Club collaboration introduces TJ Puzzle Hunt 2021


Photo courtesy of TJ Puzzle Hunt Facebook Page

Although this year’s puzzle hunt is virtual, many of the rewarding experiences still remain the same. “When you solve a puzzle, you get this flash of euphoria. It’s so much better as a puzzle maker because you get to make those moments, and you get to experience those moments while you’re testing them,” senior Joshua Lian and Quizbowl Tournament Director, said.

Evelyn Li, Staff Writer

After careful planning and organization, Jefferson’s Quizbowl club and Varsity Math Team (VMT) launched the 2021 TJ Puzzle Hunt on Monday, April 26. Based on a specific theme, this series of puzzles is open to teams of Jefferson students. Although the hunt began on Monday, students can register as individuals or in teams and participate until winners are declared.

“A puzzle hunt is a collection of puzzles structured in a specific way– in a sense, the puzzles are stacked on each other. There are a lot of examples online, done by colleges and other well-known teams, that are super big,” Quizbowl Tournament Director and senior Joshua Lian said. “We really liked doing puzzle hunts. So, we decided to try to see if we could pull one off.”

Alongside Quizbowl co-captain and treasurer seniors Kevin Zhang and Vishal Kanigicherla, Lian collaborated with VMT statistician and junior Garrett Heller to make this year’s puzzle hunt possible.

Traditionally, VMT hosts the annual Puzzle Hunt as a club activity. However, since this year’s virtual setting arised many complications, Heller, Kanigicherla, Lian, and Zhang decided to take initiative to help host the 2021 hunt.

“Given that everything has been especially weird this year, it didn’t look like VMT was going to do their usual hunt. So, we– the Quizbowl club– decided to reach out to VMT to set this thing up. We wanted to at least try to have one fun activity that we normally have at TJ still go on,” Lian said.

Moreover, teams utilize logic and intuition as well as every clue provided by the puzzlers– a team of students who created this year’s puzzle hunt. In order to complete the hunt, students aim to solve a final metapuzzle: a puzzle where previous puzzles are needed to solve it. Not only is this hunt open to puzzlers of all levels, but the puzzles will also all be available for solving even after determining the winner.

“Every puzzle hunt is different. Each has its own themes, unique puzzles, and different structures. We sat in a meeting and talked over what we wanted this year’s puzzle to be, and then we ran with it. The only real constraint that we had was that it had to have puzzles that were easy enough for people to enjoy them,” Lian said.
Furthermore, due to many students choosing to stay virtual this school year, some teams have found efficient ways to communicate with each other.

“Texting is definitely less convenient; however everyone has different schedules, so we usually text when we make progress. Once someone makes a breakthrough, we get in a call, and we work on it together,” freshman Vishal Nandakumar said.

Additionally, teams are not only in it for the prizes. Although prizes are given out to the winners of this puzzle hunt, many teams participate for the rush of enjoyment that solving these puzzles give. Not only do many teams enjoy the process of hunting for clues, but they also learned important lessons.

“The best part of these puzzles is finding out a tiny, obscure clue and then the puzzle gets solved. It’s just the most amazing feeling,” Nandakumar said. “There are moments when you see something, and it doesn’t even make sense. So, you think, “Why would I have to look at this Wikipedia article about something random?” Then, it turns out, if you dig into it, the whole puzzle comes together. So, do not give up because it is really easy to get stuck with puzzles where you have nowhere to go. Whenever you have a feeling that something might work, keep trying.”

On the other hand, the team of puzzle writers encountered challenges while creating the set of puzzles. While puzzles should be challenging enough to retain the interests of participants, they cannot be so difficult that players cannot find a single clue.

“Managing puzzle difficulty has been very difficult. We test the puzzles ourselves and try to spend a long time fixing them before releasing them. Coming up with the concept is also hard as well. However, once you have a good concept in mind with a handful of answers and a storyline, writing the puzzles comes pretty easy,” Lian said.

With over 25 teams competing, Lian was extremely grateful for the positive response from students.

“We got a lot more teams participating than previous years of puzzle hunts,” Lian said. “I think a factor in that was that we stepped up the advertisement this year. So, that certainly helped.”

Through thorough planning and expertise in puzzle making, the club collaboration that made the 2021 TJ Puzzle Hunt possible continues on with successful participation. The team of puzzle makers look forward to seeing more teams participate and enjoy the intriguing activity.