Monday, March 28, 2005

The Possibilities Are Endless(?)

During the MIT Mystery Hunt this year, one aspect of one of the meta-puzzles by which our team was fascinated was the seeming straightjacket constructors would have had to create that meta-puzzle. (The orange puzzle used the words Adman, Rime, Pastries, Plague, Born, Maracas, Lama, Tunic, and Yale.) The solution is here.

What one notes about this particular meta is that there are very few options for each word. When it came time to try solving the related super-meta, which involved these nine words plus 13 others (which I won't list here), we constantly were stymied at how impossible it would be to create any sort of super-meta with such limited fodder. The actual solution however, showed the constructor had an amazing degree of flexibility, and not only had numerous possibilities for each of the 13 secondary puzzles, but could easily change one if necessary.

When developing a puzzle, it's always vital to determine how flexible your construction can be. A crossword with three stacks of three 15-letter entries is extremely difficult. And while it has been done, is it necessarily more fun to solve, or is it a puzzle where we simply admire the construction? A crossword with a loose construction, but fun clues and fun entries may not be as admirable, but is usually going to be more fun to solve.

I've been guilty in the past of trying to construct puzzles that have an overly tight restriction, and the resulting puzzle suffers. I recently constructed a puzzle involving song lyrics. To keep a running theme, I tried to select only songs that fell into a certain category. Yet what I found is that I had very few options for the songs, and the solvability suffers as a result. So I may go back and cast my net wider, sacrifing the limiting theme, and choose song lyrics which will work better in this format, without worrying about commonality.

Some people can pull it off of course, the cryptogram that encodes to related words, a crossword with only 19 black squares. But for the beginner, keep your possibilities open if you want to keep the puzzle fun.


Some people can pull it off of course, the cryptogram that encodes to related words...

For the record, having just done this: I was indeed less interested in making something fun to solve and more interested in seeing if I could make an impressive construction. (Computer-assisted, I should note.)

But then, that was the Enigma; and sometimes, I think, the impressiveness of a construction is just as valid a goal for a puzzle in a puzzle-writing forum. I wouldn't have put it into, say, a Mystery Hunt.

By Blogger Lance, at 5:27 PM  

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