Joseph DeVincentis's Puzzle History

World Puzzle Championship-type events

U.S. Puzzle Championship

Run annually online since 1999, usually in June. Before 2003, it was simply called the qualifying test for the U.S. puzzle team. The results from 1999 and 2000 are missing from the web site, but I have records of at least my own placement. Each year, 1 to 4 of the 4 slots on the U.S. team were open for qualifying, the remaining slots being reserved for past team members.
Ranking (among U.S. entrants)
5 (2nd runner up for the team)
3 (2nd runner up for the team)
4 (qualified for team)

World Puzzle Championship

In 1999, though I failed to qualify to attend the actual world championship, a parallel online championship was run in marathon fashion, as an open event for everybody else, using all the puzzles they could adapt to online form, released in a single round running 24 hours in length. I placed second in this event.

In 2004 I attended the World Puzzle Championship as a member of the U.S. team. The team won the championship and I placed 19th of 88 competitors in individual rankings. My teammates were Wei-Hwa Huang, Roger Barkan, and Jonathan Rivet.

Marathon Sit-and-Solve Puzzle Events

These events may or may not be broken up into rounds, but generally speaking you unlock more puzzles by solving puzzles, and it keeps going until somebody wins.


Timehunt was a free web-based puzzle hunt, funded by some European arts organization, with a single prize of gold and jewels. It started in 1999 and ran through approximately 2004. It had a planetary theme, using the nine planets then considered standard. There was a gateway puzzle to open up each planet, which then allowed you to access a major puzzle on each planet and on most planets, a number of other puzzles, some with multiple answers, which opened up moons around that planet. With one exception, the moons did not have puzzles of their own, but held pieces needed to solve the major puzzles -- but not necessarily the ones on the same planet.

Timehunt was fraught with bugs and incomplete puzzles. The players who persevered to see the last of the major puzzles completed shared hints to help one another get through these very difficult puzzles. There was also a final meta puzzle inside the "time machine" console that served as the main interface to the game. Each major puzzle solved opened another feature of the time machine, providing you with more information about the meta puzzle.

As far as I know, nobody ever solved the final meta puzzle, a complex mathematical puzzle, and as a result the prize was never awarded. I was probably the farthest of anybody. The last time machine feature, which provided the ability to generate trajectories for arbitrary combinations of inputs instead of just the 9 we were given previously, did not work for some time after the last major puzzle was solved, and I only saw it work for a few days before the site vanished for good.

MIT Mystery Hunt

The largest (in terms of number of puzzles) of all the puzzle hunts anywhere. The Mystery Hunt is run at MIT annually on MLK weekend in January.

It's sometimes hard to give a precise ranking to teams which did not complete the event (should it be number of puzzles solved, number of meta-puzzles solved, or some combination of the two?). The hunts before 2004 do not have their detailed results online, though there is a solve log for 2003 which could with some effort be used to produce rankings.

From 2000-2004 I participated as a member of E.C. Come, E.C. Go. This team was never in contention to win, and its numbers were dwindling in the later years. In 2004 we merged with team IHTFP in an attempt to remain viable, and it worked for that year. The merged team appears in the solving report as seth42, and placed 5th with 57 out of 108 available puzzles solved but only 2 of 7 metapuzzles solved.

This team broke up the following year, and I solved with Palindrome (whose name is a different palindrome each year). This was a much stronger team (and one of the oldest teams, originally Eric Albert's team, one of the few current teams that can trace roots back to the very early hunts). In 2005 (as El Google) we solved 105 puzzles for 3rd place both by puzzle count and by order participating in the final runaround. In 2006 (as Wercrew, shown as Werecrew in the official results) we placed 6th by puzzles solved. In 2007, as Dr. Awkward, we won, and in 2008, keeping the same name, we constructed the Hunt.

