Other Smogon Puzzle Hunt 3 [Wrapup]

Level 51

the orchestra plays the prettiest themes
is a Site Content Manageris a Community Contributoris a Top Tiering Contributoris a Contributor to Smogonis a Top Smogon Media Contributoris a Team Rater Alumnusis a Forum Moderator Alumnusis a Battle Simulator Moderator Alumnusis a Past SCL Champion

- this wrapup approved by Circus staff -
First, congratulations to Team Exeggycute and Umbryan for winning Smogon Puzzle Hunt 3, closely followed by gAME Tourists, with both teams managing to complete the hunt before hints were released 24 hours in. A hearty congratulations also go to Pepsimen for being the top Smogon team, and I hope you're all enjoying your banners! In total, we had 162 teams competing this year, with 150 completing at least one puzzle, 137 solving at least one metapuzzle, and 60 teams completing the hunt. Thanks to everyone for your enthusiastic participation!

For those of you who missed the hunt and would like to work on the puzzles, the full set of puzzles and solutions can be found at https://spo.ink/sph20archives.

As always, this wrapup post will discuss the hunt, the process behind it, and how we thought things turned out in the end, from a staff perspective, so (many) spoilers are incoming! If you haven't tried all the puzzles and still intend to—especially the metapuzzles—you'll probably want to skip over this post before doing so.

(A note: since I find it impossible to write about myself in the third person, this post will be written from my (Level 51's) perspective.)

Writing the Hunt
Shifting Audiences, Expectations, and Goals
It may be best to reflect on this year's hunt from the perspective of our goals for the hunt:
  1. Keep the hunt relatively friendly to our evolving target demographic of intermediate puzzlers
  2. Provide a range of interesting and new ideas to (a) expose intermediate puzzlers to a wider range of puzzle structures than most hunts, and (b) cater to experienced puzzlers with more content of interest
  3. Introduce a fresh meta structure that isn't just 2 consecutive metas
  4. Keep the intro round a challenging but achievable goal (and hopefully rewarding experience) for novice solvers
  5. Have a more polished and smoother end-user experience, even as far as Discord goes
First off, what might be the elephant in the room to some—the hunt was definitely tuned to too high a difficulty for our main target demographic, with just 3 all-Smogon teams finishing the hunt this time, compared to 6 in SPH2 and 9 in SPH1. On the whole, however, we don't think we did a really bad job on our goals; the difficulty increase aside, we felt that the range of puzzles we offered teams did fit the bill, featuring a far more varied and interesting selection of puzzles than in previous hunts. Smogon Puzzle Hunt has, we think, long since moved away from being a hunt targeted specifically at absolute beginners; many Smogon teams have grown with the hunt and are now intermediate-tier solving teams who are definitely more than capable of going all the way on smaller hunts. We want to continue to support and challenge these teams, though it seems this time we may have pitched the ball a little too hard.

On the other hand, while we aim to cater to Smogon puzzlers, we recognize that a large part—in fact, the majority—of the teams that participate in SPH are experienced teams from outside Smogon (as evidenced by the state of our leaderboard this year). It remains our goal to tread the line of difficulty in such a way that we can have puzzles of particular interest to teams across the spectrum.

Theme and Structure
As always, the theme and structure were built up over a few months in PMs between lovemathboy and myself. Pokemon Mystery Dungeon wasn't the first option we started with, but I feel constrained to not mention any other ideas in case we use the idea in future.

Our focus was mainly on how viable it would be to design a meta structure and metapuzzles around that theme. While dwelling on metapuzzle ideas and thinking about metas in general, I was reminded of Puzzle Boat 6, which I had played with TSBI in 2019, and how much fun I had found the matching-answers-to-metas mechanic to be. After discussing it with lovemathboy, we came to the conclusion that matching metas wasn't really that significant a difficulty spike, and that it was something we wanted to implement in SPH3; we figured that writing metas with clear enough "signatures" wouldn't be too hard and would be a fun addition to the hunt.

With the general meta structure in our heads, we started working out specific numbers. We figured it would be easy enough to write a reasonable storyline around our hunt structure, so after convincing lovemathboy that the hunt didn't actually need to be accurate to the plot, I unilaterally decided on the structure of R1 + 3 R2 metas + metameta and began writing the metas. The R1 meta, Uxie, and Mesprit were finished first and opened for feeder puzzle reservation in late March, followed by the Azelf feeders in April.

