Puzzler Hunt – Enter the Passphrase

Most of the puzzle hunts I’ve done recently are for bragging rights only, so it’s cool to finally be diving into one with a $10,000 prize. Enter the Passphrase is an active puzzle hunt that will wrap up on June 4th with the huge prize going to the first solver.

A few other factors make this hunt a little bit unique. The book is being released alongside the book “The Puzzler: One Man’s Quest to solve the Most Baffling Puzzles Ever” by A. J. Jacobs. Jacobs has released a number of different books in which he dives deeply into unusual topics, and the theme this time is puzzles.

The hunt also makes a fair introductory hunt for new solvers looking to get into puzzle hunt-style puzzles. The flavor text is more explicit than most hunts about what solvers will need to do, and with more than twenty daily puzzles to solve along the way, the hunt functions like a tour of common puzzle themes (letter extraction, common ciphers, puzzles like bridges, cryptic crosswords, and drop quotes).

With over twenty puzzles, not every one is going to be a winner, but the success rate is pretty high. I’m not a fan of puzzles with a ton of busy work, and one or two have skirted the line with tedium. I also HATE audio puzzles, and we’ve had two so far. In general, though, the context does a good job sampling the kinds of puzzles you’d see in the MIT Mystery Hunt or Puzzle Boat while delivering them in such a way that participants can conquer them little by little over the better part of a month.

Based on completion counts thus far, we’re shaping up to have about 300 solvers going head to head for the $10,000 on the last day. That’s not a bad gig given that 10000/300 = a $33.3 expected value for participation all else being equal. Not bad for a free contest.

I’m not expecting to win- my usual team can’t participate, so I’ll be diving in solo or with one partner. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there is a significant advantage for teams if any of the puzzles can be tackled via a divide and conquer approach or have multiple contributors pull together crossword answers, reverse image lookup results, or song titles via Shazam. More hands on the challenge can’t hurt here. In Cryptex Hunt 2022, my team had been able to tackle five or six puzzles simultaneously to stay at the front of the pack, and we wont have that luxury here.

Overall, Enter the Passphrase has been a wonderful challenge to have. The same way Learned League gives players a daily dose of trivia, Enter the Passphrase has given a puzzle to look forward to every day, keeping me occupied and excited for longer than most challenges. I definitely prefer this approach over the hunts that require my full attention for a full weekend or more if I have any desire to contend.

I have not read The Puzzler book yet, but I will definitely be digging into that sometime soon, as well. It’ll be really fun seeing what a newcomer thinks about some of the crazy, often esoteric, aspects of puzzle hunts. I’m relatively new to the space myself and I’m betting I’ll be nodding a lot as I read through the book!

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