About the puzzle hunt
The Singapore Puzzle Hunt is a relatively small-scale puzzle hunt organized annually since 2015 specially for teams of local solvers, and which is modelled after the MIT Mystery Hunt. Different puzzles require different types of knowledge and strengths, so it helps to have team members of varying skillsets!
Here are some helpful Puzzle Hunt resources which provides more details on the information covered below:
- Puzzle Hunt Guide
- Puzzle Writing Guide
- Hunt Puzzle Solving Strategies (Video Part 1)
- Hunt Puzzle Solving Strategies (Video Part 2)
- Hunt Puzzle Solving Strategies (Video Part 3)
About the puzzles
These are not standard off-the-shelf ones such as sudoku, nor the kind you see in Singapore escape events. Instead, they are typical of those in puzzle hunts worldwide, and generally have three parts:
1) Title - This is the puzzle's name. It's often related to the hunt theme, the puzzle theme, and/or the answer itself, so it could contain clues.
2) Flavourtext - This is a section of text after the title, which provides an introduction to the puzzle. It's related to the hunt and/or puzzle theme, linking the puzzle to the overall hunt story. It may also provide clues.
3) Main Body of Puzzle - This is the part below the flavourtext, containing all the essential elements of the puzzle.
Types of puzzles
1) Standard puzzle with a twist
This takes the form of a familiar puzzle, like a crossword or sudoku, but with slightly modified rules. The atypical rules are often not stated, but can be discovered after solving a few of the easier clues.
e.g. For a puzzle that seems like a crossword, teams may find that answers to some/all of the clues have one letter more than the given cells in the grid, and therefore realise that some cells actually need to be filled with two letters.
2) Identification puzzle
This comprises a list of pictures, songs or clues which you need to first Identify. After spotting the common element ('getting the aha'), you may need to do a second level identification. You usually need to Sort the list in a new order based on the identified answers, especially if they are originally given in alphabetical order. Then Index into each identified answer using relevant numbers -- which should be indicated in some way -- to extract letters to Solve such puzzles.
e.g. In Singapore Puzzle Hunt 2015, the puzzle Pig and Pepper gives six lists of ingredients. The first step is to identify which iconic local food uses these ingredients. The aha is to identify which one of the ingredients in each list is incorrect. Sort the lists by alphabetical order of the name of the local dish. Then index into the dish name, using the position of the incorrect ingredient in the list, to solve for the answer.
3) Puzzle that does not look like a puzzle
Many of the puzzles in a hunt will not even look like a puzzle, but resemble say a normal block of text, or some cryptic code or letters. The challenge is to figure out what the puzzle is, and how to solve it. In such puzzles, the first step is identify all the possible clues in the puzzle title, flavourtext and main text to try and discover the aha necessary to crack the puzzle.
Another type of puzzle is the fun event puzzle, where teams can interact with the organisers and other teams while completing some physical task.
e.g. In Singapore Puzzle Hunt 2015, the puzzle Lobster Quadrille is an on-site event, with each team having to send a representative. The representative has to form a group with representatives from other teams to learn dance routines of iconic Mambo Jambo songs. Groups are handed a clue word for each song they successfully complete, and these form the clue phrase which gives the final answer for the puzzle.
In a runaround puzzle, teams need to physically go to different locations clued by the puzzle, in order to find further clues to solve it. As physically travelling around requires time, runaround puzzles tend to appear only in hunts with long durations or large teams, or typically as the finale runaround for a team to find a hidden object to complete the hunt.
6) Meta Puzzle
Then there is the meta puzzle or meta for short. This puzzle combines the answers and/or elements of multiple previous puzzles. In the Singapore Puzzle Hunt, this is the final puzzle which can only be solved using the answers of most, if not all, the other puzzles.
There are two types of metas: pure metas and shell metas. To solve a pure meta, the answers of the other puzzles are all you need. For a shell meta, additional information is provided. You have to use this, along with the other answers, in order to solve the meta. In a pure meta and an elegantly constructed shell meta, the puzzle answers typically have something in common which is important for solving, instead of just being used as a collection of letters.
Solving the puzzles
The puzzles have no instructions. But there are typically three steps to solving them:
1) Getting the aha(s)
The first step is making the intuitive leap in spotting and unravelling the hidden patterns or rules in the puzzle, also known as getting the aha. This is often the toughest and most time-consuming step.
There are usually multiple hidden clues embedded in the puzzle to help you identify the aha. For some puzzles, the title is a reference to the aha, and some diligent web searching on the title's references should suffice. The flavourtext or puzzle text itself could also hold clue words that reference the aha. Look for unusual or forced words, or words which suggest common puzzle solving mechanics (eg. Morse, Braille, Flag Semaphore). Having more pairs of eyes on a puzzle usually helps, as your team members might spot an aha you missed, or have the knowledge or background to identify one that you are less familiar with.
2) Completing the puzzle task
This is the grunt work of a puzzle. It could require pure logic skills (eg. filling out a sudoku grid, making a 3D paper model etc.) or topical knowledge, possibly with the help of online resources and search engines (eg. identifying pictures, answering clues etc.).
Some puzzles contain straightforward elements (eg. picture identification, crossword clues, list of clue questions, logic puzzle, sudoku grid) which allow you to start working on the task before getting the aha. However, be wary that such puzzles may come with a hidden twist, so start with the clues which will yield easier confirmation via web search first. This usually helps you to identify the hidden patterns and thus get the aha (e.g. all the clue answers are related in some way, or there is a certain constraint to the clue answers), which will make the rest of the task easier.
e.g. In Singapore Puzzle Hunt 2015, the puzzle The Mock Turtle's Story has a list of clues (some cryptic) which can mostly be solved with the help of an online search. After solving the easier clues, it becomes apparent that the clue answers are actually names of secondary schools in Singapore, and that they are grouped by geographical region. This makes the remaining task of solving harder clues much simpler as teams can now match them against a list of known school names or better yet, find matching ones from a map listing of schools found in the vicinity of each region.
3) Extracting the answer
The answer to each puzzle is a word or short phrase. After getting the aha and working through the puzzle task, you still need to figure out how to extract the answer. You will have to look for anything that might encode letters, such as translating numbers to letters by alphabet order (1=A, 2=B...), indexing numbers into words (if a word appears together with a number n, take the nth letter of that word), tracing letters visually etc.
The extracted letters might still not be the final answer, but instead a clue phrase that leads to the final answer, or a nonsensical string (which requires anagramming or a ROT-13 shift, for instance). If you have some letters missing, an online crossword solver can help. Usually, the extraction mechanism is either straightforward, or thematic to the puzzle or aha. So earlier parts of the puzzle may provide a clue.
e.g. In Singapore Puzzle Hunt 2015, the puzzle Who Stole the Tarts? has four lists of Singapore Identity Card numbers, some with incorrect given checksum letters. Taking the difference between the actual and given checksum letters yields four new 7-digit numbers. So the answer for this puzzle requires a thematic recursive step to extract the actual checksum letter for each of these new 7-digit numbers.
You are strongly encouraged to take a look online at puzzles from other puzzle hunts, and try to solve them to familiarise yourself with identifying ahas and common answer extraction techniques.- MIT Mystery Hunt archive
- Galactic Mystery Hunt archive
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