A Tale, Mate

Happy New Year to all of you! May the new year bring good tidings, may your resolutions resolve with ease, and may all solutions come to you quickly.

Next weekend is the MIT Mystery Hunt, in Cambridge, MA, and I'll be there solving with Team Palindrome. Every year we pick a new name that is β€” wait for it β€” a palindrome. This year our name is A Nut For A Jar of Tuna. We'll be all sporting these incredible name tags, designed by the inimitable Joe Cabrera:

If you're there, and you see me, please say hi!

SOLVE at the Design Museum of Chicago

SOLVE: Puzzle Design β€” Design Museum of Chicago

In December, we were proud to join with the Design Museum of Chicago to open its new exhibition SOLVE. We're longtime friends of the museum, and were thrilled to be able to help them build out this exhibit, with examples of beautiful puzzles from such folks as: Rita Orlov, The Wild Optimists, Escape Artistry, Sarah Leadbeater and the Miskatonic University Game team, Shinteki, Scott Elliott, Mark Halpin, Greg Pliska, and yours truly. We even built a metapuzzle that makes the entire exhibition a playable game.

SOLVE: Solve Our Lightly Vexatious Exhibit

SOLVE is organized around five core skills that are often employed by puzzle designers: observation, correlation, pattern recognition, computational thinking, and executive thinking. Each skill is represented by several puzzle examples, many of which you can actually touch and solve yourself. Click through to see a gallery of photos.

This exhibition will be open through March of 2024, so if you are local to Chicago, make some time to pop in. The DMOC is located on the ground floor of 72 E Randolph St.

January Puzzler

Every month I offer a new bite-sized puzzle. Here's the latest one:

Think of a word that means β€œtie”. Change the first letter and add a space to get a phrase that describes where you might find yourself in the case of a tie.

Submit your answer here πŸ—³

Announcing the 1st Midwest Crossword Tournament

Shannon Rapp and Sally Hoelscher have just announced the first annual Midwest Crossword Tournament, happening in Chicago in October of this year.

Six crosswords written and edited by Midwest puzzlemakersOpen to allOctober 5, 202410:00 am - 5:00 pm

The Mystery League is a proud sponsor. We will of course be there, with some kind of extra puzzle activity, in case six crosswords in one day wasn't enough for you.

My 2023 in review

2023 saw some fun projects and developments for The Mystery League. Here are a few highlights:

Watsky ARG

The year kicked off with an ARG (alternate reality game) for the musician Watsky as part of the release of his album INTENTION. This collaborative global puzzle hunt took questers to a shipwreck in the Bahamas, the desert of Namibia, a bar in Perth, the forests of the Sierras, and (soon) to the Uyuhi Salt Flats in Bolivia to dig up literal treasure boxes. The game is drawing to a close, and it's been amazing to watch the community come together over the course of almost an entire year to solve puzzles and locate the boxes. I owe everyone a write-up of the whole game β€” until then, you can click around this site to see notes from the solvers.

Watsky and me burying a box in Idaho

Susanne & Evan's Wedding

Susanne & Evan’s wedding puzzle
Weddings can be a tricky place for a game because they’re so tightly scheduled, and it can be difficult to wrangle the attention of attendees who are busy eating, drinking, and catching up with old friends. But I had assurances from the bride and groom that this crowd of friends

In June, I created a custom puzzle hunt for a wedding, centered around some shenanigans performed by the couple's dog. It involved locked boxes, secret messages to give to the bartender, and black lights to help guests find clues on their place cards. You can read a full write-up here.

Madeon mini-hunt

In November, the musician Madeon capped off his Red Rocks show by projecting a series of strange glyphs on the backdrop of the stage, for just 30 seconds. It was enough to lead solvers down a short puzzle path that eventually landed them at a website form, and a chance to come on stage at Madeon's next concert in LA. You can see the sequence here:

Here's a visual walkthrough of how it all worked.


In March I participated in EnigMarch and flexed my cryptic clue creation muscles (and made a lot of fun AI-generated images to illustrate them). You can find all 31 of my clues at the link below. I plan to do the same thing again for this year's event.

EnigMarch 2023
All my cryptic clues from EnigMarch 2023.

Transmedia Puzzle Design at UChicago

In the fall, I taught my annual puzzle design class for students at the University of Chicago. Every year I'm amazed at how creative and dedicated the students are. This year they created several complex puzzles, including an audio escape room, a walkaround hunt at the library, and a tabletop game using physical fabrication.

A CNC-carved paving stone with runes; a suspicious corpse; a locked cafΓ© display box; a detective's murder board; an array of Minecraft-inspired tools and clues

Hello to Hannah

In August, I welcomed a new assistant, Hannah Wilson. Hannah is an eight-time Jeopardy! champion, competitive crossword puzzle solver, and an avid puzzler. She's had her hands in every project since she joined, and she's quickly become an essential member of the team. Most recently she helped with Ladies and Gentlemen, our SNL-themed Mystery.

Game for 8th graders

We built a mini escape game for a class of 8th graders at a nearby Sacred Heart School. It all centered around a huge map of letters, colors and icons, which you can see below. I'm afraid it's not solvable without all the clues and other pieces (including some laser-cut masks), but maybe I'll write it all up someday.


We took our games to New York, Orlando, Minneapolis, Ft. Lauderdale, Dallas, and Los Angeles this year. Not to mention a bunch of places in our hometown of Chicago. Gonna try to do even more of this in 2024.

Minneapolitans know how to party

NORC Holiday Card

Our last client project of 2023 was a light puzzle for our friends at NORC, using illustrations by our frequent collaborator Jon Marchione. Give it a shot at norcholiday.org.

NPR Puzzle #13

Finally, I closed out the year with a puzzle in one of my favorite locations: your ears, via the NPR Sunday Puzzle with Will Shortz. It's my 13th one to make it on the air.

Here's to more mystery in 2024!

Solution to the November Puzzler

Think of a movie based on a stage adaptation of a book. Take the first name of the leading actor in the movie, and change the last letter to get the last name of the author of the book. Who are they?

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