We do Information Reduction Puzzles. We get this mysterious pile of
information. We want to reduce it to a secret message.
Today we're talking about confidence and acceleration
Confidence How much you trust some piece of the puzzle that you
maybe-figured out. "I kinda think that 37 across is THUNDER LIZARD
but maybe not because that conflicts with 22 down being POSSE."
Acceleration You can go faster as facts reinforce each other.
That last square on the Sudoku's the fastest to fill in.
Not that we tend to finish filling in our grids. I don't need
the whole crossword, just those ten circled letters—well, really,
nine of them and figure out the tenth.
If players need to extract some fact from one layer of a puzzle
to get to the next (or to finish) make darned sure they can be confident
of that information. Negative example of a crossword in which two
"weird" words cross.
Maybe have more than one way to get at that fact.
Maybe let them get to the next layer with not-quite-all the facts
from this layer.
Shout-outs to folks who think like puzzle theorists and write/talk
Foggy Brume of P&A Magazine posted some "Puzzle Standards": things
you can do for a puzzle to make players think without frustrating them.
Foggy Brume's Puzzle Standards Part 1:
Don't ask players to ID more than 20 pictures; it's hard.
If your puzzle leads to a clue (e.g. "Child or Roberts") instead
of a word, make sure it's darned specific; don't be coy.
Check your answers (in the sense of how a crossword's across
answers "check" the downs they touch); give confidence.
Make the puzzle fit the answer; theme.
Foggy Brume's Puzzle Standards Part 2:
Keep flavortext simple; less red herrings, please.
Give solvers blanks or a grid to fill in; don't be so mysterious,
give players a clearer goal.
Don't just keep writing Identify-Sort-Index-Solve puzzles; Foggy's
so sick of these mystery hunt staples that he coined the ISIS
Play through the puzzle, even though you know the answer; think
about "usability", the mechanical experience of solving the puzzle.
Ordering: if it's not important, order the clues anyhow, if only
to indicate that ordering isn't important; "Oh, they're in
alphabetical order, so there's no information in the order".
Foggy Brume's Puzzle Standards Part 3
Don't confuse obscurity with difficulty; kids have teh internets now.
Too few "a-ha"s is bad, so is too many; it's like Ian's wow factor.
Give your solver a starting point; as the Anonymice would put it,
give them a crank to turn.
Brent Holman asks: Scott, what puzzle design have you done lately?
Tinkering with some software to aid crossword construction, but
it ain't close to ready yet. Keep your eye on
In general, not good collections of old bay area puzzles; let alone
decompositions thereof. Some of the old web sites have fallen off
of the internets. Joe DeV (et alia?) put together a great
list of MIT Mystery Hunt puzzles. There's a good collection
of MS Puzzle Hunt puzzles, but it's behind the MS firewall.
Sean Gugler points out: maybe some of these case studies could be
possible points of discussion in a forum.