College Puzzle Challenge

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Yesterday was the third annual (and second for me) Microsoft College Puzzle Challenge, held at college campuses around the country, including MIT and UMich. My team from last year regrouped, fittingly naming ourselves “The Return of the Cryptic Orchids,” with a goal of doing better than we did last year (which meant we had to be first at our school and/or be the grand prize winner). We met our goal and took first at Michigan by a wide margin (21 out of 22 puzzles vs. 18 for the second through fifth place teams). As a result, I’ll be getting one of the not-yet-released Microsoft Zunes in the mail in the next few weeks. A team from MIT (Quarks and Gluons, who I think were from Random Hall) won the grand prize.
This year’s event (which I kept referring to as a “hunt” even though that’s not how anyone else refers to it), consisted of 22 puzzles, two of which were metas, one of which came on the back of the free shirt they gave us, and not including the opening puzzle, which gave you access to the first 11 puzzles. (Essentially it was a mini-meta using the answers to the five pre-huntevent puzzles (which they went over just before the event started), plus answers to two other quick puzzles, which we never bothered solving.)
The theme involved being stranded on a desert island… with Gummi Bears. One of the flavortexts read “I’m starting to feel like I’m in a Disney cartoon. All over this island, Gummi Bears. Bouncing here… and there… and everywhere.” Immediately I went looking for the theme song on the internet, only to find that it’s been removed. That didn’t stop it from being in my head ALL day, only to be replaced by “Kokomo” upon solving Island Golf Classic (solution). This one I happened to have the mp3 of.
In general, I thought the puzzles were much cleaner and in some respects easier than last year’s puzzles — no ridiculous leaps of logic. In fact, in filling out the post-challenge survey, I had to stretch to name a puzzle I “liked the least.” (I picked Lost in the Mail (solution) because it was more of an ad for local.live.com than a clever puzzle.) But at the same time, I had hard time picking a favorite puzzle, because none of them jumped out as being really spectacular. I wound up saying Rock Formations (solution), a less frustrating tetris puzzle than the one from the SPIES hunt that involved some (very easy) calculus. It was probably the most well constructed puzzle, as well as the last one my team solved, but even that one didn’t make me go “Wow, that puzzle is really clever.” In fact, my reaction to the entire suite of puzzles was similar to my reaction to last year’s Mystery Hunt puzzles — everything was nice and clean and nothing was horrible, but nothing was so fantastic that it will go down as one of my all-time favorites either. (With all due respect to Phys Plant, I’m only talking low level puzzles — their presentation of the theme was one of the best ever.) Maybe I’ve done so many puzzles that it just takes more to impress me… I’m not sure.

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3 responses »

  1. Gummi bears / bouncing here and there and everywhere / high adventure that’s beyond compare / they are the Gummi Bears
    *sigh* Thanks a lot; that’ll be in my head the rest of the night.

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