Welcome to the New Website

If you are a Puzzled Pint regular, you may have noticed that the website has gotten a little facelift. The old website had been a thorn in our side for about a decade, with aborted rewrites in Node, Ruby on Rails, and again in TypeScript/Node. We had been stuck on an old version of a Content Management System (CMS) for much of that time, for various technical reasons that aren’t important to this blog post. It, and its dependencies, were getting more and more creaky, with more and more opportunity for hacks and exploits.

Each of the rewrites was kicked off by highly motivated people with a lot of energy at the start… which then petered out over time. I get it. Life comes up. We decided we needed to finally hire a professional, and thanks to your Patreon contributions, we can afford these kinds of things now. Paul from RPress answered our call and has been a delight to work with.

Based on some internal discussion and talk with professionals in the industry, we decided that creating a brand new website from scratch was a no-go and that we’d get more utility out of starting with a popular CMS such as WordPress and then extending that with custom plugins. WordPress takes care of all the heavy lifting: pages and posts, user accounts, theming, uploading and hosting our puzzle PDFs, and so on. Both the plugin and theming architecture are extensive and powerful. Paul was aligned with this train of thought and came through with what we now have.

You probably don’t care about all that, and in fact, our hope is that you don’t notice (much) difference between the old and the new site. Most of the changes are under-the-hood. They make things more secure and modern, sure. But more importantly to our volunteer-run organization, they ease the friction of running our monthly events. For us, the improvements are:

  • The event pages now have a standardized format. This not only makes them look consistent and nice, but makes the data-entry far easier for non-technical folks. It’s filling out form fields vs composing a fresh HTML document each month.
  • This falls into the above item, but is important enough to deserve its own callout. The location puzzle hints and the way the answer is entered/verified were extremely manual, a bit hacky, and very easy to make mistakes. All of this is automatically taken care of now.
  • Location puzzles auto-post on a schedule. Answers also auto-post on a schedule.
  • The list of cities on the front page is driven by data, not a hand-maintained document.
  • All of the account and permissions underpinnings are there for the “phase 2” website update.
  • We’re running a modern software stack, so can (finally) keep up with server updates.
  • Many more people know and work with the WordPress engine over the (old) Concrete5 engine, which helps with long-term maintenance.

For you, the improvements are a little more subtle:

  • Responsive design. The site looks great regardless of screen size. On your phone, you no longer have to zoom in and scroll left-to-right and back again to read lines of text.
  • Traditional dark mode as well as a light mode that’s easier on some eyes.
  • More consistency and better quality.
  • Better adherence to a posting schedule, for both the location puzzle and the answers.

There are also a couple of rough edges you might have run across. We’re aware of them and working to improve things.

  • There is a rift in our history between “Archives” and “Vaults.” The Archive puzzles follow the new templated system. The Vaults are a literal dump of the old website HTML pages into the new website. Paul did some manual work to put about a year’s worth of puzzles into the Archives, formatting the content to the new system. But it’s really not worth it to pay a developer do do extensive data entry. Expect to see more of the Vaults migrate to Archives over time. We have some volunteers lined up and are working out some documentation.
  • The “solve the puzzle to display locations” link only works on the current month, not previous ones in the archives.
  • Uncovering location puzzle hints only displays a single hint at a time. It doesn’t preserve the visibility of previous hints. This is a minor annoyance we didn’t spot until folks emailed us.

All of this work opens up the underpinnings for “Phase 2.” You don’t get to see the functional-but-janky system we have on the back end for city Game Control volunteers to enter their monthly event details. It’s a partial implementation of one of those previously aborted attempts at making a new site, and it’s been awkwardly grafted onto both the old site and this new one. There are separate user accounts and, quite literally, separate servers (one on Apache/PHP and one on Heroku/Rails). Computer people can now sit and ponder how well those two work together. The new site will allow us to migrate all of that duct-taped webapp stuff into the WordPress engine. That then simplifies managing cities and user accounts for the city GC. It’s also one less server to manage (as far as ops overhead and cost).

We hope the “Phase 2” work is invisible to you and that the site continues to look and feel the same, but know that it will simplify the monthly work for the volunteers at both headquarters and local cities. And we hope that leads to less fatigue and better events!

Portland Survey, 2023

Back in ye olden days of 2015, the Portland Puzzled Pint Game Control put together a small survey. We wanted to collect demographics, suggestions, and threw a couple of fun questions in there. It was really fun and interesting, but it’s been 8 years. It needed an update. I made some tweaks to the questions and circulated it to players during our May event in inner SE Portland.

The opening question was about the duration that folks have been attending Puzzled Pint. This question had some minor wording tweaks from the original. How long have you been “attending” switched to “solving” because… *gestures wildly around in the general direction of the past three years*.

