Post-hunt survey is now available. The link is at the top of the Puzzles page.
The Microsoft Puzzlehunt is a quasi-annual Microsoft tradition dating back to just before the turn of the century. The hunt is a weekend-long team puzzle competition that challenges each team to solve a large number of original puzzles of all different kinds. The answers typically lead to a hidden treasure concealed somewhere on campus (but not this year). Participants will generally enjoy being puzzled by anything from traditional puzzles like crosswords, cryptograms, jigsaws, word play and logic problems to wandering around campus to find landmarks or puzzles that have to be solved on location (but not this year). The best way to see what's involved in a hunt is to peruse the archives of past hunts.
The Microsoft Puzzlehunt takes inspiration from the MIT IAP Mystery Hunt, which is very similar in concept.
The hunt is for anyone at Microsoft interested in solving puzzles. It's a team competition so people of all different skill and interest levels can enjoy it. Teams can include non-Microsoft employees, so spouses and friends are welcome. Read about Teams below for details about team registration.
Participants can play through the night or take a mid-hunt break. Historically, winning teams have puzzled away through the night rather than sleep. But the hunt is designed so that less dedicated teams will also have fun, even if you never intend to go the distance. It's also all right to have mixed teams that consist of some hard-core and some casual participants. See the Teams section for details about team registration.
Puzzlehunt 22 will run on the weekend of September 17-18, 2022. It will begin at 10am Pacific time on Saturday, and run until 5pm Pacific time on Sunday.
Puzzlehunt is probably unlike any event you have done before. You may be used to sudoku or crosswords or puzzle magazines or apps, but this is more than that. You will collectively see between 80 and 100 puzzles of wide variety, some of which you may recognize and some you won't. Sometimes your whole team will be collectively working on one puzzle. Some puzzles will be straightforward and only require execution. Others will require a mental leap to figure out what to do.
Often times, you will want more than one person looking at a puzzle. Don't be afraid to call for help from a teammate. What we mean is, if something isn't working for you don't hesitate swapping puzzles with teammates.
You will be given a subset of puzzles to work on, and as those are answered new ones are revealed. There will also be one or more metapuzzles that take things from other puzzles and put them together in a new puzzle.
Also, Microsoft employees can look at http://puzzlehunt on the Microsoft corpnet to see examples from past hunts and puzzles.
Some hunts are written and administered by a high ranking team from the previous year’s hunt. Usually this involves a top-tier team with enough members willing to selflessly donate countless hours of their time. Team members are tasked with writing and “playtesting” dozens of puzzles. Obviously, the hosting team is unable to compete in the event since (A) they’re too busy handling day-of logistics and (B) they already know the answers (duh). Most top teams had only a minority of members with both the puzzle writing experience and the ability to commit enough puzzles to fill a full-sized Puzzlehunt. Unfortunately, this fraction-of-a-fraction has declined over the years, resulting in fewer teams that are willing and/or able to host Puzzlehunt.
Since Puzzlehunt 15, most hunts have been created by a small number of authors, scattered amongst different puzzlehunt teams. The hunt is divided into modules or threads each constructed by one person or a small team. Authors know their own content (puzzles and answers), but are otherwise completely isolated from all other content.
This enables authors to (A) have the freedom to write modules of their own creative design, size, and structure and (B) to (almost) fully participate in the hunt with their regular teams by abstention from their own puzzles. Yes, we realize authors could cheat and share answers or hints for their modules with teammates to boost solve count. Authors have assured us that their professional puzzle ethics will prevent this from being an issue.
There is no ‘logistics’ team running the hunt. Each author is responsible for managing their puzzles. As there are no individuals who have responsibility over the entire event, there is a chance that some unusual puzzle duplication may occur.
Puzzlehunt is looking for any volunteers interested in (A) Helping run future puzzlehunts, (B) Helping author for future Puzzlehunts, or (C) helping with the tech for future puzzlehunts. If interested, please contact email@example.com to connect with the organizers of future puzzlehunts.
Solving puzzles in a group is fun and easier with more people, so you might not have as much fun if your team has just a few people. If you need more people on your team, see below.
Find other people who like to solve puzzles or can be convinced to give it a try. Microsoft is full of smart people who like to solve puzzles. Try showing friends or co-workers the Puzzlehunt site.
If you don't want to make a team, you can apply to join someone else's team by clicking on the Register link in the top nav bar. (You can only apply to one team at a time.) You can also use the puzzmate distribution list or the Seattle Puzzlers group on Facebook to find a team to join, to find people to join your team, or to find other people without a team.
Each team must have no more than 12 players total. If you have any presence on the Microsoft campus, you must have at least two members who have valid Microsoft badges. Since this hunt can be done virtually, this requirement is waived if your team is operating entirely remotely. These requirements are set on a per-hunt basis and may be larger in the next or any subsequent hunt. Since ALL of the puzzles will be posted on the internet, your team can include members who are in other locations.
Keeping your team organized is important both to having fun and doing well. It's a good idea to make sure that the members of your team understand and agree to the levels of commitment that everyone is making. It can cause problems if some people are committed to work through the night and others are not, especially if not everyone understands and agrees to this in advance. Team dynamics generally work better if all team members have similar levels of commitment.
Individual and team registration is mandatory. You will not be able to access the puzzles without this. The authors need to be able to contact all teams at all times. Also, advance registration allows us to ensure team sign-in goes smoothly and the hunt begins on time. Anyone may create a team. Simply login and create a team, and copy the invite link and mail to your teammates. People who click that link are automatically added to your team, so you don't want to post that link publicly. ###
Teams may continue to change names, modify members, and edit their biographical information until the hunt begins.
