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  • Writer's pictureJacob Cohen

[insert puzzle hunt party here] (Part 2)

3/2/24, 2:09pm

“Welcome! I’m so glad you made it,” I say as you walk in. “I hope you made it through the time vortex okay. Only nine minutes late? That’s pretty good!”


“[insert puzzle hunt party here]? I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” you respond. “I read all about it in Part 1 of your blog post. I had so much fun solving the PfP adaptation, and I loved hearing about Yapa’s questionable tactics, and your nails looked resplendent” — Lucia, eavesdropping, smiles at the compliment of her handiwork — “and it’s never been more obvious that the author of the post is supremely handsome and charming—”


“I’m so sorry to cut you off,” I say. “But I have to change into this slightly ridiculous borrowed purple shirt, and do a million more things after that, I won’t really have time to chat until the afterparty. You should do the warmup puzzles on the table, or the predictions form!”


“Of course! It said in Part 1 that you were ‘scrambling to get everything set up,’ so I understand completely… and did you mean the retrodictions form?” 


But before I can clarify the intricacies of internet-blog-post-induced time vortices — it’s your first one, so you don’t fully understand — I’m already off.


So maybe you look around the room and introduce yourself: perhaps to Andrew, my long-term co-conspirator and inspiration, who’s helping manage the event; or to Yapa the trickster; or to Zahara the ephemeral. You notice people dropping off their ballots for the California primary in the background. You pick up a map of the area lying on the table, and orient yourself.



Before you realize it, you see me return to the room and start fiddling with a projector, and the last of the predictions forms are submitted.


2:36pm

The slide changes from “[insert puzzle hunt party hype]” to “[insert puzzle hunt party here],” and again to “WHY WE’RE HERE” in big gray letters. And again: now it says “[jacob says something grandiose and sappy and very heartfelt].”


I begin with “Okay, so, I’ve, you know, been around for a long— some amount of time,” and proceed to impromptu ramble for 44 seconds. It’s grandiose, sappy, and somewhat heartfelt, but…as you can tell, I’ve impromptu rambled better.


I wrap up with a sardonic “okay whatever” and continue through my presentation. At some point, I find myself explaining how that puzzle hunt thing is actually going to work, and there’s this slide.



(As it happens, the slide says “3 people” when I move to it, but I change it to “3ish people” on the fly, which elicits a laugh from the audience.)


There is some discussion of the details, such as the hint policy (ten minutes are added to a team’s official time for each hint they request, but the official time means very little). There is a slide titled “Strategies and Herrings” and another one called “Pennies for Typos.” The section headings are different colors (gray, then golden, then blue, then purple, then gray again) and you wonder if they mean anything, but I explain that some parts of this puzzle hunt party are meticulously planned and some parts were thrown together last night. 


around 2:50pm

And now it’s time for you to join a team and start solving some evergreen events! You end up on team A, also known as the blue team. (Every team has both a key of the chromatic scale and a characteristic color. Whenever you pick Jacob Facts, they’ll be blue.)


Here are the five evergreen events, which your team is permitted to solve in any order — though most teams opt for something similar to the printed order:



The first three will ultimately make their way into the Puzzles for Progress adaptation, so you’ve solved them before you entered the time vortex. You opt not to spoil them for your teammates. (There are a few modifications from your version: Trivial Trivia is a “scantron exam,” some of the crossword clues are different, and the puzzles don’t lead anywhere — you just raise your hand when you solve them. My favorite part of the PfP adaptation that wasn’t in the actual event, by the way, is how to get from the crossword to the next puzzle. Ask me about this if you didn’t experience the online adaptation!)



The fourth Evergreen Event, The Poetkaihau Express, is a dubious portmanteau reference to a challenge in the phenomenal YouTube series Jet Lag: The Game, and it also involves memorization and recitation: this time of a poem that I’ve written. Unlike the infamous namesake Jet Lag challenge, I allow teams to divide up the lines, and to pass with two or fewer mistakes.