A number of members of the 2008 constructing team, myself included, split off and joined a number of hunt newcomers and a few other veterans, most of whom were veterans of only a single Mystery Hunt. The new team for the 2009 hunt was called Beginner's Luck and we won, and constructed in 2010. In 2011 this team played as Luck Luck Goose, and placed 3rd in the points awarded by a complex scoring system introduced this year, but 4th in the number of puzzles solved, and also 4th going on the runaround. In 2012, the team was called Luck, Stuck, on Two Open Puzzles, and we were the second team to finish all metas by about 2.8 seconds over Too Big to Fail, though we ended up doing our final skits and the runaround after them. (Both these teams solved their last metas just as the announcement was being made that Manic Sages had won the Hunt.) In 2013 we were called Better Luck This Time. This was the longest hunt on record, and we were one of several teams with still 3 metas unsolved when the first team got down to one meta unsolved, which became the cutoff (instead of having to solve all of them) due to the length of the event. In 2014, called We're Up All Night to Get Lucky, we were the second place team on the runaround when the first team completed it.

In 2015, this team, named Luck, I Am Your Father (often pronounced in the breathy Darth Vader voice from the end of episode 6) won the hunt again, in an endgame which began with us solving our last metapuzzle 14 seconds ahead of the next team. In 2016, we constructed the hunt again.

For 2017's hunt, Beginner's Luck split up and went to the four winds. I was part of the group who wanted to stay, but we did not have enough people (only about 10) so we ended up joining with Death and Mayhem. In a relatively close race with Palindrome (with another large faction of the former Team Luck on it), we won the shortest hunt ever in about 13 hours.

Kingdom of Loathing Puzzle Hunts

In 2006-2008 I team-solved a number of puzzle hunts run by other players at the game Kingdom of Loathing. Originally this was with clan Badde Manors, players I had played a number of other games together with before KoL, but later on it was mostly plugh (see below under Sekkrets) who had taken over the Badde Manors clan in the absence of the other original members. We won prizes in some of these. I still need to do the research to find details on how many of these events there were and how we placed in them.

In 2013 there was a puzzle hunt run by Insane Steve, styled somewhat on the Australian model (new puzzles each day, with hints released for previous puzzles, and points for solving a puzzle reduced after each hint released. This hunt was for individuals and I won.

Harvard Puzzle Hunt

A smaller, typically two-round puzzle hunt run each fall since 2004 on the Harvard campus.

In 2006 a plugh team registered for this event, consisting of Nathan and I from the usual plugh team (and Craig and Mike solving remotely), Jason Groza (Mike's co-author for Sekkrets), and Charles from the Twollarmongers who participate in some of these other events. However, the organizing team realized that there were too many/too long puzzles for the length of event they wanted, and a whole bunch of students, mostly Harvard freshmen, were thrust into the team with us. We finished last of the four teams that stuck around to finish the hunt, though by the time we got to do the runaround it was just the people I named above and one or two students.

Since then, I have not participated in the event.

Microsoft Puzzle Hunt

I test-solved two Microsoft Puzzle Hunts as part of a remote team based at MIT called Mass Avatar (named for Mass. Ave. which is nearby) led by Kiran Kedlaya, Puzzle Hunt A (a.k.a. 10) in January 2007 and Puzzle Hunt 11 in September 2007. The actual hunts were run a month after each test-solve.

Due to our distance from Microsoft, we never competed in the actual event until Puzzle Hunt 14, for which an online simulcast was offered. For that one, Beginner's Luck people split across three teams. Seattle folks played on a local team, the California ones on The Smoking GNU, and the rest (which ended up being only 7 people out of a limit of 12) on plugh. Despite our small numbers, we managed to finish 3rd, behind The Smoking GNU and one other team.

Puzzle Boat

The original Puzzle Boat in October of 2005 was the precursor for Panda Magazine. It was a solo event and I eventually finished 4th. (Later, he permitted teams of solvers.)

Puzzle Boat 2 in March of 2014 was a team event. I made a plugh team with Jeremy Conner, Nathan Fung, Jeremiahs Johnson, Craig Kasper, Paul Melamud, Charles Steinhardt, Phil Webster, and Tom Yue. We finished third.

In October of 2015 there was a Puzzle Boat 3. Because I was busy constructing puzzles for Mystery Hunt, I didn't put as much effort into this one, but I did play. My team for this one, called Elephants, consisted of myself, Paul Melamud, Charles Steinhardt, and a bunch of Charles's friends. We finished 9th.


I was part of the Pirata Codex team, remote test-solvers in June 2007 for the Googol Conglomerate game run at Google.


This was an online hunt run by the MIT Alumni Association in September 2008. I joined some NPL friends and we finished the event. We weren't among the fastest teams, though we did get picked for one of the random prizes.