The regular puzzle unlock structure was a bit easier to nail down. Round 1 was a fairly short round, and we pretty quickly settled on a 1.5:1 solve:unlock ratio, across 4 unlocks, which was intended to let teams see all the puzzles a bit earlier but not get the meta too early.

The Round 2 logic was similar; we came up with a rough estimate of what we wanted our unlock:solve ratio to be in Round 2 so as to not overwhelm teams at the start of the round but still leave some slack for later on; we didn't want the unlock structure to be too tight later on in the round as we expected teams, especially the weaker ones, to get stuck on puzzles quite a lot later in the round. We ended up with a final ratio of 1.2:1, which we thought worked quite well.

For a while, we considered a meta structure where each meta had its own point track, with each meta's feeders contributing towards unlocking it. After some discussion on avoiding the leakage of meta assignment information, we eventually decided that the separation probably wasn't worth it, and that we wanted the metas to unlock in a fixed order anyway.

The metas were originally written as "easy" (Uxie), "medium" (Mesprit) and "hard" (Azelf), but as feeder submissions went on, we realized that we somehow ended up with a huge concentration of difficulty on the Uxie feeders, which meant that we couldn't place it too early, or we'd risk getting a metric ton of backsolves on its later-appearing feeder puzzles. Additionally, Deusovi mentioned that it was probably best for teams to get more time to think about the Azelf meta, since we predicted it was going to be quite difficult for some teams... and that's how we ended up unlocking the metapuzzles in reverse order.

Metapuzzle Development
Our first few metapuzzle ideas, based on the game itself, weren't anything amazing, due mostly to a lack of familiarity with the game itself (and thus what datasets could be used for writing metas). Additionally, SPH1 and SPH2 both had rather boring metapuzzles revolving around the same key idea of words hidden in answers, and I knew that pulling a random dataset from PMD was just going to lead to another one of those, which was something I wished to avoid. Instead, we finally took the leap into mostly non-Pokemon metas, which I think was one of the things we got correct this year—I thought the increased scope of meta ideas let us get a lot more creative with our metapuzzle constructions, and I thought the metas (especially the three Round 2 ones) came out themed pretty well.

Great Expedition (1-M)
I still remember the exact moment I came up with this mechanic! I had been on an ingame data bender for a while, unsuccessfully trying to do something where Pokemon categories line up with meta answers and identical letters are extracted... you get the idea. I sometimes dabble in the TCG and I've wanted to incorporate it into a puzzle hunt for a while now, so seeing the "tag team" terminology line up neatly was very nice.

Uxie, Mesprit, Azelf (Round 2 metas)
Since story and theme don't tend to come across very well in Discord-based hunts, I tried to sort of theme these three metapuzzles similarly to give a sense of cohesion to the round—besides the inherent trio theme they have going on naturally, each of them features a prominent circular figure on its puzzle page, usually with some element of rotation (letter shifts in Azelf, rotating feeders in Uxie, and at least some form of direction in Mesprit). I've written more thoughts on each metapuzzle in their respective Authors' Notes which I won't repeat here, but I was very happy with how this meta set turned out overall.

This might not be particularly relevant, but you can see in this spoiler tab below the relative amount of spreadsheet space used to plan each of the three metas (from left to right: Uxie, Mesprit, Azelf).
Oh, and if you thought Azelf's meta answer was particularly violent in its current state, it's probably a good thing we didn't try implementing talkingtree's idea:

Saving Temporal Tower ("Round 3" / final meta)
This was actually written pretty late in the end... we were internally calling this the "metameta" for the longest time under the assumption that we would involve the meta answers, since I had specifically written the words of our final meta answer into the meta answers. One early idea, conceived after I came up with the Atbash pun for Azelf, involved using a transformation clued by each meta answer to transform a list of words (and/or a list of answers to small minipuzzles). However, we couldn't come up with convincing transformations for the other two meta answers, and we valued having interesting meta answers over having a complex final puzzle, and were content to have the final puzzle be more of a fun (and potentially humorous?) victory lap of sorts. The text adventure format was a late decision; we were hesitant to code it in Inform, since it could easily be text dumped, but fortunately the wonderful rf215 offered to code the entire thing with a cute hash function. We hope teams enjoyed our unintentional backsolve checker, and that you all had fun trying to wheel-of-fortune our answer!

