore on, and Liana ordered food while I continued to run about and score teams' answers. The Cunning Linguists didn't get a chance to try Leggo my Eggsact Duplicate until fairly late, so we let the puzzling last about fifteen minutes longer than we planned while they finished. That extra time proved useful to all teams.

Once all teams had turned in their results, we were left with the problem that I hadn't written a program to test the results of Stacked! Liana and I scored everything else, and then noted that the winner of this party would not change with input from that puzzle, so we announced the winners, The Armadillos! Each one received a prize of a book of IQ puzzles, except for Elliot, who had to leave almost right after the puzzling finished. We did not get a picture of this winning team showing off their prizes (David J. Bodycombe's The Giant Book of IQ Puzzles), as most of them were holding Chinese food, instead.

Liana poring over the scores

We had planned on converting the Puzzle Party into a more generic social one, but enough people had to leave for a memorial that we all ended up just having some cake and heading out. All in all, this was loads of fun, and we are definitely planning on doing something like this again. Thanks to all of you that came and played, as this was very enjoyable for me.

Both Liana and I are definitely planning on doing this again. We learned quite a few things from running this party, the most important of which is to make puzzles that are easy to score. We also learned that it is very important to have multiple cameras for such an event, as the one we were using died halfway through! If any participants have pictures, please send them along!