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.
(among U.S. entrants)
|5 (2nd runner up for the
|3 (2nd runner up for the
|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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
- Corey Plover, who I knew tangentially from various math puzzle
things, but we most directly worked together with on MUMS 2006.
- Nathan Fung, who I knew originally from Pyroto years before,
but had kept in touch through stuff related to The Stone and
Kingdom of Loathing.
- Paul Melamud, who I knew from Timehunt as long ago as 1999,
and we had done one MIT Mystery Hunt together in 2004.
- Craig Kasper, who I knew from various National Puzzlers'
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
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.
- In 2006, Corey's team, The Underdogs, placed 15th with 18 of
the 20 puzzles solved, and my solo team, /dev/team, placed 21st
with the same number of solutions due to getting some of them
- In 2007 we were called Projectyl Hates Your Brain, and placed
4th in an unusually difficult hunt in which we were able to
reach this score with just 23 of the 25 puzzles solved.
- In 2008, 3rd place (2nd in the point total)
- In 2009, 1st place due to actually finding the item (3rd place
- In 2010, 3rd place (2nd in the point total)
- In 2011, with Mark Halpin and Thomas Snyder joining the team,
we took 2nd place (1st in the point total)
- In 2012, we split into two teams. I played with Charles
Steinhardt and some of his friends, as well as Tanya Khovanova
and Paul, on a team called 象を発射 (Japanese for something like our
Black Letter Game team's name). We solved the metapuzzle first
and found a local runner to join our team to go find the prize,
thus finishing 1st (4th by point total). Our other team, xyzzy,
was first by points.
- In 2013 we again split into two teams, some of us with Charles
and some of his friends on one team (which found the coin to win
after being 4th by points) and myself and others with some of
the members of the Crackerjacks, which was 3rd by score, 4th
- In 2014, we made three teams. My team, plugh (pronounced
pluff), finished 3rd by points, 4th overall because another team
found the object.
- In 2015, we made three teams which finished 1, 2, 3. My team
was the third of these. The meta object was found by team #2
together with the 4th place team, which caused confusion about
the prize ranking.
- In 2016, we made three teams. My team finished 4th. One of the
other teams finished first and the last finished 50th.
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
- In 2007, as team CoreyPlover, we placed 3rd.
- In 2008, as team devjoe, we placed 3rd.
- In 2009, as plugh, we placed 4th.
- In 2010, as plugh, we placed 1st.
- In 2011, we formed two teams of 4. I was on plugh, which
finished 2nd to xyzzy, our other team.
- In 2012 we split into three full teams of 4, all named "Team
Plugh (pronounced ___)" with different pronunciations. We
finished 9th, 10th, and 11th.
- In 2013 we split into three full teams of 4, all named with
puns based on different pronunciations of Plugh. My team
finished 11th and the other two teams finished 6th and 28th.
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.
- In 2011, we split into two teams, with Joanna Cheng, Tyler
Hinman, Thomas Snyder, and Paul with me on team plugh. We won,
and our other team Xyzzy placed third.
- In 2012, we split into two competitive, prize-eligible teams
with an Aussie on each, and one team of leftovers. The
prize-eligible teams finished 2nd and 5th (but were the top two
prize-eligible ones) and the other team finished 55th.
- In 2013, we had four teams of five, three competitive ones
(each with an Australian) and a casual team. We finished 2nd,
5th, and 7th (2nd, 4th, and 5th among prize-eligible teams, my
team the last of these three), and the other team finished 60th.
- In 2014, we had four teams of five, as in 2013. We finished
1st, 3rd, 4th, and 5th among prize-eligible teams with my team
- In 2015, we had three teams of five. We finished 1st, 2nd, and
21st overall, 1st, 2nd, and 8th among prize-eligible teams, with
my team finishing first, and in addition, my team solved the
metapuzzle first and won the special prize of a copy of Race for
- 2016's hunt started December 26th and with us joining up with some
new Mystery Hunt teammates, we had five teams. My team finished 1st
overall (but we missed solving the meta first to get the meta prize),
and one of our other teams finished third overall and second 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
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
www.puzzlecrunch.org 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.
- In 2013 I
solved this with a number of my Mystery Hunt teammates, on a
team called cracker-plugh since it was composed of members of
the crackerjacks and plugh teams from some of the other smaller
events. We won the remote division.
- In 2014 we again won the remote division.
- In 2015 with 8-person team limits we had two main teams. My
team finished. I think we finished first, but I never saw a
final results list of these teams nor a winner announcement.
- In 2016 with a 5-member limit we had three teams, two of which
finished 11th and 15th (mine) in the remote division.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
- In spring 2010 I played DASH 2 with team Mass Avatar. We
placed 4th in Boston and 30th overall, out of 18 Boston teams
and 173 overall.
- In spring 2011 I played DASH 3 with a plugh team consisting of
myself, Nathan, Bowen Kerins from Beginner's Luck, and Brad
Friedman, a Microsoft Puzzle Hunt veteran who recently moved to
Boston. We won Boston by about 15 minutes and placed 7th overall
out of 298 teams.
- In spring 2012 I played DASH 4 with a plugh team consisting of
myself, Nathan, and Brad. We placed 3rd in Boston and were 8th
overall out of 302 teams in 13 cities.
- In spring 2013 I only had Nathan and Mike Booth with me. Our
team of 3 placed 5th in Boston, 16th overall, and we definitely
suffered due to our shorthandedness, but this was all the team I
was able to assemble for this event.
- In spring 2014 I had only Nathan and Nick Poulos with me. We
finished 6th in Boston, 15th overall.
- In spring 2015 I had Nathan, Nick, and Arshia with me. We
placed 4th in Boston, 19th overall.
- In spring 2016 I played with Nathan, Nick, Mike Booth, and
Dean Sturtevant. We placed 3rd in Boston and 13th overall.
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
- In fall 2010 I played BAPHL 2 with a plugh team consisting of
myself, Nathan, and Martin Jaspan from Beginner's Luck. We had a
lot of trouble with it, and were undermanned (teams being
allowed to have up to 6 people and having significant advantage
in splitting up for parts of it), and finished 10th of 11 Hard
- In spring 2011 I played BAPHL 3 with a plugh team consisting
of myself, Nathan, Brad Friedman, and Nick Poulos from
Beginner's Luck. Out of 12 hard mode teams, we won by about 40
- In summer 2011 I played BAPHL 4 with a 6-member plugh team
(the above 4 plus Paul and Mike Booth) which won again.
- We wrote BAPHL 5 for spring 2012. It ran longer than other
BAPHLs but many of the teams still finished within the allotted
- In fall 2012 our same team from BAPHL 4 won BAPHL 6.
- For spring 2013, with the team above but without Brad
Friedman, we placed second in BAPHL 7.
- For fall 2013 we ran BAPHL 8.
- In spring 2014, our plugh team of myself, Nathan, Nick Poulos,
and Mike Booth won BAPHL 9.
- In summer 2014 the same team won BAPHL 10.
- In fall 2014, a team of Nathan, Nick, Arshia Surti, and myself
placed 4th in BAPHL 11.
- In spring 2015, this team accompanied by Megan Russell won
- In summer 2015, BAPHL 13 required taking a ferry out to the
harbor islands. I ended up on a team with Nathan, Nick, and
Shari and David Metcalf. We finished 9th.
- In summer 2016, for BAPHL 15 I played with Nathan, Nick, Mike
Booth, and Josh Lim. We finished 5th.
- I am trying to assemble a team for the out-of-sequence BAPHL
14 happening November 12, 2016.
What's That Spell
This was probably a one-off event 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.