Here’s the sonnet that your team ultimately delivers, in proper iambic pentameter:


Young Love in Featherstonehaugh, 1937

1 The storm, the waters, ebon, ebbing, teal,

2 A breath, a wreath, a great glass house of stone,

3 Modesto sands, they shift: but it is real,

4 A storefront with its green grass freshly mown.

5 One house inside one house, both red, both blue,

6 White crimson crimes of turquoise slander gray

7 Of tailored august salt from mountains true,

8 And suddenly the worm has missed its day.

9 Their secret tryst was locked inside a box.

10 For they had never seen a doomsday coax

11 This fiery icy joy of torment — nox —

12 Their fresh-squeezed juice squeezed fresh inside the hoax.

13 Like stormy weather, heather scarlet blurred,

14 A single feather cannot break the bird.


(Just so you don’t go crazy trying to figure out the true meaning of this poem, I want to clarify that it’s literally meaningless. But I love the way the words interact; the last sentence is probably my favorite of all the non sequiturs in the poem.)


The fifth Evergreen Event is an open-ended challenge called Entertainment, which has two parts:

  1. To write three questions in an online form for the crowdsourced mini game show that will occur after the puzzle hunt! Potential question topics include things that happened during this event (I Literally Just Told You-style), Jacob trivia, or anything else that you think is a really good game show question. This is how a Jacob Fact is obtained.

  2. An open-ended contest to entertain me (mwahaha).


Team F submits a strong entry, but the winner here is from Team G, combining excellent sketching ability, (heartfelt?) flattery, and Maria’s great “Oh, uh, yeah, I’ll put my name on this,” which is what clinches it for me. (As I write this post and reread the directions, I realize that I never gave them a prize. Oops. Their prize was happiness.)



As you solve these challenges you raise your hand, I check them, and I provide you with a Jacob Fact… until your team solves their third Evergreen Event. See, there are only ten Jacob Facts (not twelve), and seven of them are “in the field” with the Cyclic Conundrums, so only three of the facts can be allocated to the Evergreen Events. (This was largely a decision I made because I knew the crossword was quite difficult in testing, so I didn’t want to force teams to solve everything.) This produces some grumbling — solving puzzles that don’t help you win? 


But I make a fiat decision, because I’m running this show: The two teams that advance to the mini game show won’t necessarily be the first two teams to claim victory. On the other hand, it’ll be the first team to claim victory plus the first team to fullsolve (which requires actually finishing the crossword).


around 3:10pm

In the midst of the Evergreen Events, Andrew (my long-term co-conspirator and inspiration) hands out the roles. Here is yours:

You immediately achieve your secret goal (...riiiiiight? what if I need a kidney someday????) and, bored, locate an uncut sheet of secret roles lying on the table. Another uncut sheet! Combined with Yapa’s “cheating,” the security at this event is rather underwhelming, you think. Still, you enjoy taking a peek:

(No one was ever actually a Vampire, because we never figured out how this one would work. But the other eight roles are all used, lurking about.)


around 4:11pm

Role in pocket, Evergreen Events mostly dispensed with (the crossword proves tricky) you begin tackling the Cyclic Conundrums! (Though you’re allowed to keep working on the Evergreen Events.)

The Cyclic Conundrums correspond to the letters / musical keys A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. (The Evergreen Events loosely represent the black keys of the scale.) Since you’re team A, you’re starting with puzzle A! Almost as if nothing was cyclic at all.


I hand you Puzzle A, Formal Chaos:

You recognize it as a reference to a question on the notorious Chaos Form! This had been emailed to you and asked many questions, including about your familiarity with various topic areas. The one that’s missing, you realize, is Public transit


So you brave the rain and embark on a journey to the nearby train station. (One of your team members gets cut by an extremely uncooperative umbrella and has to go back to get first aid.) There, hidden behind a fan is Puzzle B, Plaque Extraction


(You find it easily, but one team gets stuck for like 30 minutes on this! Their first problem was that they didn’t re-read the instructions and didn’t realize they were looking for a fan. Their second problem was that the person holding the instructions went with another team member to a local 7-Eleven to, like, “hang out.” BUT THEY HAD FUN SO IT’S FINE)


Here are the instructions to Plaque Extraction:


When I was concepting this event, I stumbled across this national treasure of a guy on the internet: Chris “The Architect” Waters, whose literal job is making unique “Constructed Adventures” for people. 


