2023's Great Puzzle Hunt draws more than 140 teams to annual brain-teaser competition

On a drizzly Saturday, April 15, Western students and community members gathered in Red Square to solve the Great Puzzle Hunt, a series of puzzles hosted across Western’s campus. Starting at 9:30 a.m. teams gathered in Red Square.

Western students CJ Chopot of Colville (left) Ally O'Connor of Lake Stevens (middle left) Deven Meddaugh of Gig Harbor (Middle) and Tommy Reiss of Kirkland (right) work together to solve a puzzle during the Great Puzzle Hunt on April 15.

As a check-in table opened in the shade under Bond Hall, a line formed across Red Square with teams waiting in line, a table filled with free coffee, fruit and muffins set up near Miller Hall. After the check-in period ended, retired WWU math faculty member Millie Johnson — the director of the Great Puzzle Hunt — called everyone together to clarify the rules of the and announced the opening of the event, inviting teams to head to one of the various locations to begin.

Teams could solve the puzzles in any order and had their pick of whichever puzzle they wanted to solve first and would have each puzzle timed for completion.

For teams headed to the location in the performing arts center, groups found the puzzle: “The Sound of Silence!” awaiting them. The puzzle was built around the names of 1920s movie stars and used their names to create a code for puzzle hunters to solve.

After the puzzle’s time elapsed, teams raced to their next locations. For teams headed to the Humanities Building, a chess board with green and orange pieces was set up with a game partially played through. Revolving around the chess theme, the puzzle: “Once a Pawn a Time!” was intricately designed around chess pieces and movements and prompted challengers to solve the puzzle by solving for the names of famous chess books and authors by finding letters based on legal chess moves on a board.

Midway through the day, under the shelter of Miller Hall’s exterior, pizza was served to every team as a lunch break along with cookies and juice boxes.

After the break ended, teams raced to their next puzzles. As teams arrived at the SMATE Building, they found the puzzle: “May the Forest Be With you!” a puzzle built around trees and finding words based on the arrangement of hemispheres which lead to the eventual code word “coachbeard” a reference to the Apple T.V Show “Ted Lasso.”

The time elapsed once more, and groups went towards their final puzzles of the day. Teams headed to Arntzen Hall were greeted with the puzzle: “Give it a Whorl!,” tasking groups to solve a complex code by deciphering the meaning of shapes called spirolaterals to find what letters each shape represents. Teams used the series of geometric shapes and calculations to find the correct letters and words to figure out the code word to move on through the puzzle.

As time elapsed, a meta puzzle was sent out to every participant. The puzzle posed a riddle to its readers and gave a Venn diagram featuring the code words with more and less than 11 letters on each side, and the common letters between them were part of the phrase. Groups deliberated and found the code word as the Great Puzzle Hunt came to an end.

The team “It's the Great Puzzle Hunt, Charlie Brown,” finished fastest of the 15 teams in the alumni section while the team “CS Whos-a-whats-its" finished fastest of the 66 teams in the WWU student section. In the open section, the team “Yellow, White, and Shredded” finished fastest out of those 59 teams. A total of 142 teams participated in this year’s hunt.

One of the participants, Ally O’Connor, an English major from Lake Stevens, said it was great to see community members coming together to enjoy an event like the hunt.

The weather wasn’t great, and the puzzles were challenging, but I got to spend the day hanging out with my friends and having a good time.

Ally O'Connor

WWU student

“I had a lot of fun trying to solve the puzzles and working together with my teammates," O’Connor said. “The weather wasn’t great, and the puzzles were challenging, but I got to spend the day hanging out with my friends and having a good time.”

Reflecting on his experiences after the Great Puzzle Hunt, Tommy Reiss, a physics major from Kirkland, also said he enjoyed the event.

“It was a great experience with my friends,” Reiss said. “It was quite challenging, but I really enjoy doing challenging logic puzzles. That’s a big reason why I’m studying physics.”

Another participant, CJ Chopot, a psychology major from Colville, said the puzzle hunt made for an interesting and fun experience.

“I really enjoyed thinking critically about the puzzles,” Chopot said. “One of the most important takeaways about the Great Puzzle Hunt was that it’s all about teamwork, which was the key in solving all the puzzles. Overall, it was a great event and I am already looking forward to next year!”

Find out more about the Great Puzzle Hunt at https://www.greatpuzzlehunt.com/.