Missed cue

CUCaTS logoOne of the things that I got most excited about during the Exit Games UK years was the Cambridge University Computing and Technology Society’s puzzle hunts, which have been running since 2012 at about this time of year. The best way to find out about them is looking at the society’s Facebook page, and I have been doing so every week or two for a month or two. Except that I have just realised that I haven’t checked for a while, so I checked just now and… this year’s hunt is happening right now as I type. It appears to be 9 hours and 40 minutes in – people are probably enjoying the tail end of the midnight pizza party right now – and will run until 4pm on Saturday.

The Puzzlehunt is a team puzzle-solving and treasure-hunting competition. Your team will navigate its way through a mental and sometimes physical obstacle course of challenging and fun computational, mathematical and linguistic puzzles scattered throughout Cambridge, seeking to cut its way through to the goal before everyone else. No preparation is necessary, just come along on the day!

Teams may be made of up to three members. It is envisaged that most participants will be @cam.ac.uk (affectionately known as Camacuks) and it is encouraged that each team should have at least one Camacuk. However, teams not meeting this criterion may be allowed to compete by prior agreement (drop us an email). If you’re looking for more team members, hit us up and we’ll try to match you up!

The puzzles are pretty Cantabrigian in style, by which I mean they have something of the feel of some of those from Cambridge, MA’s MIT Mystery Hunt. There are rumoured to be at least one or two cells of MIT Mystery Hunt solvers in the UK Cambridge each year – I don’t know the specifics, though have guesses – so it’s quite possible that the CUCaTS hunt solvers and setters have direct experience and inspiration there. The levels of difficulty are variable but both floor and ceiling are, er, somewhat high.

Even though I imagine it’s too late to get involved this year, as funny as the idea of people high-tailing it to Cambridge in the early hours of the morning an looking for an in-progress puzzle hunt is, I would be tempted to take a look at the recently-updated hunt archives page and click through to the puzzles from previous years. Some have solutions, others don’t. You can judge for yourself from these past puzzles whether this hunt is for you or not.

It is a wonderful thing that hunts like this exist in this country at all, and clearly the good burghers of CUCaTS should (and evidently do!) set their hunt to suit themselves and their own wants and needs, noting the second quoted paragraph that most (but, evidently, not all) hunters are expected to be of the @cam.ac.uk variety. The announcement that this year’s hunt would be happening was not made until June 5th. Evidently my checking was not quite frequent enough.

Fingers crossed that this year’s hunt is a huge success and that there are more such hunts in future years. Looking at the commonality between when previous years’ hunts have been, the strong favourite for when any putative future hunt might happen has to be the weekend immediately after the conclusion of Cambridge’s Full Easter Term. Pencil it into your 2017 diary now!

Did DASH 8 leave you wanting more?

whatsnext

This site has always declared its constituency to be Escape games, puzzle hunts and more and the escape games have had to take a back seat for some time. Perhaps you’re coming here for your first time, or one of your first times, as a result of DASH, or perhaps you couldn’t go but thought it sounded great; you don’t have to wait another year for DASH 9 to get your fill of puzzle fun. The idea to try to keep a calendar of such things has rather fallen by the wayside, but there are plenty of exciting-looking things coming up:

  • This site is perhaps more excited about the upcoming Raiders of the Lost Archive than anything else. It’s a version of Citydash by the esteemed Fire Hazard, but has a big twist. It takes place in the Victoria & Albert Museum; the V&A are excited about this, but it’s not an official event of theirs. The difference between this and any other Citydash is “(…)this time there’ll be nobody chasing you (and no running in the museum!). We’ll keep the pressure up with twists & turns, surprise clues and leaderboard updates, but you won’t need your running shoes for this one – and you’ll be inside throughout.
     
    If the running element of previous Citydash events has been a turn-off (*raises hand*) then this may well fit the bill and the theme is gorgeous. You can play solo, in a pair, or in a team of up to five. Tickets for Sunday afternoons in May are now listed for 15th May, 5th June and possibly 28th May. (Thanks to Ken for the heads-up!) 
     
  • The A Door In A Wall are, happily, continuing to put on their large-scale public events. The next one coming up very soon will be entitled Played to Death. “Each team will need a charged smartphone to hand and we advise you wear comfortable footwear as our story leads you out into the nearby streets in search of puzzles, clues and characters. (…) you’ll have about 45 mins to get settled and work out where to begin your investigation before the game’s opening scene. You’ll be tasked with gathering evidence to crack the case and you’ll then have two hours to explore the area outside: solving puzzles, interacting with characters and collecting clues. Once the time is up, return to the Square Pig ((pub)) where you’ll have some time to make sense of what you’ve found and identify the killer.
     
