WHAT:  Puzzle Potluck I
WHEN:  8 October 2011 (Sat)
       10:00am (9:30am orientation starts)
WHERE: AU Student Union (lobby at Foy Desk)
WHO:   Confirmed Teams
WHY:   Hahaha hahahaha...

Past Parties

EPP11: Puzzle Potluck I

The only thing harder than solving a good puzzle, is making a good puzzle.

Congratulations Charles Pilman and Erin McMullin!

Their team won our first Puzzle Potluck here in Auburn. Overall the event went very smoothly (there was hardly even a need for a referee). The puzzles might have been designed a little too hard; but part of the point of the whole experiment was to get people to think about puzzle design as well as puzzle solving.

I hope that another Potluck can be organized soon (freed up from the "EPP" branding... taking on a life of its own)... I'm thinking I want to compete in the next one.

Here is the final scoreboard (it's not clear, really, but the team in the first column brought Puzzle 1, team in the second column brought Puzzle 2, etc... I, as referee, provided Puzzle 10). I will link to copies of the puzzles in the near future.

Here are quick pictures I snapped of each team in the first round as they tackled their first puzzles of the day (which are puzzles created by the teams next on the list):

  1. Puzzle 1 (no team worked on it in the first round).
  2. Andrew and Jenny on Puzzle 2
  3. Robert and Emily on Puzzle 3
  4. Amy and Calvin on Puzzle 4 (Part 2)
  5. Stephen and Jessica on Puzzle 5
  6. Charles and Erin on Puzzle 6 (Part 2)
  7. Mike and Kelly on Puzzle 7
  8. Tim and Edward on Puzzle 8
  9. Alex and Kristin on Puzzle 9
  10. Daniel and Anna on Puzzle 10

This Puzzle Party is being organized differently than all past one that have been held in Auburn. The hope is that this format will achieve the following goals: 1) encourage players to not only think about solving puzzles, but also creating puzzles, 2) not burden the referee (me) with too much organizational overhead, and 3) test whether or not this whole "puzzle potluck" idea is just inviting disaster.

The idea of the Puzzle Potluck is that each team will be required to bring a puzzle of their own which all of the other teams will try to solve. Each team will try to solve all of the puzzles (except their own) and get a total score based on their successes as well as a few other factors.

Here are the quick notes:

Puzzle Design Guidelines

You are encouraged to create as interesting and imaginative puzzles as you can think of subject to the following guidelines. Puzzles may be word-based, number heavy, trivia, physical/manipulative, code-based, a mini-scavenger hunt that you set up beforehand at the venue (AU Student Union Building)... just about anything.

First, TEAMS WILL NOT BE ALLOWED TO USE THE INTERNET. On the honor system we will assume that teams are not using smart-phones or other devices to access the Internet. So, you must decide how much knowledge you believe the players to have when solving your puzzle. Assuming they can name the 50 States is probably safe. Greek letters may be more obscure. If your puzzle is heavily trivia based, maybe you will want to use a lot of obscure knowledge, but you probably don't want to design a puzzle centered around astronomical star charts usless you are somehow provide some helpful resources. I, as referee, will print out a large poster of common codes. This will be brought and prominently displayed near my HQ onsite. Players will be allowed to refer to this poster as they are solving their puzzles (this negates the need for a puzzle designer to provide specific codes for their puzzles -- if needed -- and thus, does not give a hint as to what code might actually be needed). Currently, I plan for my poster to include the following codes:

Here is the current draft of the Code Poster I plan to bring (PDF file).

As a puzzle designer, if you would like me to include another code, please let me know. Beyond these resources, you should assume that your players will only have scratch paper, pencils, clipboards, and simple calculators.

You should design your puzzle to be solved in an "all-or-nothing" fashion, no partial scoring. If a team correctly solves your puzzle, they will earn 100 points. If they do not solve it, they will receive 0 points. No in-between. This is pretty straightforward if you submit a manipulative puzzle like a Pentomino, space-filling puzzle; teams will either get all the pieces to fit or they won't. It will take a bit more creativity to force some other puzzles to be all-or-nothing. For example, if you design a trivia puzzle with 50 questions, you should not say that the team will earn 2 points for each correct answer (that would be partial scoring, not all-or-nothing). You could make such a puzzle all-or-nothing in various ways. You could say the teams get 100 points if they answer, say, 30 or more of the 50 questions, 0 points if fewer than that 30 threshold. You could also embed circled letters in the correct answers of each question, and if the team answers enough of the questions correctly, they can then extract a code message... submitting the code message is the all-or-nothing part, they either get it (100 pts) or they don't (0 pts). Similar "embedded messages" can be done with crosswords, word searches, and so forth.

