Eric's 2nd Puzzle Party, 16 April 2005

Congratulations, YELLOW TEAM!

After a hectic but very enjoyable Saturday afternoon, the Yellow Team emerged victorious at my 2nd Puzzle Party. The day was not without excitement, drama, and intrigue.

It was nice to see the whole spectrum of competitiveness represented: from the Green Team who came with custom t-shirts, to the Red Team who was extraordinarily casual about the whole day and approached the puzzles with a friendly nonchalance.

Everyone was actually assembled at my house at about 12:30PM, so after a brief introduction, I handed out the Puzzle Booklets (PDF version here), dictionaries, and prop-boxes (containing these items). Each team moved to their tables and quickly attacked the puzzles.

The most noticable change to this year's puzzles was the addition of a Meta-Puzzle. It basically involved trying to find the "weight" of the words in the pangram, "The quick fox jumps over lazy brown dog," by only being allowed to learn the weights of strategically chosen 4 letter words. The reward for this Meta-Puzzle was potentially great: the scores of earlier solved puzzles would be increased by up to a factor of 2.

I had a wide variety of puzzles again, and the teams (5-6 people each this time) each found their strengths and weaknesses.

Blue Green Purple Red Yellow
Robert Ford
Tim Hardwick
Blane Hollingsworth
Bill Sherling
Dorothy Sherling
Tracy Cobbs
Michael Hollingsworth
Kelly Hollingsworth
John Middleton*
Emily Norman*
Kimberly Nunes-Bufford*
Bob Gillis
Linda Harshbarger*
Scott Ingram*
Marshall Jansen
Christy Jansen
Sarah Kraynak*
Abby Creel
John Creel
Harry Newburn*
Courtney Tytler*
Lee Warshaw*
Zac Aldewereld*
Michael Francis
Adam Hajari*
Eric Larsen*
Kishan Yerubandi*
Jimmy Yeung

The were a couple of missteps on my part as referee and designer of the puzzles. First, puzzle #12, BOGGLED BY MATH, was a bit ambiguous as far as what type of answers I would allow. I had suspected beforehand that this puzzle might cause me problems, but I liked the concept of it so much, that I kept it in. Once some questions about it were raised, however, I knew that I should have been more careful in its explanation.

A much more significant "glitch" was found in problem #4, TEN DIGIT ARITHMETIC. Due to how it was scored, and the open-ended nature of the puzzle, the points awarded for it sky-rocketed. This allowed Yellow Team to take a commanding leading by scoring over 26,000 points for that single puzzle.

I do not mean to diminish their score or victory in any way, though. Yes, I would have rather noticed this imbalance during my puzzle designing (though, to be honest, I never dreamt a team would progress as far as they did with that problem), but the same problem was available to every team, so it was available for exploit by any of them. Not only did Yellow Team find an "Achilles Heel" to the whole contest, they also discovered an efficient way of solving the problem itself, for which they were rewarded generously.

Beyond the basic puzzles themselves, I am glad to see that there are further challenges of analyzing the contest as a whole and learning how to work efficiently as a team.

Yellow Team (consisting of 2/3rds Puzzle Party rookies) performed fantastically on all of the problems, and each of the six team members went home with a spiffy LEGO trophy.

Below is a chart showing the team scores. Boldfaced puzzle scores are then multiplied by a team's Meta-Puzzle multiple (if present).

