Over the past thirty years, US humour columnist Dave Barry (and, recently, friends) have – slightly more often than not – set a public puzzle hunt for the newspaper that published them. Originally this was the Miami Herald‘s Tropic magazine, thus inspiring the hunt to be referred to as the Tropic Hunt. The Tropic magazine folded, but the Herald itself later sponsored what was later known as the Herald Hunt. Most recently, Barry and friends have been producing the Post Hunt for the Washington Post. Andy Wenzel’s archives are a great source of information.
The hunts have a common format, set up so that a (typically) high four-digit number of participants can play. Five simple clues with numeric answers are posted in the sponsoring publication, along with an annotated map of possible locations within reasonable walking distance, with a central stage highlighted. At midday, from the central stage, it is announced how to transmute the answers to the simple clues, in a non-obvious fashion, to map entries. This indicates the locations of the five main puzzles, which must be visited. At each one, a cryptic and possibly multimedia puzzle is available, whose answer is a number.
Between midday and 3pm, teams (typically of four players, but without size restrictions, and a single player team has won) visit the locations, solve the puzzles and generate the five numbers. At 3pm, another cryptic clue is announced at the main stage which can be interpreted to a sixth location on the map, at which the final instruction is given as to how to interpret the whole of the hunt and its intermediate answers in order to generate and submit the overall answer to the hunt. First team to do so wins. This year’s prize was US$2,000 cash.
The most recent Post Hunt took place in Washington DC on Sunday and the Post has a story about this year’s event, along with this year’s puzzles and answers. They look like a great deal of fun and initial reports suggest this was as good as any previous year’s hunt.
This year’s winners included Todd Etter, a long-time mainstay of the puzzle hunt community and a popular one, for his contributions have included being one of the team putting on The Famine Game, an epic and immensely well-regarded weekend-long puzzle hunt (coincidentally also in the DC area!) last year. Todd’s team also have won one past Post Hunt and taken two other top three prizes; Todd has written about his team’s 2008 win elsewhere.
The Post Hunt has such great imagination, budget, heritage and following that it must surely be regarded as one of the world’s great games of its type. There’s no reason why a British counterpart couldn’t do something similar; considering the love shown by Britons for our own puzzle hobbies, it would surely be as distinctive and popular a hit over here.