The implicit instruction for all puzzles is “Figure out the final answer.” Puzzles without instructions are either classic puzzle forms, perhaps with a twist, or puzzles where the challenge is figuring out how to solve the puzzle.
Several puzzle types frequently appear in Puzzlehunt, so you would be well advised to be familiar with them. Those types include cross sum, crostic, cryptic crossword, cryptogram, drop quote, jigsaw puzzle, paint-by-numbers, rebus, sudoku, and many more. See the Resources section of the website for more information.
Anagramming is often a part of certain puzzles (e.g. cryptic crosswords), but anagramming will not be used as the final step to a puzzle unless there is a clue specifically suggesting that step. If you have an un-ordered set of letters, and there is no clue suggesting you should anagram them, look for a way to determine their order. If a puzzle asks you to anagram letters as a final step, read the instructions carefully. There may be constraints such as rearranging block of letters preserving the order of the letters within each block.
Anagramming might be clued in various ways. For instance, cryptic crossword clues use certain words to indicate you should anagram a set of letters. The puzzle ‘Siegfried & Roy’ from Puzzlehunt 8 contained a pattern in which a set of words could all be anagrammed to make cities.
Each puzzle has a simple final answer, typically a single word or a short phrase. In some puzzles you are explicitly told how to get the final answer. In others, figuring out how to extract the final answer is part of the puzzle. If you solve a puzzle and you get a long phrase, it's probably a clue to a shorter answer.
Sometimes getting to the final answer is trivial or may be explicitly explained. Other times, you may get an intermediate answer which could hint at, or highlight part of, the final answer. The final answer could be signaled by adding an extra or missing word to the intermediate answer, perhaps. Sometimes there are no hints, in which case you should look for some way to combine or connect the intermediate answers. Common techniques are to use acrostics (where the first letter of each word spells something) or for the intermediate answer to be another puzzle of the same kind (i.e. recursion).
For example, in Puzzlehunt 1 some teams guessed WINEGLASS as the answer to the puzzle ‘Sarajevo’ because it looked like a wineglass. The puzzle would have been rather uninteresting if that were the answer. The correct answer to ‘Sarajevo’ involves Morse code; it is not a coincidence that all flags had stripes or dots that formed Morse letters to spell out a word. Teams solved the puzzle by looking for similarities among the flag designs and were pretty sure they had the correct answer before they confirmed it. What are the odds that a collection of flags just happens to spell out a message in Morse code by chance?
A metapuzzle is a special puzzle that takes the final answers of other puzzles and combines them in some way. In this hunt, all metapuzzles are labeled as such. (In previous hunts, the metapuzzle might look like a regular puzzle except it’s unsolvable until you plug in the final answers to other puzzles. There will usually be multiple metapuzzles, especially in modular and threaded hunts.
All answers should be submitted through the Puzzlehunt site. The system will (A) confirm final answers, and (B) provide helpful clues for common guesses. Teams must confirm the final answer to receive points.
Teams who spam the answer submission system will have their system frozen for an appropriate amount of time, determined by the puzzlehunt organizers. The limits have been increased and decoupled between short-term guessing and over the weekend guessing, so teams who reasonably use the submission system to confirm suspected partial progress should be OK.
Finishing the hunt usually means completing an endgame, a final puzzle or series of puzzles marked as such.
The best way to win is to solve the most puzzles before any other team and then finish the endgame. The best way to do that is teamwork. Work individually on the easier puzzles so everyone is effective. Work together on the harder puzzles so you can solve them more quickly. If you get stuck, ask your teammates for help or switch to another puzzle. Make sure you keep track of which puzzles you've already solved and confirmed.
Not have fun. If you're not having fun working on a particular puzzle, switch to another one.
You finish the hunt by finishing the endgame. In threaded hunts, the endgame typically becomes available when you have solved all the thread metapuzzles. In modular hunts, the endgame typically unlocks early but you only get part of the puzzles and as you solve more puzzles you get more pieces of it.
You don’t have to solve all puzzles to finish the hunt — as long as you solve enough puzzles to reach the endgame — but you'll probably need to solve most of them. You can continue solving other puzzles after you finish the endgame but it will not affect your standing.
If you think that your team is unlikely to solve enough puzzles to get to the finish line, you can skip ahead to the endgame. Details on how to do this will be provided in the kickoff. If you choose to skip, you will receive points for solving the final puzzles like you would any other puzzles but you will not be eligible to win the hunt. You can continue solving other puzzles after you solve the endgame and it may improve your standing.
Attendance is optional, although if your team is in the top ten, we would appreciate your attendance. It’s an opportunity to learn a bit about the parts of the hunt you didn't see or didn't solve, and if it's a live event, connect with other teams and share trials, tribulations, and interesting stories.
Teams receive points for each puzzle they solve. Some puzzles may be worth more points than others. If fewer than ten teams finish the hunt, prizes will be awarded according to point count. The goal of the hunt is to win by reaching and finishing the endgame, not by scoring points. Therefore, it is possible to not win the hunt even though your team solves more puzzles than other teams.
Ties will be broken using the following criteria, in this order, as necessary. All Puzzlehunt organizers' decisions are final.
See the /ph22/play/rules page for the rules, suggested equipment, and more. If you find a rule ambiguous, even after reading the rest of this FAQ, please ask your teammates, your team captain, and finally firstname.lastname@example.org.