Roundup of the Week

I usually have a bad track record of posting updates while I’m in the middle of something, and right now is no exception. Puzzle hunts, online escape rooms, physical escape rooms, mystery projects, new areas of study- it’s been busy. But time for an update!

This Wednesday my team of three kicked off Puzzle Boat 4. From Wednesday to Saturday morning, we’ve already cleared 45 puzzles! There are 171 in the hunt, so still a long way to go, but this is extremely fast progress compared to our prior runs, especially since I was out all night Thursday and Friday and couldn’t focus too much on puzzles. But when we do focus, we crank through them!

One thing I find interesting is how much puzzle hunt experience does stack- solving puzzle hunts makes you better at puzzle hunts. That may not seem particularly unusual, but I find it noteworthy because I’ve noticed the opposite about escape rooms. In escape rooms, we’re probably marginally faster than we were a few years ago due to organizing better and recognizing pigpen cipher and magnet mazes immediately, but it’s not a dramatic difference.

For puzzle hunts, there’s a very unique set of tools applied to many/most puzzles. Crossword grid with strange clues? Must be a cryptic. 3×2 grid with some kind of binary differentiator? Try Braille. Got a word and a number N? Pull out the Nth letter of the word. For our first few hunts, we spent a lot of time with elements like this, but now that we’ve got our feet under us, we can really run with this.

Another big part of that is puzzle recognition. Puzzle hunts often start us off with a “standard” puzzle which needs to be solved before looking for the twist that leads to an answer. Akari? Masyu? Battleship? Hashi? I had no idea what any of these things were, and being familiar with each of these means thirty less minutes spent on an individual puzzle trying to find out how to start.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it definitely impacts how I’d suggest anyone new start digging into puzzle hunts. I think we dodged a bullet by being comfortable taking a month to solve our first puzzle hunt and casually building our understanding of these puzzles.

With 45 of 171 puzzles down, I’ll be jumping back to the Puzzle Boat soon, but before I do, I have one more fun update. World geography is a weak point of mine. I never studied it, and there are admittedly too many countries I couldn’t point to on a map if asked. Chad? Turkmenistan? Latvia? I could tell you the continent but not much more.

I set my sights on learning the capital of every single country, and hopefully picking up a few fun facts and general awareness during the process. I found a capital quiz app to get me started but will be randomly digging up content on some of these places.

My first barrier was surprising. There are too many capitals that I’m not sure I can spell or pronounce. Slovenia’s capital, Madagascar’s, Mauritania’s… They all have extremely strange letter combinations contained within.

It’s fun learning something new and having what sometimes feels like an overwhelming list of places to learn about. I’ll have to take a look online to see if there are any online classes I can take about random places, to find out a little more about some of these countries I barely knew existed! I may know nothing about Suriname, but 600,000 people live there and I don’t want to be embarrassed if I ever bump into any of them. So even if I get one fun fact (“You guys have a great cheese industry, right?”), I’ll feel much better about my global awareness.

With that, I’m headed back to the Puzzle Boat!

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