Dr. Bob’s Holiday Puzzle Hunt

"Bob Schaffer's puzzles"This site loves puzzle hunts: trails of interconnected puzzles, whether online or in person, commonly solved in teams. If the idea sounds enchanting, even if you have no prior experience, this site thoroughly recommends a free online play-wherever-whenever game called the Order of the Octothorpe as a genuinely accessible starting-point that makes no prior assumptions and starts from first principles.

Once you’ve got your teeth into that (for there’s a lot to explore, especially if you’re a completist!) then a good question is where to look next… and there isn’t nearly such an automatic second step to take, with many of the options assuming far more experience and being much less beginner-friendly. However, an excellent option for a bite-sized second step is Dr. Bob’s Online Holiday Puzzle Hunt. Bob Schaffer is a senior research engineer who, as a sideline, runs Elevate Tutoring. This non-profit public benefit corporation trains small numbers of disadvantaged US college students to become excellent tutors, and requires these tutors to use their training to provide free tutoring to disadvantaged school students. He has run puzzle hunts, both online and in person, partly as a fundraiser for his tutoring organisation.

For the past three years, he has run small such puzzle hunts online from each December 24th. These, too, are deliberately accessible; the 2012 hunt sets expeations with the comment “The puzzles in this hunt are meant to be enjoyed by all. The experience is meant to take 1-2 hours. Those new to these types of puzzles may need to click on the free hints. Experienced puzzlers should get through hint-free in an hour or so.” The 2013 hunt is similar, with the fastest solutions being matters of tens of minutes.

The 2014 hunt was launched on schedule this year, with the comment “This hunt has three main puzzles and a simple meta puzzle. The puzzles are geared toward beginner puzzlers, but were designed to entertain newbies and experts alike. I would say that this hunt is a bit more challenging than the 2012 and 2013 hunts. Beginners can take advantage of the hint system to overcome hurdles while experienced puzzlers can challenge themselves to solve the puzzles as quickly as possible.” There’s an online interface which can provide hints on demand; participation is timed, but scoring is optional. (The scoring system is essentially that of DASH.)

All three hunts can be played on demand. There is no charge for playing, though you are gently invited to tip the tutoring organsiation in return. The 2013 hunt was great fun and is recommended by this site; the 2012 and 2014 hunts will be imminent ports of call when time permits, though the 2014 hunt is attracting attention, so possibly best get in there while it’s still fresh.

From there, where next? There are many options, not least Dr. Bob’s other work. As well as these deliberately very accessible events, he has several longer and more advanced works to his credit, some of which can still be played online. Great work and a great cause!

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