PuzzlestormingMonday, February 9, 2004 @ 8:00 am
This weekend I flew to Pittsburgh to compete in the second annual Puzzlestorm. For those of you who don't know, Puzzlestorm is a day long puzzle solving competition. Teams of four are given a stack of puzzles in the morning. They can solve them in any order they want and work however they want except that they can't ask for help from other people or use more than one computer. The solution to each puzzle is a single word or short phrase. One of the puzzles is a meta puzzle, that when applied to the solutions of the others, give clues to the location of a "treasure" that is the goal of the contest. There are points for solving puzzles depending on how soon you solve them, but the winners are the ones who find the treasure first. The idea is based on the Microsoft Intern Puzzle Day and is sponsored by Microsoft. Therefor the prize is four X-boxes.[ Keywords: Carnegie Mellon | Puzzles ]
A couple years ago I heard about this type of thing from a friend of mine who worked at Microsoft. I like solving puzzle and thought it would be fun. Last year when I first heard about it, I put together a team (and facilitated a second team since I found more than three people interested). My team consisted of two co-workers, Desney Tan and Jason Pratt, and my friend Linda Wu. Ironically, I was planning on starting a house team but house friends joined to form the "We're just here for the Halo Machines" team.
Last week Linda called me and told me that puzzlestorm was going to be this weekend and that she had formed a team with Dave Mason and Joe Liu and they had saved a place for me. Luckily there was an e-saver from Manchester so I was able to go.
From home, I started my day at 4:30am, driving to the airport. I landed at 8:30 and got a ride to CMU, arriving at 9:30 just in time for the start of the game. This year the them was "Where in the World is Andrew Carnegie". It was a lot of fun and we did a lot better than last year. This year we came in 6th place with the 5th highest score. There were 21 puzzles total. Out of 50 teams, 2 teams solved 12 puzzles, and we were among 3 teams to solve 10. Two teams managed to find the treasure this year.
This year we were able to figure out the meta puzzle and solved enough puzzles to get 3 out of the 5 clues to the location of the treasure. We got the clues "Baker","Computers", and "Couches". We determined that this meant the couches/computers area just outside the Geagletorium in Baker Hall. We went looking for the treasure. Initially we were looking around the couches, but later thought perhaps it meant the computers near the couches so we started checking those too. We looked all around them: behind, underneath, around. What we didn't check was inside. The treasure was a CD in the drive of one of the computers. No team got the clue "CD". Although some teams had the clue "La Prima", they did not have an advantage over us since we knew that couches meant the area near the La Prima. However, after a little while looking, we were told we needed to leave and try solving more puzzles. This was quite unfair. The team that won arrived after us, and so we'll never know if we would have found it before them if we had been allowed to stay. However, the 2nd place team (who likely only found it because they were there when the first place team did), was there for a long time before we got there and were never asked to leave.
Aside from being unfairly screwed out of our opportunity to find the treasure, it was a lot of fun. Most importantly, we demolished the Halo Machines team, our real goal. It is also just nice to be able to visit my friends. If I do return to the ETC, I look forward to competing again next year and winning. ;-)