Moving Forward
Preparing SPH is a lot of work, not just in terms of writing and testsolving the puzzles but also from an administrative point of view—even after the hunt has started, there's a need to constantly be on the lookout for errata reports, Staff pings, and of course hints, which are the main sink of Staff time during the hunt. Notably, this stress is added to by the Discord format; the chatroom format obviously isn't particularly optimized to our needs as puzzle hunt staff, and with many different things happening in many different chatrooms simultaneously, it's easy to get overwhelmed. This is especially true at our levels of staff presence—there were only about 4 to 5 staff who were consistently active and responding to hints throughout the week.

There are essentially two distinct thoughts here, with a few ways to resolve each one:
1. There are disproportionately few staff members for the amount of effort needed to sustain this number of teams.
This is the simpler of the two issues, with basically two ways to resolve it. The first is to scale up staff presence by inviting more people to join the SPH staff. This isn't quite as easy as it sounds; to prevent staff team "bloat", we'd need to find solvers who are not only experienced and dedicated but also willing to forego participating in SPH as a solver, which is rarer than one may think. The second is to scale down staff effort, for example by providing only pre-written hints throughout the hunt, or writing fewer puzzles so less editorial work is required. We are also hesitant on implementing such ideas, since they will significantly impact the solver experience.

2. The Discord system requires more (consistent) staff effort than more customized alternatives.
This one is a little more complex. Discord is a great platform to make the hunt experience more personal and potentially more pleasant for solvers, since they get to interact with staff directly, but I suspect it's also more consistent effort for staff (compared to the large but one-off effort investment of setting up a proper website). For example, replying to signup PMs, managing the signup list, and thereafter manually assigning team roles to new members in the ~2 weeks leading up to the hunt is disruptive to last-minute hunt work; errata during hunt take slightly more effort to correct; and making text remotely reasonably copy-able required adding TXT links to the corner of our PDFs (which also have to be updated during errata). The reduced perceived distance between staff and solver on Discord also affects solver expectations, such as a decrease in expected waiting time for hints, which puts additional pressure on staff to deliver. (Of course, this could also have been due to our prompt responses to hints early on in the hunt.) These are all very small things, but they're very constant and they add up.

So how can this issue be addressed? One option is to make the best of the Discord format. SPH Bot could potentially be further automated to collect signups from a webpage so it could handle signups; the puzzle pages could be moved to a static site; we could purposefully temper solver expectations somewhat, especially with regard to hint timings; and so forth. However, these feel more like patches to me, and some issues with the Discord format can't be fully resolved this way (for example, !solved taking up a lot of space on screen). The fact that many high-ranking teams didn't do their solving in our Discord server itself, and mostly used it as a submission / status / hint interface, seems to imply that the Discord experience may not be a high priority to many teams. (Of course, many teams have expressed the idea that the Discord experience is an integral part of the SPH experience, and it would be a shame to lose it—this is also something we're taking into consideration, but please understand that care for staff members probably needs to come first.)

One reason we're hesitant to continue with the Discord setup is its lack of scalability. While Discord can technically contain a maximum of 500 channels per server, it becomes extremely unwieldy long before this number is even approached. The SPH3 Discord server had over 160 roles, and adding each one took a surprisingly long time due to this excessive load. Each "team channels" category can only hold 50 team channels, so getting to any particular team was already a mess, and SPH is only going to grow. Consider these numbers from each of the last 3 SPHs:
  • SPH1: 63 teams, 13 finishers
  • SPH2: 94 teams, 41 finishers
  • SPH3: 162 teams, 60 finishers
In team count alone, SPH3 grew over 72% from last year, and this is even after we intentionally stunted its growth by not advertising it in locations like puzzlehuntcalendar.com, and this year leaving it off the Pokemon Showdown news ticker. From a staffing perspective, Discord just isn't going to be sufficient to handle the excessive amounts of load.

So where does this leave us? The staff are currently brainstorming ways to integrate both a hunt site and a Discord server so as to attempt to get the best of both worlds—the superior usability of a hunt site combined with the personal experience of a Discord server. But eventually, if it continues to exist in the long term, SPH is going to outgrow even this compromise. I think it would be a fair assumption to say that future SPHs will definitely be a different experience from the last three; some teams may see it as an improvement, and others may see it as a deterioration of sorts, but the only certainty is that SPH has grown too large for the status quo.

