: New: Wanted: Wanna-Be Puzzlehunters near SF

You've had this conversation. They ask you what you did last weekend. You say you puzzlehunted. They say OMG that sounds amazing, I wanna play. You encourage them to look at some MIT Mystery Hunt puzzles to get a feel for the game. After that conversation, you never hear about puzzlehunts from that person again. Unless you think to ask about it later—and they sheepishly tell you that they looked at one puzzle and it was just a list of big numbers and they had no idea what to do so they stared for a minute and gave up. They say, "You must be so smart to play in those." But what they mean is "I felt like a moron and I will never try that again nuh-uh no way."

I'm making an online puzzlehunt for wanna-bes. I have some ideas about how it should work. E.g., before the players encounter a subtly-labeled list of numbers whose prime factors are ASCII letters, make sure they've first encountered a puzzle that was just prime factoring; make sure they've also already encountered a puzzle that was just ASCII decoding. And maybe the first time they see ASCII, there should be something pretty obvious saying "Hey, it's ASCII! ASCII is a thing!" And... well, anyhow I have ideas. Some of them are good; some are bad. I need playtesters to tell me which are which. But the usual puzzlehunter playtesters probably aren't so great for judging this, being all "A list of integers between 64 and 96, of course it's ASCII and I'm a little insulted that the flavortext told me that". I need wanna-bes. Do you have some? Lend them to me.

What I have in mind: Wanna-bes with laptops play this thing while an observer observes. (That observer is me. Or else it's you if you think your friends/relatives would be creeped out if I watched them struggle with acrostics and if you're volunteering. But beware: it's hard to watch people you like struggle with something that's, y'know, obviously ASCII.) If playtesters are having fun and making progress, great. If playtesters are stumped and frustrated, observer hops in and says, "Hey I guess that puzzle isn't working so well. Uhm, pretend it said 'ASCII' in the flavortext." Observer takes notes and figures out which ideas-of-how-to-structure-a-hunt-for-beginners work well and which need to change.

If you have/are some likely playtesters, please contact me and we can talk.

[Update: If you're wondering what to tell your SF-area non-puzzlehunter playtester, you might tell them something like this draft recruitment email.]

(If you're thinking "Oh, I want to work on this, but not for this weird watching-playtesters part," I promise I'll call for collaborators/volunteers later, after playtesters have let me know whether this idea is, y'know, at all feasible and what major changes are needed. E.g., I'd feel bad for insisting "OK, you can make a puzzle with your awesome multi-layered prime-ASCII design, but only if you also make a plain prime puzzle and a plain ASCII puzzle" if playtesting reveals that "plain" puzzles don't actually help anything. This thing has already changed a lot since its inception; heck, I wasn't even working on it back then, it was other people. Actually, I guess if playtesting suggests that this general idea isn't feasible, then I won't call for collaborators later; that would be silly.)

Tags: puzzlehunts testing instructional design octothorpean

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