Tuesday, May 31, 2005

I can't resist posting this link...

... and if you follow the link, you'll see why. You'll need to scroll about halfway down, to the paragraph starting with "In 1983, between work on the two operas, Knussen composed Music for a Puppet Court", and the paragraphs immediately following it.
Spoilers Ahead

Puzzle piece in Slate

Slate has a new piece up about Sudoku (aka "Number Place") puzzles.

I was one of the people who responded to a message the author of this piece sent along to the cruciverb list, and some of what I wrote seems more generally applicable, especially to those individuals who (like me) have an interest in creating brand new puzzle types.

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Here are my thoughts as to some reasons why sudoku is currently as popular as it is:

1) Sudoku provides mentally engaging activity without requiring excessive cleverness. Sudoku puzzles have a simple structure that is easy to explain and understand, and because the puzzle is structured to require deductive logic exclusively (or almost so), the technique for solving them is also easy to understand. Not only that, the deductive structure ensures that few mistakes (and no dead-ends) occur, and any mistakes that do occur are easily corrected.

2) Effort is rewarded.

Sudoku provides visible progress at a steady pace, and as more of the puzzle is completed, it becomes easier to solve.

3) Sudoku puzzles tend to vary significantly from one another.

While the same basic techniques are used to solve any puzzle, the sheer number of combinations for the puzzle - millions for each 3x3 area of the puzzle - generally guarantees that two arbitrary sudoku puzzles provide very different solving experiences.

Reason 1 + Reason 2 + Reason 3 = a puzzle that always provideds mental stimulation and a feeling of accomplishment. I get tired of solving these after the second or third puzzle, and move on to something else, but many people do not get tired of these puzzles, and this formula for consistent gratification keeps them interested in solving.

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It turns out the author's experiences with these puzzles, as described in his article, seem to align fairly closely with my analysis. It's instructive, at the very least, that puzzle enjoyment for the non-puzzle-geek types is not tied into puzzles being difficult, but rather with the solving process itself. Kinda like all the cliches about "it's not the destination, it's the journey".
Spoilers Ahead

Monday, May 16, 2005

Harvard Puzzle Hunt

Last week a small group of students, inspired by the MIT Mystery Hunt, held the Harvard Puzzle Hunt. While the hunt only attracted a few teams (eight teams registered, four teams participated), the hunt itself was very well done, with some very well done puzzles.

Here is the URL for the Hunt: http://hcs.harvard.edu/hunt/. Click on Grey Labyrinth and use the username grey, password paladin to gain access.

Of special note are the puzzles American Idol, Majority Report, Daily Double and Mixed Reviews (all round two puzzles). The Remix is a standard idea for a puzzle, but earns points for using numerous ungoogleable clips.

Discussion of the puzzles, with heavy spoilers, are here: http://www.greylabyrinth.com/discussion/viewtopic.php?t=8033&start=0
Spoilers Ahead