Team Awards
Some teams stood out to us during the hunt for a few different reasons⁠—we'd like to congratulate them all here!
  • [META], for having both the first guess and the first correct solve in the hunt!
  • Synod, for having the highest accuracy rate among finishing teams, at just 59 guesses to complete the hunt (including 7 partial answer submissions)!
  • galarian weezing., for having the fastest full forward solve of This Is The Only Logic Puzzle, in just 4 hours and 19 minutes!
  • Mennonite Institute of Technology, Les Gaulois, and Timjaninja, for narrowly finishing within the last 20 minutes of the hunt!
  • Eevee Cuddlers of /r/PictureGame and Mind Your Pidoves & Cubones, for their literal last-minute finishes, with just 20 seconds and 5 seconds left, respectively!
  • Timjaninja, ✈, Polaris, and Dogs Bound By Rules, for completing the hunt as solo-solving teams!
  • Singles Ready to Stay Inside, for their last-second solve of How Did We Get Here?!
First off, the guesslog for the hunt can be downloaded here! It comes as a .sph file (Some Punctuated Hypotheses, of course). We've also compiled a spreadsheet of stats that you can find at https://spo.ink/sph20stats.

A brief explanation of each of the sheets in this spreadsheet:
  • Overall: An overview of some stats about the hunt in general, plus some other assorted stats that didn't really go anywhere else.
  • Puzzles: Individual puzzle stats: solve/guess accuracy, hints requested, and how they fared on the feedback form.
  • Team accuracy: Solve/guess accuracy stats for each team (sorted by whether a team finished, accuracy, and number of puzzles solved for non-finishing teams).
  • Hints: Number of hints each staff member responded to, and how many hint requests each author's puzzles caused.
  • Wrong guesses / puzzle: A list of the most common wrong guesses for each puzzle.
  • Wrong guesses / overall: A list of all wrong guesses which were guessed by at least 20 different teams.
  • Unlock → Solve: Times taken for each team to solve each puzzle, timed from when they unlocked the puzzle. (Note that teams that joined late have their first puzzles still timed from hunt start, due to a lack of data.)
  • Start → Solve: Times taken for each team to solve each puzzle, timed from the start of the hunt.
  • First to N: A table of the first 25 teams to reach N solves, for values of N from 1 to 37.
  • UNDERTALE anagrams: Breakdown of the anagrams of UNDERTALE teams guessed for Substories.
  • TITOLP times: Times for teams to solve each individual part of This Is The Only Logic Puzzle.
  • Puzzle construction timeline: A very rough timeline of puzzle construction; each red bar indicates the approximate time from the time the puzzle was reserved to when its construction was completed. (Each box represents one day; times are mostly rounded up.)
Highlight Reel
Between answering hint requests, the staff managed to spend some time watching teams progress through the hunt. Here's a collection of some of the more interesting answers we saw from teams, as well as some fun stuff teams shared with us through the feedback form!
All The Right Words
  • [META], as the very first guess in the entire hunt, guessed EROTICVOLCANO
  • puzle guessed CRUELERSPEECHDUEL
  • Mechabob's Salty Shoals guessed SEAURCHIN
Vertically Challenged
  • Our lord and savior jkittykitkat guessed ANSWEROFEXPANSION