This shows that we have some long-time regulars. But it also shows we’ve had some wonderful new people discover Puzzled Pint Portland since we returned to in-person events. Welcome! And may you slide your way up toward the right of the graph. One person, who got counted as “3+ years” had a write-in entry:

13 years

Let’s check out the stats on distances and transit. Portland is a small “big city” and the travel distances and methods reflect that. The answers show that the vast majority of people came in to the event from 5 miles or less. (Aside: that could mean they live that close, or it could mean they work downtown and jumped across the river.)

Portland has a healthy public transit system (at least, compared to the rest of transit in the US) and a great bicycle infrastructure. We waned to find out not just how far away people came from, but what method of travel they used.

Three quarters are still cars, though a nice chunk of that was carpooling. The number of walkers surprised me — I’d expected the wedge size to be flip-flopped. But it was a nice day, and a walk of 0-5 miles isn’t bad. (Me, personally? I ended up walking a mile and a half from downtown and got a gorgeous view off of Hawthorne Bridge.)

One bit of marginalia defended that they came by car “from work!”

“From Work!”

The company I work for used to do customer satisfaction surveys by a methodology called Net Promoter Score. There is both some math and some hand-wavy-magical-reasoning involved, but the gist is that you ask this “recommendation” question and people who answer 9–10 are positive, 7–8 are neutral, and the rest are negative. This shows that folks still like Puzzled Pint!

And someone likes it so much that they’ve already recommended it to a friend!

“Done!”

Next up, we asked about neighborhoods. This question helps us refine where to look for bars. Spoiler alert: everyone on the current GC team lives in SE, so we tend to bias toward that quadrant. But it’s good to get a feel for where folks are willing to travel. You can see it tapers off as you go east/west, and even a bit north/south. Between this and suggestions for bars (a later question we’ll see in a bit), we can get a good idea of places to scout. As our size increases, as more people get comfortable returning to in-person events, finding locations does become more difficult. In our peak, pre-pandemic, we needed places that could hold 120 people. At present, we’re about half that, which does open up more possible locations.

Putting on my data-analysis cap, I can’t deny that the opinions neighborhoods might be a little self-selecting, since we’d picked a bar in inner Southeast. Folks from Beaverton who didn’t want to travel to SE wouldn’t have been represented, etc. But hey! If you’re from Beaverton and would like to start up a local chapter for folks out there, please contact game control!

For what it’s worth, the location question was copy-pasted from the previous survey. I didn’t notice Fremont was misspelled last time. And so it was this time.

Called out on my misspelling!

We strive to make Puzzled Pint puzzles accessible to beginners. And I think we do end up fulfilling that promise. But there’s a pattern that repeats. As the beginners get familiar with Puzzled Pint, the format of puzzles, and strategies for solving, the “just right” puzzles start to feel a little too easy. In the past, we’ve had folks want to spin up a “Puzzled Pint, but with more difficult puzzles.” And that’s certainly something we’d encourage a motivated person to do. (And hope it’s an event that the GC could attend as players, much like DASH.) But that just-right-to-too-easy pipeline is a struggle.

Oddly, the data from this survey shows quite the opposite. And I’m curious as to why. I’m afraid I don’t have any theories. Could the puzzles actually be too hard? Hinting too obtuse? Not enough new folks are reading and understanding the “Puzzling Basics” handout on the back of the code sheet? I don’t know, but I’m open to hearing your own theories.

Always — we appreciate fun write-in comments in the margins. But much like the “13+ Years” write-in above, we do have to normalize the actual answers people give. For instance, what do you do with someone who circles two? In this case it got rounded down to 3, which is more of an outlier than 4 would have been.

When we last ran this survey, we had a simple and fun final question: kittens or puppies. Puppies won out by a nose. This time, we flipped to kittens. Make of this what you will.

We’ve had a renaissance of both Star Trek and Star Wars since our last survey, so I thought I’d also capture that opinion for the fun of it.

There were certainly some outlying opinions.

The question about bar-suggestions elicited several responses:

The open-ended “anything else you would like to share” question had a few specific requests:

  • “Find quieter places with better food. White Owl is woefully understaffed.”
  • “Vegan food options are appreciated 🙂 ”
  • “I’d like places with more vegan food options.”

As far as understaffing goes, we do check with the bar before we pick one to schedule for the month. This lets the bar manager veto us showing up, if they think we’ll bring too many people for their staff to handle. It also gives them room to schedule more people for the night. Sometimes they don’t believe us (especially when we were at 120 people, rotating bars monthly, so we didn’t get a strong relationship with any specific bar). Sometimes the message gets lost between the manager we speak to and whoever’s doing scheduling. We do our best, but sometimes someone drops the ball.