RIT Hunt

Zack Butler ran a small puzzle hunt annually in the spring at the Rochester Institute of Technology from 2006 to 2010. I only heard about it in 2010, and then plugh signed up and tried to play entirely remotely, even though it wasn't designed for that. We backsolved one local-presence-required puzzle and back-guessed another (reducing it to a small enough number of possibilities that we could solve it with our allowed guesses), leaving us with just one unsolved puzzle. We finally submitted instructions for where we would look on campus, if we had been there, for a padlocked box -- with 5 out of 6 digits of the combination, enough to get it by trial and error -- just about the time the email was going out saying another team won.

Since then, this event has not been run. But in the fall there was a special event in a different format for the 35th anniversary of the CS department at RIT. This was advertised as a small team event, not to exceed 3 people, so I did this one with Charles Steinhardt, and we picked up somebody he knew at RIT to do the on-campus-presence required events and won.


A large (50 puzzle) hunt in July 2006 offered to and themed on the Grey Labyrinth web site, though it is actually hosted elsewhere. It was advertised as being for teams of up to 7, and I figured it was too much for me to tackle alone. I asked several people I had enjoyed doing puzzles with in various environments to join me, and four of them did:
We won the event after about 7 and a half days of solving. We stuck together solving puzzles ever since, and one of the puzzle authors, Mike Sylvia, joined us, originally with the intent of making a sequel to this event. But we had more fun solving everybody else's puzzles and never completed the sequel. While constructing 2010 MIT Mystery Hunt, we adapted some of the puzzles we had written for the sequel, and others remain in reserve for possible future use. The six of us are the typical plugh lineup for these events.

Black Letter Game

This was an event staged in early 2012 with one new artifact sent to us each month, I teamed up with Nathan, Paul, and Charles Steinhardt, as a team called Launching an Elephant From a Tall Tower is a Remarkably Efficient Way to Make Peanut Butter. (Charles's idea; don't blame me.) Scoring for this event was rather wonky since it was partly based on self-reported start times for each puzzle, though you did need to start the clock before you could check any answers or hints and later rounds started with a free hint you could and should request which helped make reporting more honest. Still, we finished 6th with a total time of 5 days 0 hours over the 5 puzzles.

Black Letter Game 2 started at March 14, 2015 (pi day) and had 4 artifacts. With the same system with self-reported start times per artifact, called eleteleplugh this time, we finished 18th in a total solving time of 2 days, 20 hours, 56 minutes.

MS Paint Adventures

I was introduced to this web comic when test-solving the puzzle Edits which my teammate Mike Sylvia wrote for the 2010 MIT Mystery Hunt. In 2013 there was a puzzle hunt for teams of up to 3, and Nathan and I teamed up for this event. We won.

NPR Weekend Edition Sunday Puzzle by Will Shortz

I was selected twice as the weekly winner and appeared answering other puzzles on the air.

There are some small prizes for being selected, which change over time. I got a Weekend Edition lapel pin (which I can now wear on both lapels!), a deluxe Scrabble game (both times, but the game changed ownership and they are completely different presentations of the game), Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary and Thesaurus the first time, some Puzzlemaster Presents stuff with puzzles from the show (cards the first time, a book the second time), and assorted Will Shortz puzzle books.

Events with New Puzzles Each Day

This could be called "the Australian format" since most of the puzzle hunts I know of that use this format are from Australia. Each day at a set time a small number of puzzles are released, which makes it feasible to solve a week-long event while still working and sleeping, etc.


Note that in this hunt, as in the MIT Mystery Hunt, the winner is determined by who finds a hidden object on campus from a final metapuzzle/runaround. Unlike the Mystery Hunt, the nature of the puzzle release and the large number of mostly or totally remote teams means this is often not the first place team pointwise.

I am not sure how I found the puzzle hunt run by the Melbourne University Mathematics Society, but I did somehow and signed up alone to solve in 2006. Corey Plover, who is local to this Hunt, recognized my name on the leaderboard from my contributions to Erich Friedman's MathMagic and contacted me about it. We were signed up individually, and not in the running to win, so we collaborated in the places we were stuck but tried to solve things individually.

Between the 2006 and 2007 MUMS hunts, I formed a team to solve Sekkrets who stuck together to solve many events, eventually adopting the name plugh for all of these events. Corey left our team to become a part of the permanent constructing team for this event, though we eventually picked up another local member Wayne Woods, and for subsequent years we were called plugh.