In his “best practices” YouTube video on using this cipher, which he strongly recommended, he suggested explaining the instructions clearly. But I decided y’all should use the internet! Yet to decode this puzzle, you must understand the book.


Your team finds the ConstructedAdventures video alluded to, titled “Using a book cipher: Best practices.” When the narrator mentions how the book cipher was used in the movie National Treasure — a phrase which was in the first sentence of my blurb — you feel additional confirmation that you’re in the right place. 


You know that the book cipher is supposed to be used to decode a plaque, and you think you understand it, but your team spends like 30 minutes decoding a plaque that you’ve walked past on the way instead of the plaque that is right next to the fan where the clue was decoded. Partially this is Andrew’s fault, because he gives you a misleading hint. However, in his defense, he didn’t actually know the solution to the puzzle at the time he was giving a hint. So maybe it is your team’s fault.


But you succeed in the end and move onto Puzzle C, the notorious Number Puzzle.


Ah, Number Puzzle, glorious Number Puzzle, renamed Treasurer in the PfP adaptation. People during the hunt get so many wrong ideas about this puzzle. However, you’ve already read the anecdotes from this puzzle in the congratulations page once you solved the PfP adaptation, so there’s simply no point in recounting all the red herrings here!


So you reach Puzzle D, How Well Do You Know Me? 


This puzzle contains seven sections full of checkboxes, and you’re prompted to “Color in the squares that correspond to true statements about me.” Indeed, the checkboxes match up with statements, like “I was born in California” (true) and “I’m technically a vampire” (false. why would it be true??). 


Once you’ve solved a critical mass of these, the mystery becomes how to decode them. For one team, this mystery lasts for quite a long time.


Suddenly you realize that the pattern of the true and false statements can be interpreted as Morse code. You’re allowed to look up Morse code, but you don’t need to, because your teammate Audrey knows it! Translating the dots and dashes leads your team back into the rented room, where you’ve been asked to “locate an edible exploration of the mathematics of mathematics.”

You find it lying around near the snacks: it’s Eugenia Cheng’s excellent book How To Bake Pi. Within it is Puzzle E, How To Bake Tau.


It’s an austere sheet of paper, and all it says is “There’s another volume, much like this one… that’s where the next puzzle is.”


So you head to the library and look for How To Bake Pi. You find it on a display case, but there’s no puzzle inside. You’re confused.


On the shelves you find Puzzle G, Building Blocks, folded up like a paper airplane.


There’s confusion in this here library; the hunt is not running as intended; your team sends me a phone call. I explain that there’s been a snafu in the library, that Puzzle F has disappeared, and that your team gets a 5-minute bonus (or was it a 10-minus bonus)? 


Also, continuing the theme of injuries on the blue team, Audrey gets a paper cut and she screams, but only out of surprise, not pain (she claims).


5:58pm

Before long, your team is in the room, you’ve put the Jacob Facts together, but you’re not handing me a piece of paper with your team key and the words “we’ve chromaticized the conflux.” Why? Because I’m not in the room.


The time to beat is 5:48; amid Yapa’s trickery and my evasive strategizing (detailed in Part 1), Team C claimed victory at 5:38. But since their team received 1 hint, and a hint incurs a 10-minute penalty, that’s 5:48. Your team is trying to declare victory at 5:58, and you remember that I gave you a 10-minute bonus. Seems like it’s potentially down to the wire?


I don’t know what to do, and the library closes at 6pm, so I’m scrambling to take all of the puzzles out of the library before then, and I’m also grabbing the wet puzzle envelopes from the train station. I can sense fatigue in some of the teams. We have to eat dinner.


I’m on the phone with Andrew, and our ultimate verdict that we decide upon is that your team has not been the first team to claim victory; that honor belongs to Team C. But you still harbor hopes of being the first team to fullsolve.


Meanwhile, there’s a third contender you have to worry about.


5:32pm

Jonny of Team Ab (that's A flat — I just think the flat Unicode symbol is ugly) starts calling me. He wants a hint.


He has the Thief role, and has amassed a large quantity of style points by stealing an item from every team. He’s also stolen roles and puzzles. He doesn’t know why his team hasn’t won yet. I tell him it’s because he hasn’t claimed victory.


“Can we have a hint?” he asks. 


“Does your whole team agree that you want a hint?” 