    The game will be offered on most evenings and some afternoons (particularly at weekends) between mid-May and mid-June; tickets are already available and have sold out on a number of days already. If you don’t get to play, the company are also offering the A Veiled Threat game on the third Tuesday of every month, which The Logic Escaped Me played and loved
     
  • This site’s friends at Treasure Hunts In London are also continuing to run their events; the best way to keep in touch with what’s on offer there is their calendar on Eventbrite. Three events are coming up soon: May sees the Art on the Streets Treasure Hunt at the Chocolate Museum on the 14th and the Trafalgar Square Experience at the National Gallery on the 28th; June sees the Naughty But Nice Afternoon Adventure starting at the Annenberg Courtyard of the Royal Academy on the 18th. Prices vary, depending on whether the event includes no food, a cream tea or a full dinner. 
     
  • The Cambridge University Computing and Technology Society have held a long, ambitious, advanced puzzle hunt annually for the last three or four years, normally in early June after most students have finished their exams. No word whether there’ll be another one this year, but fingers crossed. The logical place to look for more information would be the society’s Facebook page
     
  • The Manorcon board game convention (15th to 18th July at the University of Leicester) is set to feature a puzzle hunt, probably on the Sunday afternoon. This year’s hunt setters are past hunt setting veterans and multiple-time solving champions, as well as some of this site’s favourite people in the world; attend Manorcon because it’s a tremendous board game convention that started running ten or twenty years before the current breed of board games started to become popular again, rather than just for the puzzle hunt. 
     
  • Before all those, there’s dear old Puzzled Pint in London – and now also in Manchester! – on the second Tuesday of each month, so as soon as the Tuesday in half a week’s time. The puzzles here come from a rather more DASH-like background, but are deliberately accessible to all and designed to provide an hour or two’s fun for a team enjoying food, drink and good company. 
     
  • If Tuesday’s too long to wait, or if London and Manchester are both too far to go, there are online puzzle hunts which come to you. The annual Melbourne University Mathematics (and statistics) Society hunt starts at midday, local time, on 9th May. It’s designed for teams of up to ten; you’ll recognise some of the participating teams’ names from the top of the DASH leaderboard, but other teams come from the MIT Mystery Hunt tradition and more. Suffice to say that the MUMS hunt has gained an audience who like to spend hours on deep, research-y, Aha!-y puzzles, though they’re almost always brilliantly constructed. 
     
  • Staying online, if you like logic puzzle contests then the calendar also looks busy. The World Puzzle Federation’s Grand Prix season’s contests take place every four weeks, with the next starting on Friday 13th May. The next contest is set by the US authors and may be of particular interest; more soon. The move to featuring “casual” puzzles as well as the more high-powered traditional fare adds massively to the fun as well as the accessibility. That’s not all from US authors, though; the US Puzzle Championship will be on Sunday 18th June. Before that, HIQORA takes place on Saturday 28th May; more soon on that one, too. Look out (perhaps at @ukpuzzles on Twitter?) for news of the UK Puzzle Championship as well, which has rapidly become this site’s favourite of the year. Previous UKPCs have happened in May, June, July and August, so this year’s event could happen at any moment. Exciting times!

The fourth CUCaTS puzzle hunt: Cambridge, 12th-13th June

CuCATS fourth puzzle hunt logoThat handsome chap – a stylised cycloptic CuCATS cat at the centre of a Koch snowflake with a cheeky pangram about hir – is the logo of the Cambridge University Computing and Technology Society’s upcoming fourth annual puzzle hunt, set to run in Cambridge (our Cambridge, not the one with MIT and Harvard!) over a period 24 hours or so from 4pm on Friday 12th June. It’s going to be gloriously, unashamedly hardcore. It’s one of the most exciting things that this site has seen this year.

As a FAQ-like page explains, the puzzle hunt is “a team puzzle-solving and treasure-hunting competition. Your team will navigate its way through a mental and sometimes physical obstacle course of challenging and fun computational, mathematical and linguistic puzzles, seeking to cut its way through to the goal before everyone else. No preparation is necessary, just come along on the day!