  • Rainbow Connection guessed SHOTPUT, which seems a little hard for Magikarp to do, to be fair.
  • [META] guessed FURRYSTEVEN
  • Dan City guessed FURRIES
  • Crossword and Crosshield guessed GENOVATEDTALK
Real Estate Mogul
  • Reborn's Most Trusted Citizens guessed ITSFREEREALESTATE
Great Expedition
  • Our lord and savior jkittykitkat guessed SOMEWHERE, which is technically true, I guess?
  • we live in a society guessed NEWHORIZONS
  • Despacito by Lagoon Squad Ft. Ed Sheeran guessed SNORTTHEM
  • Despacito by Lagoon Squad Ft. Ed Sheeran guessed THEPARKINGLOTONTOPOFWALGREENS
Round 1 meta backsolve attempts
  • Mind Your Pidoves and Cubones guessed MEGALOVANIAEXCERPT
  • Keep Puzzling guessed MISSSCARLETGX
  • French fries guessed LETSGOEXTINCT
  • Breakfast Club guessed AVERAGESEXRATIO
  • pluru guessed DONTGETEXCITED
  • Five Puzzlers Anagramming Randomly guessed YGIVENX
  • Five Puzzlers Anagramming Randomly and ponzi scheME TAnuki guessed LGBTSEX
  • Five Puzzlers Anagramming Randomly and ponzi scheME TAnuki guessed AGEDSIX
  • have you tried pressing B when the pokeball closes? guessed IGOTOEXTREMES
  • Not Gonna Raichu A ❤ Song guessed AGAYSEXSCANDAL (and immediately followed it up with profuse apologies in chat)
Candela Effect
  • Psyduck Gizzards guessed SENTIMENTALCOPY
  • Team Exeggycute and Umbryan guessed HYSTERESISLOOPS
  • Team Exeggycute and Umbryan guessed JOHNPAULII
  • Exegg Cuties of /r/PictureGame guessed EEYORE
  • White Maria guessed RUMPELSTILTSKIN
  • no gnus is good gnus guessed HORSEMACKEREL
  • Despacito by Lagoon Squad Ft. Ed Sheeran guessed SUBSCRIBETONIANTICONYOUTUBE
  • kwargers guessed SENTIMENTALPOPULATION
  • A number of teams seemed to believe in the power of random anagramming, but some teams had some interesting ideas about what anagrams could possibly be answers:
    • Dogs Bound By Rules guessed GEARSTOP, GEARPOST, RAGEPOST, TOEGRASP, GEOTRAPS, and of course, GROPESAT.
    • Middle Class, perhaps inspired by Undyne's subpuzzle in Substories, guessed GOTSPEAR, and followed it up with the new Twitch emote POGSTARE.
    • White Maria guessed STOPGEAR and SEGAPORT
  • idk bro guessed WANTSEX, and to make the timeline a little clearer, WANTSEXRN
  • Despacito by Lagoon Squad Ft. Ed Sheeran was a bit more succinct, guessing WHATTHEFUCKISWRONGWIITHYOUGUYS
Exploration II
  • 9 minutes after unsuccessfully trying LOFTSRAILSALLOWS, oztuzzlers guessed IGIVEUP, which to be fair does sort of fit the prompt of "WHAT THREE WORDS".
  • idk bro used a different three-word guess of ILOVEYOU to try to win over SPH Bot.
  • Big bean benzene guessed IMATAPAYPHONEINMISSOURI, but were they also on their knees in their bed in the pouring rain in the middle of the night?
  • Looks like what3words took teams all over the world! I'm not sure how some of these came about.
    • (っ◔◡◔)っ ❤ habib ❤ guessed ERASERUPONDECEMBER
    • WIT guessed BADOMENFARM
    • We Tried ;-; guessed VIBRATEPLANTWISDOM
  • ✈ guessed JURASSICPARK
  • V. M. Varga guessed ROBOTSINDISGUISE
  • bookmark guessed ADESIRETOHOLD
Dimmed Wits
  • Reborn's Most Trusted Citizens guessed BANCRIMSONCLUPEA. If only I could!
  • Teal Tigers guessed BLOODYOPTIMIZER
  • puzle guessed THISPUZZLESUCKS, which to be fair was probably CrimsonClupea's next guess.
  • Minds of Evil guessed INCOMPETENCE
  • [META], responding to the hopeful flavortext, guessed IVERYMUCHDIDNOTENJOYTHISGAME
