Tuesday, April 16, 2013

What I Learned, Puzzle Party 2013

This last weekend was one with most nerdy fun that I've had in a long time.  Well since last year, anyway.

Sometime last spring, a friend from church sent an e-mail to both Eli and me, asking if we would be interested in joining her team for this puzzle competition.  She thought and thought about everyone she knew who would be geeky enough to want to do it, and well, she thought of us.  The crux:  she only needed one of us.  I thought for sure that Eli would make me arm wrestle for him for it, but he let me be the one to go. 

So, one Saturday morning, we met at the student center on Auburn campus, and our team was given a packet of puzzles to solve during the course of the day.  We stayed at the student center and barely remembered to eat and go to the bathroom, we were so wrapped up in the puzzles.  At the end of the day, the scores were added up, and we came in second to last--but we had such a ton of fun.

Fast forward to October -- the organizer of the puzzle parties sent out an e-mail announcing his party for spring 2013.  I immediately e-mailed him to sign up a team.  Then, I silently recruited other middle school teachers to participate with us as the pink team. 

Saturday, April 13, 2013.  Eric's 13th Puzzle Party (EPP13) -- Your Lucky Day -- started at the thirteenth hour, lasted for thirteen hours, and teams were given 13 puzzles to solve.  I, along with four of my colleagues and one's boyfriend's little brother, travelled to the Auburn campus to participate.  On the way there, MM confided that she was nervous we wouldn't even be able to solve the first puzzle.

After rules were explained and directions given, we left were told to begin.  We were given the grid to a logic problem, but the clues were hidden all over the Haley Center.  We were in luck.  A bunch of teachers (most of whom graduated from Auburn) running around the School of Education.  We even had an inside scoop to some quiet seating areas where we could work through our puzzle.  It took an hour, but we finally solved the puzzle.  When we went to submit our answer, we saw that we were ahead of about half of the teams.  Sweet!

We retreated to MM's house where we looked as some of the puzzles.  At the end of the long night, we were able to solve six puzzles.  At the wrap-up party on Sunday, we found that we came in seventh out of thirteen teams.  We were thrilled.  And we even got the highest score on a maximization puzzle.  Heck, we'll take it.  And now I'm so ready for next year.

Some things I learned:

1.  There are code cheat sheets available, like this one.  (This one was provided by the party coordinator.  I thought it was inclusive, but that's because I didn't know.)
2.  There are codes that are not on code cheat sheets (at least, not ones I could find).  Say, for instance, pigpen cipher.  And if you have no idea what they are or where to start looking, well, it's going to take you a lot longer to solve puzzles than a team of math graduate students.
3.  In coding, a letter followed by a number usually indicates a Caesar shift. This information would have been VERRRRRY helpful for the Angel's Antiques puzzle.  Next time.  Next time.
4.  Braille dots are numbered 1-3 down the first column, and 4-6 down the second column.  I was on the right track, but had them numbered incorrectly.
5.  I learned what a Polybius Square is and how to use it. Watch out.
6.  A substitution cipher is not necessarily the same as a ROT cipher.  This was unexpected, though I'm not sure why.
7.  There are pentomino puzzle solvers that people, like math grad students, use, like this one.  Cheaters.  Okay, so I'm a sore loser about that one.  So what?  Now I know.
8.  A tare is a noxious weed.
9.  There is so much that I don't know, but I'm still pretty dang smart (even with the brain cell degeneration that has resulted from having children).
10.  Solving puzzles is much more fun when fellowship and friends are involved.

So, that was my weekend.  If this at all strikes your fancy, you should visit the website of the creator.  Eric Harshbarger is a Lego sculptor and a puzzle maniac.


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