One crucial thing to note is that “Teams may be made of up to three members. It is envisaged that most participants will be @cam.ac.uk (affectionately known as Camacuks) and it is encouraged that each team should have at least one Camacuk. However, teams not meeting this criterion may be allowed to compete by prior agreement (drop us an email). If you’re looking for more team members, hit us up and we’ll try to match you up!” It seems very likely that there would be ways for counterpart Oxacuks, Icacuks, Manacuks or even Lifeacuks to play as well, though the hunt will surely have just enough local flavour to keep things interesting.

To get a feel for the flavour of past form, the puzzles from the 2012 edition are online, along with worked solutions. It’s clear that the puzzles are set to challenge their intended audience, with no hesitation about setting the bar quite high. The puzzles from 2013 are also available. It’s striking how both years’ structures point to puzzles that nobody got around to trying, as well as got around to solving.

This site emphasises how accessible Puzzled Pint, DASH and Order of the Octothorpe are; by contrast, this site would only recommend this hunt to the most persistent, capable and (particularly technologically) resourceful – the calibre of which can be found at places including the country’s most celebrated universities. This site does not subscribe to an elitist viewpoint that harder is necessarily better or more interesting; instead, it celebrates a wide puzzle hobby where everybody can find the level of their choice.

However, this site is delighted that there is readier access than once there was to the highest of ceilings, and that those with sufficient skills can get a chance to play at as high a level as this hunt offers; it may be about as challenging as the decades-long tradition of hunts in the US and elsewhere. Those with experience of such games, who have missed having the opportunity to play in them, or those who aspire to reach the highest of global heights, will likely have the time of their lives. Many thanks to everyone at CUCaTS for putting it on and making it available; it’s surely likely to be spectacular!

(Now, does that logo contain some sort of pre-clue around the hexagonal face…?)

Looking ahead to 2015: get ready to go Hunting

"Puzzle Hunt" app from KrayZ Logic
(Graphic from the Puzzle Hunt app by KrayZ Logic. Hi!)

This site continues its look through the items which it has recently added to its 2015 calendar by concentrating on the puzzle hunts that are expected to follow over the course of the year. Best start with what’s in progress and available for you to play in at this moment in time: the Victoria and Albert Museum is the start location for Time Out London and HiddenCity’s The Enchanted Mirror, in progress until 11th January, and the current Pablo’s Armchair Treasure Hunt has a real treasure to find and a deadline for your solutions of 12th January.

Looking further ahead, we can split upcoming hunts into two categories: in-person events and online events.

IN-PERSON EVENTS

The highlight of the puzzle hunt year is DASH, an event held in many cities in parallel at about the same time. This year will see the seventh hunt; London has been announced as one of the cities where it will be played, for the third time. This site wrote all about how much fun last year’s event was, and hopes for this year’s event are very high. The global date has been announced as May 30th, but as this clashes with both the FA Cup final, the Premiership rugby final and a world-class triathlon, hosting it in London that day might be… tricky. Watch this space.

The Cambridge University Computing and Technology Society have held an extremely ambitious puzzle hunt in June for each of the past three years; this site will be following, with high hopes, to see if another one follows now that this site knows to look for it. This site wrote about the hunt previously and hopes that the initiative grows and flourishes further over time.

The Armchair Treasure Hunt Club have been holding their annual club meetings, featuring hunts in their habitual style, for years, generally in September. There will be a great many people looking forward to the continuation of that particular tradition. Other than that, 2014 was a particularly fortunate year for featuring both the “Top Secret” hunt in Essex in August and Girls and Boys, Come Out To Play in September. While this site knows of no such counterpart events for 2015, yet, be sure that this site will let you know if there is good news to report. Puzzled Pint and, hopefully, further events from a door in a wall will keep the community ticking over until then.

ONLINE HUNTS

The biggest online puzzle hunt of the year will be the MIT Mystery Hunt, notorious for featuring teams with scores of players, maybe hundreds, and sufficiently many, sufficiently difficult puzzles to keep them busy for a weekend – some years, a long, long weekend. More about this closer to the time, though as the time is 11 days away, more very soon.

Other universities with an open-access online puzzle hunt tradition are the Australian universities: Melbourne’s event may happen in May and Sydney’s event is a little more movable, taking place in the northern-hemisphere autumn. CiSRA is a business rather than a university, but their event is very similar in form. It wasn’t held in 2014 but fingers crossed for a return in 2015. Other universities around the world also hold hunts and this site is looking forward to see if the University of South Carolina holds another one, possibly as soon as March.

