Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Aussie Puzzling Spectaculare

SPOILERS: If you're interested in solving some of the puzzles here then don't read this; I clue in some of the answers.


There are two essential truths to the universe.

The first is that the jelly will never spread evenly on your toast no matter how hard you try.
The second is that everything becomes more interesting during exam week.  Including Australian puzzle hunts.  Yes, me and a collective of eight or nine friends decided to take on the Melbourne University Mathematics and Statistics Society's Annual Puzzle Hunt.

This was, needless to say, a very bad idea.

The puzzles are extremely difficult, each in a different way.  Look at any of them and you'll understand why. You have no idea what you're looking for.  There are no prompts, no questions.  You have to notice that each wheel has 26 spokes and infer that each contains a letter of the English alphabet.  Or that certain Chinese letters read out as English words when rotated counterclockwise.  Last year, myself and a team of six managed to solved a total of zero puzzles.

Zero out of twenty.

Despite this, I convinced a bunch of people to participate and we (somewhat begrudgingly) assembled an odd team of some nine people.  Given last year's brilliant score, I wasn't particularly optimistic.

We wrecked.  We solved ten out of twenty puzzles, on par with the MIT team, and landed 54th place out of 219 teams.

I had known previously that a lot of those in my group were rather smart but it wasn't ever as apparent as during the puzzlehunt.  One guy identified eight buildings based on their overhead street maps.  Two others programmed bruteforce algorithms for a network.  Another guy converted 2D animations of what he described as "pokemon MRI's" and created full 3D models out of them.  Yet another recognized what sort of looked to me like a barcode to be an abstract rendition of Whistler's Mother.  Same guy took what we had of a country code (an I and a P?) and correctly guessed "Swedish Meatballs" five minutes before the deadline.

All in all a really excellent experience, and I'd encourage anyone to participate.