  • ACDecidueye guessed VRISKASERKET
  • no gnus is good gnus guessed THETHIRDDEGREE
Just Drop It
  • Dan City guessed ASSHALLOFSHAME
  • Despacito by Lagoon Squad Ft. Ed Sheeran guessed HASHOFALLNAMES
  • Despacito by Lagoon Squad Ft. Ed Sheeran guessed OHFELLASHAMANS
  • Saved By The Bellossom guessed SHELLOFASHAMAN
  • [URGENT] guessed HALLOFSHAYMIN. I'm sure lovemathboy liked that one :)
Bad Sandwiches
  • Rainbow Connection guessed PRISTINEBURGER, perhaps expecting the puzzle to extract "OPPOSITE OF TITLE"?
  • clang gang guessed BREEDINGPROGRAM, which I guess in a way would create bad sandwiches.
Order Up!
  • Team Quatrospacito guessed CONFUCIUS
  • Dan City guessed DOGFISHCULT (?????)
  • Sexy Slakoth Slackers guessed GRANDMAPOCALYPSE
It's a Long/Short Story
  • Dan City guessed MORSECODEISASHAM
  • Despacito by Lagoon Squad Ft. Ed Sheeran guessed NIPPLEGOAT, followed up by SORRYITOLDHIMNOTTOGUESSTHAT. (We appreciate the attempt.)
  • As expected, this puzzle received a number of anagrams of UNDERTALE, but some of the submissions were a little far out there:
    • 6 cheesy singles and Flourt guessed NUDERTALE, which is unfortunately probably a video that exists somewhere.
    • ponzi scheME TAnuki guessed DENTALRUE, like when you realize getting both your wisdom teeth out at once probably wasn't the best idea.
    • Needlessly Eating Sentrets guessed NUDETALER, which I will charitably interpret as a homophone of someone who makes clothes but doesn't wear them.
    • Flourt guessed NEDURLATE
    • Flourt guessed RENALDUET
    • Flourt guessed TUREENLAD
In-Flight Entertainment
  • Not Gonna Raichu A ❤ Song guessed MONEYBALL
  • Beast Coast Plan guessed FALLYMEBUST
  • come back to us later guessed ZLOTY
  • Hee-ho guessed TALKYMEN, surely the next big advancement in wearable communication technology: a cross between a walkie-talkie and a Walkman!
How Did We Get Here?
  • Teddy Set Go guessed ETITULARADVANCEMENT, even though we specifically said NOT to. ;P
  • no gnus is good gnus guessed ISTHISAWHOLEASSNEOPETSMINECRAFTCROSSOVERPUZZLEWHOWASONCRACKANDDECIDEDTOWRITEANEOPETSMINECRAFTCROSSOVERPUZZLELMAOOOOOOOOOOO. It is with a heavy heart that I must confess that I wrote this puzzle in a completely sober state of mind.
  • no gnus is good gnus guessed ITHINKILLHAVETOCLEARMYHISTORYAFTERTHIS, though I think—given how long their lmaos were becoming by that point—that their search history was probably the least of their worries.
  • Smogon Smogoff, on the other hand, was perhaps not as big a fan of Neopets and Minecraft, guessing SEEINGDEATH.
This Is The Only Logic Puzzle
  • Odd Group guessed LEVEL51. Hi!
  • Hugh plugh, remembering that answer phrases are only ever alphabetic characters, instead guessed LEVELFIFTYONE.
  • Trickmaster guessed WEREALLYHATETHISPUZZLE, followed by JUSTKIDDINGWELIKEDITMAYBE, and finally ITSALOVEHATERELATIONSHIP. (As someone who had to watch teams go through this, I'm inclined to agree.)
  • no gnus is good gnus guessed CANIGUESSFORFUTUREPUZZLES
  • Despacito by Lagoon Squad Ft. Ed Sheeran sent in their poetry submission two puzzles early, with their attempt of STARISFALLBABAISYOUWEVEHITAWALLANDHAVELOWIQ
  • Team Eagle Time guessed THINKBEFOREDMING, which is actually good advice and I think my favorite answer submission from this entire hunt.
Losing Focus
  • Barbara Kingsolver guessed RICKASTLEY, followed closely by NEVERGONNAGIVEYOUUP