P&A Magazine have hinted that Puzzle Boat 3 will take place this summer, though the date is not fixed; it will be one of the few puzzle hunts to approach the MIT Mystery Hunt in magnitude, with the two previous episodes having each featured around a hundred puzzles to share between your team.

Dr. Bob Schaffer has hosted many events over the years, some online in California and others online. Not only is it reasonably likely that there might be a fourth online holiday puzzle hunt towards the end of the year, most of the puzzles from his third Elevate Tutoring charity hunt should be playable online from February onwards.

So a great deal to look forward to – and this site very much hopes to being pleasantly surprised by more good news over the course of the year!

Introducing a great UK university puzzle hunt: the CUCaTS hunt

CUCaTS logoAfter discussion of puzzle hunts around the world, it’s long been tempting to wonder whether there might be one in the UK that somehow has gone under the radar. Many different countries have their own puzzling traditions, and perhaps the UK is most relatively strong in the armchair treasure hunt tradition. One of the most interesting US puzzling traditions is that of the in-person puzzle hunt, more specifically epic 24-48-hour non-stop team hunts sometimes referred to as The Game. (It’s very inconvenient that a useful generic title can get overloaded with so many different, incompatible meanings… and you may have just lost The Game.)

That particular puzzle hunt tradition began at some of the most prestigious universities in the US; over time, many of the participants went to work for, or found, technology companies. Well-placed rumours suggest that such puzzle hunts were also played by members of technology companies in the UK, though activity came to a halt in 2005, possibly to some extent as a result of the 7th July bombings. This site seeks to research this claim.

It was a total delight to recently discover that a group within the UK has been running an in-person treasure hunt, very much in the style of those in the US, for at least three years. True to the backgrounds of technologically focused prestigious academia, the group responsible is CUCaTS, the Cambridge University Computing and Technology Society. Their hunts have been 24-30 hours long, featuring heavily technical puzzles, befitting the playing constituency’s background, played between teams of just three.

The 2012 problems are an excellent starting-point, showing not just the structure of the event but the sort of background required to enjoy the puzzles. They tended to be very sparse on flavourtext, and light on clueing, though it’s impossible to know what sort of help the teams received in practice. The results show that in practice they each tended to take many person-hours to solve – and that the hunt may have had depths that no team actually managed to reach. While the event would be considered “conference room style”, several puzzles involved visiting locations around the city.

The 2013 event’s problems follow the form and take it further still, though it may well be that the clues and solution techniques are not yet written up in sufficient detail to judge properly. Certainly these are proper double-black-diamond difficulty puzzles, certainly comparably hard to those in the SUMS hunt in progress this and perhaps bearing comparison to those in the MIT Mystery Hunt.

There was another such event in 2014; the preview makes it clear that there would be an increased degree of focus on relatively accessible puzzles towards the start, working up towards the most difficult ones later. While the puzzles are not available (from context, they may well have been hosted on a private server that is no longer online) the review makes the flavour clear. “The full range of Cambridge inventiveness and ingenuity was exhibited by all the teams, with puzzle topics ranging from dial tones & guitar chords to binary trees & window managers; from discrete cosine transforms & famous engineers to prime numbers & run-length encoding; and from magic bytes & corrupted FAT partitions to postboxes & the Greek alphabet.”

What is known for sure:

  • The hunt has been run for each of the last three years.
  • The review of the 2014 hunt says “Stay tuned for next year!”, despite only four teams participating.
  • One would expect a 2015 event to happen in mid-June and to be announced on the CUCaTS Facebook site, among other locations.
  • The 2014 event suggested that at least one team member required an active cam e-mail address, implying that other team members did not.
  • There is a tradition of feeding the players throughout, which is excellent, sociable practice.

What is not known for sure:

  • It is not clear whether the hunt would welcome players from outside the society, or outside the cam.ac.uk community.
  • It is not clear whether the participants are interested in a closer tie-up with the puzzle community at large and the other hunts and contests that exist, noting other rumours of puzzle cells at Cambridge.
  • It is not clear whether a hunt requiring such effort can be sustained for the long-term.
  • The extremely technical nature of the puzzles mean that even some avowed puzzle hunt fans may consider this not to be the puzzle hunt for them.

Nevertheless, learning of the existence of this hunt is one of the most exciting developments since this site started way back towards the start of the year. Onwards and upwards, and who knows what other surprises there might be waiting to be discovered?