Galactic Puzzle Hunt 2023

I was on the fence about participating in Galactic Puzzle Hunt in 2023. I’ve participated before in the past and found that the hunt required a pretty significant time commitment compared to other puzzle hunts. I noticed this both in Galactic’s hunt as well as the MIT Mystery Hunt they facilitated. I cautiously decided to dip my toe in this year. I’m glad I did- it was a blast!

A little more context on why I was tentative: the last time I dove headfirst into Galactic Hunt, I played along on a team with two others. The games started smoothly, but after making it to the middle of the puzzles, the amount of work to solve individual puzzles climbed to a point where I was no longer comfortable. The most memorable culprit, the one seared into my memory, is a puzzle called Action-Adventure.

My team realized very quickly the crux behind the puzzle- the locations are all cards from the game Dominion, and based on the order played, the number of coins/cards received helps you determine which card each mystery location is. The problem? There were more than five hundred options to test for every location. Even paring it down based on which can give you coins and cards didn’t help tremendously. Without deep knowledge of Dominion, this one will take a while.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing to have puzzles like this. When you’ve got a large team racing toward a finish line, there’s some clever team management you can do to find the best solution for challenges like this. For small teams, though, it means sacrificing all your discretionary time if you want a shot to finish the event.

Fast forward to 2023. Still wary, my fears weren’t assuaged when the first step in the event was a six level tutorial on a customizable card game designed for Galactic Hunt. I didn’t feel much better after completing the tutorial and only having card game challenges available.

Thankfully, I didn’t get scared off. I jumped into some of the card game challenges, and the Galactic team had done a wonderful job providing a wide variety of challenges within the framework of the card game. The framework was flexible enough to make sliding puzzles, language puzzles, and even a modification of the board game Othello.

Pretty soon I started unlocking other puzzles. Most were pretty easy but still fun and satisfying. I was surprised as I progressed through the event- the puzzles didn’t scale up in complexity; only a few ended up requiring me to write down notes or track details on a spreadsheet.

I made it about halfway through the hunt by the deadline, but I was enjoying it well enough to keep going and finally finished six days after the deadline. I’m glad Galactic kept the hunt online and interactive to give players a chance to finish.

The stats on the hunt show a remarkable completion rate by teams. 1028 teams started the tutorial, and 829 finished it. Of those 829, 318 solved the complete hunt within the initial ten day window. 38% of the teams that made it through the tutorial, and more than half of the teams that solved at least a handful of puzzles, completed the event. That’s a remarkable number that shows the event was dynamic and engaging to its target audience. The game also had a really fun final boss encounter to tie the event up with a bow in a satisfying manner.

From a selfish perspective, as someone who solves puzzles with small teams, this was a great turn of events for me. I was cautious to encourage others to join me this year and solved most of the puzzles solo, but next year I’ll aim to play on a team again.

One of the puzzle’s author comments indicated that Galactic Hunt leadership asked the designers to make “easy standard puzzles.” That confirms that the change of direction was a conscious decision. While I wont claim that there’s a “right” difficulty level for puzzle hunts, I will say that easier hunts like this year’s Galactic Hunt and the annual Cryptex Hunt are easier to participate in. Die hard teams shouldn’t be deprived of the opportunity to spend a long weekend fully immersing in hundreds of high difficulty puzzles, but Galactic’s pivot here will help it serve as ambassador to casual puzzlers or even puzzle-adjacent video gamers to grow the puzzling community.

Thanks again to Galactic for serving up a delightful experience this year- I look forward to seeing what next year brings!

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