Rules and Tips

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OrganizationAbout the Puzzles — Tips for Solving and for Collaborating.


  • This event is an online puzzle hunt that has been created the conference GSCC 2021 (Graduate Students Combinatorics Conference, hosted by the University of Minnesota (Twin Cities)). The puzzles may include references to GSCC, to combinatorics and to math in general.
  • There are two chapters, to be played during the opening reception on April 23rd and the closing reception on April 25th (see schedule). Participants will meet online and solve the puzzles in teams of 2-4 people, in breakout rooms.
  • Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 each contain three (independent) puzzles and a final puzzle (“metapuzzle”, which will be available to teams having solved all 3 puzzles).
  • This is a private event, the Puzzles pages are password-protected and accessible only to the participants. Please ask me for permission before sharing a puzzle with someone not related to the conference.
  • The solving times for each team are collected: see Leaderboard.


About the Puzzles
  • The puzzles in this game are in puzzle-hunt style: they come with no, or minimal, instructions. The first step is to figure out what to do, and use the information or data to extract some meaning. They often require one intuitive leap in thinking (or aha-moment) to solve.
  • The goal is to find the answer to each puzzle. The answer is always an English word or an English phrase.
  • Each answer must be entered in a specific field (in a Google Form) just below the corresponding puzzle in each chapter. The form will validate if and only if this is the correct answer. You should write each answer in lowercase, and without spaces. Submitting your answer in the form also enters your team into the “leaderboard” for each puzzle.
  • To access the metapuzzle you’ll need to get all 3 puzzle answers.
  • Each puzzle is entirely contained in a pdf file. You don’t need to do technical things to the pdf (nothing hidden in the metadata or concealed by steganography!). There are no clues on this website outside the pdf files.
  • It is not necessary to print the puzzles. But it may be useful to have a way to annotate or draw on the pdf electronically.
  • You may use the internet to search for information (some of the puzzles are impossible to solve without looking things up).


Tips for solving

(what to do if you are stuck)

  • If you are confident in your answer, but the form does not accept it, check that you typed it correctly (lowercase, without spaces), and that you indeed have the complete answer (in some puzzles there may be an indication of the word length(s) of the answer).
  • Re-read the title and the introductory text carefully. They may contain clues.
  • Consider what information you haven’t used yet.
  • Thoroughly check the work that you’ve already done.
  • Google things you don’t know. Google things you know.
  • Take a break, look at another puzzle, ask a friend.
  • Look up a specific hint (Chapter 1 Hints, Chapter 2 Hints) or ask for a custom hint by email.


Tips for collaborating

(when solving as a team during a videoconference)

  • One team member can share their screen with the puzzle on it, so that everyone can annotate the screen.
  • Use the virtual whiteboard in the videoconference software.
  • Use a shared folder (e.g. in Google Drive) and share notes in documents or worksheets among your team.
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