As far as food options, we’re thankful that Portland bars are increasingly accommodating to all diets. We definitely try to pick bars with vegetarian items on the menu (that aren’t just “here, have some french fries”). We don’t always think to look for vegan offerings, but will try to be better about that in the future.

Finally, there was a lot of love outpouring for Puzzled Pint…

Puzzled Pint’s Shiny New Code of Conduct

Hi friends. I just wanted to write a quick note sharing that Puzzled Pint now has an official Code of Conduct. We previously had a private one, moderating online communication between Game Control members, but thought that as Puzzled Pint continues to grow (we reached over 3500 players this month!), we should have one that is public.

What does this mean to you? Probably nothing. We have always strived to be an inclusive event, and nothing about that has changed. We’ve finally written down our feelings and informal policy into something a little more formal.

We’re open to constructive criticism and suggestions for improvement, especially from minorities who might be most impacted by the CoC. Most of the Code of Conduct policies out there in the world are for centralized in-person events, online communities, and collaborative online projects. There seem to be none aimed at distributed volunteer-run events such as Puzzled Pint. We could be wrong, but it feels like Puzzled Pint is the first such Code of Conduct document. We think we did a good job drafting it, but are open to refining it over time, if it becomes necessary.

But — please, take a moment to look it over, take it in, and help us make Puzzled Pint a better and more inclusive space.

Review: The Ordnance Survey Puzzle Book

It’s not often that Puzzled Pint receives a product to review. In fact, this marks the first time we’ve ever been sent a book to review! Today I’ll be examining The Ordnance Survey Puzzle Book [Amazon UK/ Amazon US ].

Slipping the book from its mailer, I could instantly see its amazing production quality. It is technically a softcover, but it’s paperback masquerading as hardbound. The glossy full-color cover is made of several layers of cardstock, giving it a firm feel. Instead of the cover being cut flush to the size of the pages, it’s a little larger. It overhangs the pages in the same way a hardcover book does. On the front was a detailed topographic map, with colors that pop — orange elevations, green parks, blue waters, red roads. On the back was the typical book blurb, but also a little Morse code above the ISBN number. A hint of things to come? Riffling through the pages shows that same beautiful style of map throughout. The vast majority of the book consists of a beautiful map on the right-hand page, with a series of questions on the facing page on the left.

My partner and I sat down with this book for an hour one evening. We thought we’d try a few and see how it stacks up to some of our favorite puzzle and game pastimes. As I mentioned above, each set of facing pages has questions on the left and a map to refer to on the right, preceded by an introduction to the history or relevance of the selected map. The questions rank from Easy, Medium, Tricky, to Challenging. We skipped around the book. There are 40 maps to choose from, which were “selected for a significant reason — whether that is a noteworthy moment in national history, a rare geographical feature or a site of special cultural interest.” As best as we could tell, there was no specific order or grouping. They seemed to all be of relatively the same difficulty, letting you skip around.

We picked one toward the front that looked interesting — Hotel Metropole, Blackpool, 1912 — and sat down to answer the questions. This is where we ran into a few snags. For all the beauty in product design this book offers, the “puzzles” fell into two categories: tedious searching for a thing we knew and tedious searching to match a thing we didn’t.

The experience felt a little “Where’s Waldo” (or Wally, for our British friends). Instead of combing through quirky side-characters in humorous situations to find Waldo, you’re scanning through beautifully illustrated elevation lines to find the second-highest peak. Or whether “back” or “bank” appear more times. Or a place that shares a name with a famous physicist.

The easy questions tended to be straightforward activities like “find a thing on the map” or “count things on the map.” The medium questions often pulled in some basic piece of trivia, adding challenge if you are not entirely confident in an answer — but comparable to the easy questions if you do know the answer (or look it up in a search engine). Ultimately, though, you’re still skimming through the map trying to find a word.

The Tricky and Challenging questions added puzzle elements. These were things like cryptic clues, anagrams, words with a common theme, sound-alikes (“royals hide things underground” ⇒ Queensbury), and so on. If you’re good at cryptics, you might end up with a word you can scan the map for. The other puzzle types don’t have great confirmers. Anagrams of place names, for instance, are much more difficult than anagrams of common English words (of the non-proper-noun variety), and often the anagram puzzles we typically see have some kind of confirmer structure. You end up having to go back and forth between the anagram (or other puzzle) and the map, trying to see if you can get a word to fit.

While beautiful, the whole exercise felt a little tedious, not terribly fun, and with a serious lack of “ah-ha” moments. The puzzles we’re used to will often have interlocking or thematic answers (giving good confirmations along the way). We’re not big fans of word searches, and this felt like it tread into word search territory (though I didn’t see it on any map). Ultimately, I have to admit that I may not be the target demographic for this book.