  • no gnus is good gnus guessed KEEPGOING
  • idk bro guessed BLURREDLINES
I Think, Therefore Iamb
  • galarian weezing. guessed NOWWHATEUROPE. (Europe has yet to reply.)
  • Team Eagle Time guessed NOWWEAREASONE, thereby submitting their souls to the binding contract that is SPH3.
  • Team Turmoil guessed NOWWRITEUROWN, which is technically what they had to do.
  • Breakfast Club guessed HOWLOATHESOME, which I imagine was at least one solver's reaction to the puzzle, actually.
One Arrow, Two Eagles
  • Barbara Kingsolver guessed CONFUSIONVIRTUE, which is an admirable guess for a Chinese-English crossover puzzle, to be fair!
  • SPecial oPS guessed AAAAAAA
  • Middle Class guessed HOWNOWPURPLECOW, in what I must say was a commendably large amount of effort to go through the puzzle just to make a shitpost.
  • Team Exeggycute and Umbryan guessed LOVESYMBOLNUMBERTWO, after extracting PRIN*, realizing the artist Prince had assumed said unpronounceable characted as a name, and then jumping down a huge rabbit hole.
  • Not Gonna Raichu A ❤ Song guessed FOXMISDEMEANORS, somewhat stretching the definition of "English phrase" in their backsolving attempts.
  • Dan City guessed OURLORDANDSAVIORDOGFISH, marking the genesis of the DF cult
  • Despacito by Lagoon Squad Ft. Ed Sheeran, ever the nostalgics, guessed CALLINWICKING
  • Despacito by Lagoon Squad Ft. Ed Sheeran guessed OHLAWDHECOMETH
Expressionist Exhibition
  • Shady Gentlemen guessed ADOBEACTIVIA, the second half of which may indeed be a Chobani product. I wouldn't be surprised
  • Despacito by Lagoon Squad Ft. Ed Sheeran guessed PUNCHLETTUCEANDFUCKIT, please do not do that sir.
That's a Wrap!
  • Odd Group guessed NOOOOOOOOOOOO (oooooooops)
Digging Up The Past
  • Squirtle Squad guessed ETCHEMIN, surely a close relative of CATCH 'EM ALL
  • Pokemon Ami guessed GAMELUST—I enjoy playing RuneScape, but not that much.
Getting the Digits
  • Barbara Kingsolver guessed SEXUALCONFUSION
  • Barbara Kingsolver guessed OUTRAGEPORN, whose actual meaning I have just discovered while writing this wrapup.
Moves Like Swagger
  • Squirtle Squad guessed EACHROWFATTEST
  • White Maria guessed IRAQWAR, which I guess was something that was compounded, technically.
Another Obligatory Animal Crossing Puzzle
  • have you tried pressing B when the pokeball closes? guessed GRIFFIM
  • Exegg Cuties of /r/PictureGame guessed SOUPFIN
  • pluru extracted DOWNBUT from the puzzle, causing them to guess NOTOUT. Undeterred, they followed that up with a guess of IN.
  • A few teams came up with creative ways to get Azelf to comply with the team's demands:
    • Psyduck Gizzards guessed ALPHABETIZEHISASS. Ho no, how afluw! Ahtw ddi oopr Aeflz eerv do ot deeersv ahtt?
    • Eevee Cuddlers of /r/PictureGame guessed SEARCHGOOGLEMAP
  • Multiple teams guessed MAPLESTORY, which we just found out was an anagram of POETRYSLAM.
  • Dan City guessed POETRYSLAP
  • Chicken & ROFLs guessed MORALPIETY
  • Timjaninja guessed DYADSPAINS
Saving Temporal Tower
  • Five Puzzlers Anagramming Randomly guessed THEMOMENTOFNOOTH
  • Dan City guessed TIMEISANILLUSION
  • Dan City guessed THATICANTEXTRACT
The Obligatory Animal Crossing Puzzle
Have you tried pressing B: "after solving the first animal crossing puzzle, one of our less video-game aware teammates: "Is this what animal crossing is about? You make hybrids of animals?""