This event was run by Canon Research Australia annually from 2007-2013. It was for teams of only 4, but the prizes were explicitly restricted to teams made of only Australian students, so we were ineligible anyway. Some years when more than 4 people wanted to play we split into multiple teams. Separate lists of competition winners and prize winners are posted.


The puzzle writers behind the CISRA hunt wanted to keep doing hunts after they lost the backing from their corporate sponsor. In 2016 they ran the first of these, from the mezzacotta site which one ofthem has a web comic on, with prizes consisting of board games for the first metapuzzle solver and top three teams by points/finishing time. Me and my friends split up into 3 teams. My team, Plugh (pronounced pluff), finished 4th, just out of the running for prizes. The other teams finished 7th and 24th.


This hunt, run by the Sydney University Maths Society annually since 2009, has a prize we are actually eligible for.

PuzzleCrack and PuzzleCrunch

The PuzzleCrack puzzle hunt was run at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) in the fall for several years ending in 2008. There is just one puzzle each day. I participiated with some of my plugh teammates, but entirely remotely. In 2006 we were not able to do the final puzzle, which required presence on campus.

We missed the 2007 event due to being busy constructing the 2008 MIT Mystery Hunt.

In 2008 we attempted it again. The final puzzle was run twice, first only for locals, and later for remote solvers. As far as I can see, though, we never finished it.

In 2007 and 2008 there was also a version run in the spring called PuzzleCrunch. We missed the 2007 event. In 2008, PuzzleCrunch was specifically advertised as solvable entirely remotely, and it was a one-day event instead of being released over several days. We finished 7th, out of the running for prizes. (This was hosted at but the site no longer exists.)

University of South Carolina Puzzle Hunt

Since 2012 at the University of South Carolina there has been a puzzle hunt somewhat in Mystery Hunt style (in that there are multiple meta puzzles, and a physical object to find on campus at the end) and somewhat in the Australian style (in that the puzzles were released over a period of days, and hints were given for earlier rounds). There is a remote division for teams like us who are not physically present; we got (sometimes anyway, and after a delay) electronic versions of whatever teams got at the events on campus, and our hunt ended when we solved the meta-meta at the end and got the instructions for finding the item on campus. There are prizes for the USC-based teams only.

Stanford-Game-Style Puzzle Events

In these events you have to be physically present and traverse a number of locations to get puzzles to solve.

2001 SINS

In August 2001, I joined some members of Mystic Fish (a California-based team who plays in games out there) and some other people looking for a team to play this full-length driving-based game which started and finished in New York City. We were team Born to the Purple and placed 3rd out of 7 teams.

Boston Game

In 2003 during a gaming session I found out that a driving-based, Stanford-game-style linear puzzle hunt was being run very soon afterward in Boston, so I played with Aaron Fuegi, Nate Glasser, and some of Aaron's friends as Team Orange. This game ran longer than intended, and so was cut short; we were farthest ahead at the time it was called, and so won.

Famine Game

In September 2013 I was on a team in the Famine Game in Washington D.C., a full-length game.Our team (myself, Nathan, Paul Melamud, and special guest solver Kevin Wald) finished 6th.


Different Area, Same Hunt (DASH) is a linear, walking-based, 6-hour hunt of the Stanford game sort, with the unusual feature of being run in different cities at approximately the same time. This event is scored only counting the time between the time you receive a puzzle and the time you solve it and determine the next location to visit, thus eliminating the differences in distances between sites in different cities. (In recent years, this has happened via Cluekeeper and the results are compiled there as well.)


The Boston Area Puzzle Hunt League (BAPHL) is a partially non-linear walking-based hunt similar in length to DASH, but only run in Boston. There are also Normal and Hard modes, with the Hard mode intended for veterans of Mystery Hunt and other puzzle events, and as a result most of the teams sign up for this mode. BAPHL 10 and the BAPHLs since 13 have run via Cluekeeper also.

What's That Spell

This was a one-off event (though word is he is going to try to run a second one) run by Nathan Curtis, September 24, 2016. There was a kickstarter to fund it, and both solve-at-home and live solving in the Boston area. I ended up on a team with Nathan, Nick, Paul, Adam R. Wood and his brother Eric. We finished second.