I'll explain my puzzling title at the end of the post. For now all I'll let on is that, as Caesar 1nce said, I came, I saw, I deciphered.
In addition, I pondered and logic-ed and clued and toiled and wracked my brain for hours in order to come up with the solutions to some of life's most well-designed problems. This Saturday was Microsoft's College Puzzle Challenge, held in the NERD building once again for schools in the Cambridge area (plus Olin, minus MIT). We arrived at noon, give or take, and began to scope out the competition. We knew that the first five hours were going to be tough, and the next five hours, even tougher! Armed with dozens of pre-sharpened pencils, favorite pens, scissors, erasers, dice, scrabble tiles, stacks scrap paper, and one laptop per child, in addition to the knowledge that prior years' winners were in the room next door, we set up our workstations and waited for one o'clock.
Throughout the semester, teams of intrepid puzzlers have been practicing with Olin's own puzzles master and chemistry professor, Chris Morse in the 'Puzzles and Trivial Phenomena' Co-Curricular. We've been working out our word analysis and straining our synapses to become the best human code-breakers we could be! We've been running circles around "the box" for months now,
so we know what to do with a puzzle when we see one!
We were handed our packet of 27 puzzles after lunch and immediately set to work. My team of four sophomores included Ilana, the wordsmith; Phil, the logician; Paul, the programmer; and myself - the demolitions expert. We worked separately at first, first figuring out what the trick even was - many puzzles are simply a picture, grid, paragraph, or series of sentences. Once the method has been deduced, it's a simple matter of finding the answer, and fast! Every puzzle's solution is a word or phrase that, once typed into the main website, adds information to the meta-puzzle (the all-encompassing grand-finale, win-the-game final element). Imagine a sudoku that starts with a blank 9x9 grid, but with each correct answer, gets initialized with more and more numbers. We raced through page after page, hurdle after hurdle. Our team's preferred method of disposing of solved puzzles was to throw them to the floor, to best rid the clutter from the table and our minds. Besides pencils scratching and paper shifting, barely any noise broke the tension.
A few hours in, I began to wonder how we were doing. I asked my teammate to check for me while I finished sorting some words. He said "we're in seventh! Keep it up!"
I thought to myself that, out of 15 teams in the area - it wasn't too bad! I had come here to have fun, after all. And it was better than I'd done last year!
Another hour passed. It's been 3.5 out of the 10 hour marathon for which we'd been preparing. I heard a shriek from my classmate Vidie (2013), followed by cheers and applause from her teammates Matt (2013) and Jeffrey (2012). Apparently, their final team member, Connor (2012), had gotten started working on the Meta-puzzle early, and deduced from the 19 clues they had already uncovered what the answer would be. He had calmly turned to his teammates and said "You guys can stop now. We've won," before typing in the answer and snagging the distinction of solving the Microsoft Puzzles Challenge 2010 faster than any other team in the nation!!
Team "Name Team Name" finished first. "The Sons of Tamarkin" from Brown University (in the other room) finished 12 minutes later, second in the nation. The pressure was on, and we were close. It turns out, my team was in spitting distance as well! We weren't 7th out of 15 local teams, but the 419 nation-wide ones! We managed to solve the 'Meta', and place 6th in the nation, in just four hours - far earlier than I could have dreamed!
When all was said and done, all five Olin teams solved the Meta. We figured out the tricks to all 27 before team Name Team Name could, but not first nation-wide. Our first-placed friends each won X-boxes, we were given gift certificates to best buy, and another Olin team won a consolation prize for good spirit.
I'm sure looking forward to next year's event!
PS: The winners are recorded here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/College_Puzzle_Challenge#College_Puzzle_Challenge_2010:_Apocalypse
PPS: This entry's title is, itself, a puzzle, known as a Caesar Shift. Here is an online decoder. Copy the text into the 'decipher' box. '1nce you've done that, set the shift to 1. http://www.braingle.com/brainteasers/codes/caesar.php
PPPS: I hear that we already have applicants starting to fill out their forms! Best of luck with all your applications! It's hard, but it's worthwhile.