            Enjoyment Difficulty
1. ICOSEHEDRAL POKER 3720 4030 3250 2220 1795 4.33 (6) 2.30 (19)
2. TOWER ACHIEVEMENT 600 700 900 1000 800 3.33 (17) 3.33 (9)
3. STATES OF CONFUSION 2167 1098 1920 1496 1316 3.75 (16) 3.38 (8)
4. TEN DIGIT ARITHMETIC 2100 200 11900 60 26520 3.86 (10) 2.57 (17)
5. SCRABBLED WORDS 3375 3375 3375 2197 2744 4.00 (8) 4.20 (3)
6. EASY AS "A-B-C" 1800 1800 1700 1200 1700 4.50 (4) 3.00 (11)
7. EASY AS "1-2-3" 3500 4100 4100 1800 4000 3.83 (11) 3.00 (11)
8. WILD CARDS 4900 6300 4000 4800 3600 3.80 (12) 3.40 (6)
9. TEAM BUILDING 3800 4000 0 0 0 4.20 (7) 3.00 (11)
10. DIAL "P" FOR PUZZLE 4384 1528 2096 2338 4714 4.50 (4) 2.75 (16)
11. PENTOMINOES, REDUX (for Kelly) 1000 0 0 0 0 2.20 (19) 4.60 (2)
12. BOGGLED BY MATH 2810 1310 630 0 7750 3.80 (12) 3.60 (5)
13. COMPLEXITY CONVEXITY 3600 3500 3700 0 3600 5.00 (1) 1.00 (20)
14. UNTITLED 1000 800 0 0 0 3.80 (12) 2.90 (14)
15. DIE-O-RAMA 4500 4500 3750 4250 4650 4.60 (3) 2.40 (18)
16. STACK THE DECK II 750 600 0 0 1000 2.17 (20) 4.83 (1)
17. (ESCHER)3 1500 1200 900 500 1400 3.89 (9) 2.94 (14)
18. WORD BUILDING 1470 1920 1920 1470 1470 3.80 (12) 3.40 (6)
19. (LATIN)2 PLUS SOME 1900 1700 2000 0 1400 4.67 (2) 3.33 (9)
20. HISTORY OF PRIMES -601 -1152 -834 -5020 -620 2.80 (18) 3.80 (4)
Subtotal (before Meta-multiple) 48725 41509 45307 18311 67839    
META-PUZZLE (multiplies bold entries) x2.0 ---- x1.8 ---- x1.6    
TOTAL 73149 41509 74280 18311 106086    
RANK 3rd 4th 2nd 5th 1st    
Highlighted boxes indicate high scores for a particular puzzle.

While Yellow Team seemed to have won by quite a wide margin, one should note a couple of things. Without a doubt, the Meta-Puzzle was a valuable tool. Had Yellow Team NOT been able to complete it, they would have fallen to 3rd place (regardless of their monstrous score for problem #4).

Also, notice the scores of Blue and Purple Teams only differ by about 1100 points. That's quite a tight margin. It just goes to show that even with all of the high scoring puzzles, a few tweaks here, a few more words solved there, or a slightly different approach somewhere else, the ranks could be different.

Individual Puzzles

After the Team Contest, I introduced the players to a few Individual Puzzles which were completely optional. Unfortunately, everyone seemed to be pretty worn out mentally, so very few people actually took the time to turn in their final answers. There were small, individual trophies awarded to the folks who did achieve the best answers:

Some more pictures

In closing

I definitely have some thank-yous to hand out. Once again friend, Joe Mantler, arrived and helped me immensely. There's no way the Party would have run as smoothly as it did without him helping me hand out Cards, answer questions, score puzzles, and so forth. A Lego friend, Michael Nelson, showed up out of the blue (I had not seen him in over a year) with digital camera in hand and snapped over 100 pictures (most of the ones linked from this page are his work).

I need to thank my mother for bringing additional food for the party-goers (and for participating herself!), and Bill Sherling for lending me 12 chairs (hosting nearly 30 people requires a lot of seats).

And thanks again to all of the teams and players for showing up and having a fun time.

There will be more parties, and everyone's always invited to return.

-- Eric Harshbarger


Here are some glimpses of the fantastic prize that the participants will be competing for. Like my first Party, the trophies will be made of 100% LEGO bricks, but this design is different. In fact, the trophy itself will be yet another puzzle (based on everyone's <sarcasm>favorite</sarcasm>: PENTOMINOES).

The winners will be presented with a plaque; a white trophy image in the upper part, a dark, red, rectangular part below. The rectangle is actually filled with the 12 pentomino pieces. Hidden underneath the pieces is wording describing the trophy: "WINNER, PUZZLE PARTY, SPRING MMV." Of course, if the recipient removes the pieces, he or she shouldn't just leave them lying around.

Aha! But those same 12 pieces may be used to fill in the white trophy area above. How that is done exactly, I'll let the winners figure out (or they can study the image below if they want).