That said, it is a beautiful book, and could very well be a good choice for someone in your life. Nowhere does it define an age range, but it does feel like it might work well for someone that skews older than “Where’s Waldo” but younger than adult. Do you know a teenage puzzle fan? It’s also a book that I wouldn’t mind having out on the coffee table. It’s a great few minutes for you or a guest to browse through and to poke at an easy question. And at only £14.99, you’re not going to break the bank, if this sounds like something you have even the mildest curiosity about.

Last but not least, if you enjoy The Ordnance Survey Puzzle Book, you can look forward to the follow-up volume, The Ordnance Survey Puzzle Tour of Britain, coming this October [announcement]!

Production Value:
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DASH 11

You probably know this, but we strive to make Puzzled Pint a beginner-friendly event. Our charter is to to grow awareness of puzzle events, which we partially achieve by running Puzzled Pint every month. We see PP as a stepping-stone to more advanced events such as BANGs, MIT Mystery Hunt, and weekend-games. But informally, since the beginning, we have always kept DASH in mind as the “next step” for puzzlers after honing their puzzle skills with Puzzled Pint.

“DASH,” you ask? “What is DASH?” DASH, or Different Area Same Hunt, is an afternoon-long puzzle event that’s played on the same day in cities around the world. With regard to its “simulcast” nature, it is very much like Puzzled Pint. The puzzles are a little more advanced — though an easy track is available, and no matter what your level, hints unlock as you solve. It takes the shape of a walk around your city. But at its heart, it is solving puzzles with friends, just like Puzzled Pint.

DASH 11 happens soon, and we’d be neglecting our duties if we didn’t share the information. With luck, it’s playing in a city near you — but there’s still time to volunteer to help run it in your city.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

A patient has come down with a variety of mysterious ailments, and your team has been called to investigate. You’ve dealt with puzzle-related illnesses before, but this time you’ll be working at a much smaller scale. Diagnose! Assemble! Shrink! Heal!

Registration closes Monday July 1

A Call for Puzzle Authors — Write for Puzzled Pint!

The puzzles you see every month at Puzzled Pint don’t just materialize out of the aether. They all start as rough prototypes, often just a simple draft thrown together in a Word document, with little flavor text and no graphic design. The puzzles take several trips through the feedback loop — as first Headquarters, and later playtesters, help polish the rough edges. At the end of this process, we have a month’s puzzles ready to print.

At the moment we have the rest of 2016’s puzzles scheduled. We currently have nothing on the books for 2017. There are a few folks with theme ideas, but we’re not able to put people on the calendar until the first draft of puzzles is ready. We roughly know how long it takes to go from draft puzzles to final puzzles, but “I think I maybe have this idea for a theme and this really cool coding mechanism” is a little too vague to reliably schedule.

So this is an official call! Have you thought about writing puzzles for Puzzled Pint? It’s easier than you expect and this is your chance! While we’re happy to get puzzles from anyone, we would particularly like to see more:

  • authors who are women
  • authors who are people of color
  • authors outside the United States

And although collaborations are fine, we prefer if a single author is responsible for the month’s puzzles. This helps align them editorially, balances difficulty across the whole set of puzzles, and helps ensure two puzzles don’t accidentally use similar mechanisms. (Plus, the folks at PP headquarters would rather manage a single cat than a herd of cats.) If you’re interested in writing only a single puzzle then scroll down to where we talk about bonus puzzles.

The puzzle-writing process is simple. If you have a specific theme in mind, you can (optionally) ping HQ and we’ll let you know if we’ve heard of anyone else also thinking about the same theme. Write some puzzles: a location puzzle, puzzles played at the event, and (optionally, but strongly encouraged) a meta puzzle. Send those our way (with solutions). The solution part is important, especially for new puzzle authors. Puzzles in their draft stage often have unpolished edges, like leaps of logic that are obvious to the author but may need a little flavor text or examples before being visible to others. Once we have puzzles and answers, we’ll put you on the calendar and work with you to help refine the flow of the puzzles, over the course of a couple rounds of playtesting. Find a out more here.

If you’d like to get your feet wet by writing a single puzzle, as opposed to a whole month of them, we’re also looking for bonus puzzle authors. Some authors like to write a whole set of puzzles, including location, meta, and bonus. Some want to focus on just the main set, without a bonus. We find that players enjoy having a bonus puzzle available, but we cannot always offer one every month. If you’d like to submit just a single puzzle, we’d be happy to work with you on getting it ready for a bonus. (Hey! Here’s a dirty little secret: one can make an arbitrary puzzle fit just about any month’s theme by simply changing flavor text and graphic design.)

This is your call to action! Write puzzles for Puzzled Pint!