His whole team does not agree. And therein lies the problem.


Team Ab is a two-person team, and the other member is Josh, whose brother is the creator of Puzzles for Progress. Josh has been hoarding the team’s Jacob Facts, and is pretty sure that they’re just for fun. In fact, I specifically told him that.

Josh, as it happens, is a Jigsaw Skeptic. And he’s doing an excellent job.


Jonny calls me a total of four times within a ten-minute span, and I do my best to rebuff his efforts for a hint, because I think it’s hilarious. But eventually, at 5:52, their team fullsolves. (Even if they hadn’t, there’s a strong case to be made that Josh would advance to the game show on his own.)


6:24pm

I’ve declared the hunt over. Most people are eating dinner, reminiscing about the hunt. But some teams are still at work, and I decide not to stop them.


The only thing standing in between Team Ab and a fullsolve, giving them a chance to compete against Team C in the game show, is the crossword. It’s a difficult crossword, but because of this, I announced that hints would only have a cost of 1 minute. So they simply ask for a hint for every single answer. And because Andrew ends up doing their hints instead of me, his hints simply are the answers. They’re able to finish at 6:25, for an adjusted time of 6:46.

So that’s your team’s time to beat. With only the crossword standing in your way, you manage to complete it with only a single hint and an official time of 6:42.


6:52pm

Well, this definitely meets the criterion for “unclear which team won.” So I decide to invite all three competitive teams (C, Ab, and A) into the game show, which I’ve just thrown together from the participant-submitted questions. 


There’s a brief awards ceremony — Team B, consisting of Emerson and Sierra, gets a shoutout for having the most fun (they recorded several vlogs! They also were hard at work on a fanfic for Entertainment but failed to submit it before it was due) — and then I announce that the mini game show, which will have a pretty standard format, is about to start. 


But before it begins, you notice something happening to your soul. It feels like it’s fraying. You start to worry.


“I would love to join the game show,” you say. “But I have to run. I think my time vortex is about to expire.”


“I’m so happy you were able to come!!! I have something for you. A prize of one million—” but I get cut off as your essence flickers away. There’s just no way to know what I would have said.


Even without your help, your team prevails in the game show! I present the other team members with a handwritten check for their prize money: Mr Stone’s number of Jacob dollars. (Mr Stone’s number is defined as “Uncountable infinity, but just enough subtracted from it so it becomes finite. Right there at the edge. That's my number. So if you add only a little bit, it would become infinity, which would fail.” What I love about this number is I still don’t know whether Mr Stone was trolling when he defined it.)

But as we take the photo, I realize I’ve forgotten something crucial. This ridiculous question-mark cloak Lucia found for me to buy on Amazon! I’d meant to wear it at the start of the game show, to inject some extra drama. But I haven’t forgotten it, so I quickly put it on, and we retake the photo, everyone illuminated with questions by the projector light. 

(I dare you to try to read the trivia questions in these excellent-resolution photos.)


And with that, the party’s over.


Now

For you, since your time vortex expired, it’s the present moment. So before I go, three little administrative comments:


  1. I did promise last week that I’d publish answers and maybe hints for the puzzles (the first of which is available in pdf format or online). So here’s the official Answer Key PDF! You can scroll through it to simulate hints, but perhaps I’ll write some official hints for Part 3. (Yes, there will be a Part 3 next week!) We’ll see. This whole “iphph writeup” project is undergoing classic planning fallacy and scope creep. But I have most of Part 3 written.

  2. By the way, I’ve loved hearing your kind words about the puzzles! Continue telling me about how your solves have been going, and let me know if you’re stuck and want a personalized hint (email puzzlesforprogress@waiter.com or Discord @chromaticconflux work great).

  3. At first I was indignant that Taylor Swift counterscheduled her new album The Tortured Poets Department with my blog post. (The audacity…) It’s getting mixed reviews, including from some Swifties, but I actually find it very beautiful, especially the anthology version, so I forgive Taylor.


See you next week for Part 3: the ultimate part, replete with my anecdotes and reflections from planning this monstrous undertaking, and the inside stories you might’ve heard if your time vortex didn’t expire. Of all the parts, this one will take you deepest into my mind. 


Be excited!

—Jacob

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