Remember that teams will only have 25 minutes per puzzle, and this includes the time needed to read your puzzle's instructions.

Ideally your puzzle can be graded fairly quickly. I, as referee, will try to grade all of the puzzles during the next round of play as teams are then working on another puzzle. Again, some solves will be obvious and quick, but grading a 50-question trivia quiz could take time (if I'm having to see if teams meet some answer threshold).

You should bring enough copies of you puzzle for every team to have at least one copy plus some extras (for me and others to looks at while you are solving). If you design a physical puzzle, you likely will only need one copy (it will stay at its station, and each team will tackle it after the previous team possibly solved it, and hopefully did any re-scrambling). If your puzzle is paper-and-pencil, though, then each team will need a fresh sheet, so make sure you bring enough copies. You should also bring extra copies (and even an extra copy of a physical puzzle, maybe, in case the original breaks, pieces are lost, or who-knows-what).

You are trying to design a puzzle that will be solved (all-or-nothing) by half the teams. Your Nth "score" for the day (after you have earned N-1 scores of either 0 or 100 points for attempting other teams' puzzles) will be based on how many other teams solved your puzzle. Say there are thirteen teams competing. Then 12 teams will trying to solve your puzzle. For your Nth score, you might earn 100 points if 6 teams solve it. And then, maybe, earn 90 points if 5 or 7 teams solve it, 80 points if 4 or 8 teams solve it, and so on (this is just an example, the exact "point curve" I'll tweak once we lock down the exact number of teams).

At the end of the day teams will be asked to rank all of the puzzles in order of "enjoyment". What does this mean? It means you want to try to make your puzzle more "fun" than all of the others. Good luck with that. Trying to please all of the puzzlers all of the time is tough business, but these rankings will be used to determine another score for your team (from 0-100 points).

You may send your puzzle design to me, the referee, before the Party-Day to have it play-tested, proofread, and so on (I may also show it to other puzzle-colleague who will not be attending the Potluck). But please have a fully-formed puzzle; do not just send me an idea and ask, "how can I make this into a finalized puzzle?" One goal for the Potluck is that it will not require as much behind-the-scenes work from the referee, so I don't want to end up co-designing puzzles for other teams. That being said, I have a soft spot in my heart for physical/manipulative puzzles, so if you have an idea for something along those lines, but need some help with designing or making it, you might be able to coax me into helping you.

If your puzzle has been adapted from another source, you should give credit where credit is due (say what puzzle inspired your puzzle and its author, if you can determine such information).

Final Notes

At the end of the day, total scores will be calculated (the sum of 0 or 100 points for each other-team puzzle, up to 100 points based on how many teams solved your puzzle, 0-100 points based on the 'enjoyment ranking" of your puzzle, and 0-100 points from the puzzle I submit).

Highest total wins.

Winner buys everyone dinner. Kidding.

Confirmed Teams

I will add you (and a possible teammate) to the list below when you so request. I will put an asterisk (*) next to a team when they have submitted a finalized puzzle. The maximum number of teams will be twelve, to start. If twelve teams are reserved, and all of those teams have two people on them, then I will add another team if needed. Should that fill up with two players, I will consider a 14th team, but that will likely be the upper limit, since the number of teams is directly affecting the duration of the Potluck, and I don't want this to exceed a long afternoon. I expect this Party to be a bit less-attended than recent ones, but if there is such a demand that more than 14 teams are needed, then maybe we can figure out how to run dual/parallel Potlucks... but I doubt that will happen.

If you have requested a place on the list below, but have not yet submitted a finalized puzzle, you may get bumped off if another new team requests a position and they have a puzzle completed.

  1. Robert Ford & Emily Norman*
  2. Andrew & Jennifer Thomas*
  3. Michael and Kelly Hollingsworth*
  4. Steven and Jessica Clontz*
  5. Erin McMullin and Charles Pilman*
  6. Tim Hardwick and Edward Boudreaux*
  7. Amy Steinkampf and Calvin Thomas*
  8. Alex Byaly and Kristin Courtney*
  9. Anna Wan and Daniel Brice*


If you would like to just show up and watch, rather than particpate, you are welcome to do so. You'll be expected to be relatively quiet and not help any participants in any way. And I can't promise that it won't be extraordinarily boring to watch; but, unlike the particpants, you won't have to stay for the full duration. Drop by and see how well your puzzle-solving friends fare.