Well. It's difficult to feel playful when it feels like one's country is backsliding into fascism. The last couple weeks have been a lot. I’m doing my best to translate my despair and anger into action. To start, this month I'm donating half of the income I earn from those of you who pay for a Signals membership to the National Network of Abortion Funds, which splits its contributions among 91 groups that support people who need abortions, who provide abortions, and who can safely connect the two. Bodily autonomy is a human right. Abortion is healthcare.
Meanwhile, I hope I can offer you something to take your mind off of all — waves hands around — this for at least a few minutes. Take care of yourselves, and each other.
Every month I offer a new, bite-size puzzle. This one was inspired by a clue in The New York Times that I had partially filled in, when I realized it could go two different ways.
Think of two words, 1 letter & 5 letters, that might kick off a sincere speech at a wedding. Change one letter, and move the space, to get two new words that might also begin a speech at a wedding, this time by someone a little more snarky.Submit your answer here 🗳
The previous Puzzler's solution — and list of solvers — is below.
Mystery #3: Spoonfuls of Sugar
Every month I also create a bigger, meatier, more complex puzzle. It's available for everyone to solve, but Signals Members get access to hints. For Mystery #3, I thought, What better way to celebrate summer than a comically tall stack of ice cream?
Thoughts on The Puzzler Hunt
The Puzzler Hunt is over, and the $10,000 has been awarded to Benji Nguyen, who solved the all five metas faster than anyone else. (In just over an hour.) Bravo to A.J. Jacobs, Greg Pliska, and the team of puzzle authors for thoroughly entrancing the puzzle community for those 4 weeks. They really put on something special. Here's a nice interview at Beyond Wordplay with AJ and Greg about how the book and hunt came about.
I had solved all 22 feeder puzzles as they were published, but I wasn't able to participate in the final showdown, because we had a big family event on the Saturday when the metas went live. I went back and solved them later, and found them all to be really fun, devious metas, with some satisfyingly groan-worthy puns at the end. (I wouldn't expect anything less.)
When I design hunts for clients, we often struggle with how to make them fair competitions. Clients often want to incentivize game play by offering a prize to the best team. But what does it mean to be best? It could mean whoever finishes the last puzzle first. A timed race like that can engender a fun, energetic vibe, but it can also punish folks who have smaller teams or who have scheduling conflicts. So I tend to discourage it. Alternatively, best can be based on a point system where points are awarded for each puzzle solved, but then teams that fall behind early on get discouraged, and might even stop playing completely.
My recommendation, after having built a bunch of these over the years, is to implement a weighted raffle system. Solving a puzzle yields a certain number of tickets, but the more hints you take for the puzzle, the fewer tickets you get. The puzzles stay online for a certain time period, enough time for every team to have a shot at solving. Then we throw all the imaginary tickets into an imaginary stetson, and pluck out a winner.
I can understand the reluctance to introduce any chance into a competition that is otherwise based entirely on skill. But I think it goes a long way to normalize the experience, even out the playing field, and get more folks engaged and excited about puzzle solving, which (I think) should be the ultimate goal.
Candy Warhol and Vincent Van Gopher
I'm still having fun with DALL•E promptmanteaus over at @mysteryleague on Instagram. Some recent posts:
The Honeypot Puzzle Fragments
Parker Higgins and Ross Trudeau present 12 original crossword puzzles "with a Spelling Bee twist". $12 for the zine. I haven't played these but I really liked their Thursday crossword in The New York Times a few weeks back.