Real Estate Mogul
Keep Puzzling showed us one of their unique puzzle-brainstorming strategies:

Idontknow from Crossword and Crosshield provided an ominous (but arguably flattering?) description of this puzzle:


Just Drop It
One member of idk made quite possibly the most meta mistake of the hunt:

me: hmm 3 letters then 2 letters... i bet that's off by one... oh wait that doesn't fit the third word
*3 minutes later*
It's a Long/Short Story
Despacito by Lagoon Squad ft. Ed Sheeran looks about set for their team name for next year:

This puzzle appears to have left quite the impression on summitwei from [META]:

awa from PUZZLE GANG PUZZLE GANG suggested a potential trio for Papyrus's subpuzzle:

Losing Focus
Polaris found the puzzle a nice change of pace after 2-14!

no gnus is good gnus may have accidentally inspired a future puzzle construction with their backfired attempt to make the clues clearer:

I Think, Therefore Iamb
Smogon Smogoff: "I got to use pog unironically in a sonnet which was like. a highlight of my life, tbh."

One Arrow, Two Eagles
kwargers kept up with the spirit of the puzzle in their hint request:

Squirtle Squad: "Google Translate got drunk and listed "Palestinian" as a possible translation for 人."

That's a Wrap!
Shaymin Fan Club: "whoever wrote this genius transcription did not want to be the very best"

Digging Up The Past
EF: "We had to have a 2 man adventure in runescape with new accounts for 2-21 and got aggro'd by a monster many times while looking at the map"
Just Say No To Rare Candies: "We logged into our nearly decade old runescape accounts to solve 2-21."

Saving Temporal Tower
Exegg Cuties of /r/PictureGame had some interesting ideas on what to invoke:

P Squad managed to avoid an unfortunate backsolve attempt from this puzzle:
[9:49 AM] pluviometer: i thought the answer would have “beat” in it based on the marching band clue
[9:49 AM] pluviometer: but i could only think of offbeats
[9:49 AM] pluviometer: which would change to beatsoff. lol

Pepsimen did their solve of this puzzle via Discord's Go Live feature in a voice chat, leading to some interesting interactions:

We got a total of 84 poems from different teams! Some teams decided to make another sonnet adapting a Taylor Swift song; others took their own approach to either the format or the content.

Some of our favorites included this Swift adaptation from Synod:
In town bereft of thought my nights are passed,
Thus folk oft say, and aye, they surely do.
Vast crowds I court, yet not a one does last,
'Tis what is said, this much I grant be true.
Yet still do I carouse, proceed, fly forth,
This tune I hear: all strain is ably borne;
For those who game shall e'er pursue their sport,
And they of enmity shall cast their scorn.
Anon I move my form both to and fro
And thus convuls'd, spring free; no burden weighs!
'Tis sure that spurning lovers rend their beau,
As sure as mountebanks shall cheat all days.
To you I state again my sole concern:
I quake, I shiver, quaver, jounce, and churn.

and an adaptation of a non-Swift song from Puzzluck:
The Yuletide season draws upon us now
Yet trinkets, baubles, stones, I shan't require
A single being doth my heart allow
To quench the burning flames of my desire
I sit and gaze upon my festive fir
A raging fire casts a hearty glow
When offered gifts or presents, I demur
Indifferent to the boxes wrapped below
The sentiment I wish to thee express
(Beyond what thou could ever comprehend):
Thy handsome face I must alone possess
Thy presence makes my broken spirit mend
My greatest wish I beg will come to me
For all I want this Christmastime is thee

We also received this poem on the many meanings of "swift" from Dogs Bound By Rules:
What's in a name? Doth "swift" within refer
To nimble birds that wing o'er dale and hill?
Or author Jonathan, whose Gulliver
Did find himself on stranger beaches still?
Is it the tongue, invented by an apple,
That weaves enchanted tomes on iOS?
Or could it be a spell that's cast in battle,
A shooting star that sure will never miss?
And yet, the one named Tom is best to know;
For all the other swifts: the moth, the band
Do pale beside his repertoire (although
If wordplay turns you off, I understand).
So please accept this pun; no need to thank me:
"Baby, I've got a space," said Taylor blankly.

as well as a heartwarming poem from Timjaninja on his experience in the hunt:
A Pokemon hunt’s annu’l start arrived
And I, a middling hunter thought that I
Could have a go alone and so I strived
To do my best but now I wonder why
I didn’t form a group with other folks
Whose puzzling skills are far better than mine
Those big brain people, gals and other blokes
Whose puzzling prowess is quite divine
But lo, I’m actually faring well
As far as expectations were concerned
I made it here, at least, as you can tell
And as I’ve puzzled on I’ve surely learned
That maybe I can do this on my own
Because with hints there’s nobody alone.

Sadly, we don't have enough space to feature all of our favorites here—some other wonderful sonnets include Pokemon Ami and Kakuna Rattata's meta commentaries, two puzzles embedded in sonnets by Mennonite Institute of Technology and P Squad, and a line-by-line Swift adaptation by Eevee Cuddlers that includes a 'translation' of "uh-huh, that's right".

All of the sonnets we received are compiled here!
Finally, we're happy to have received all of your questions for our AMA! We'll be posting our answers to those questions in the coming days in this thread, so do look out for those—if you have any questions to ask that you didn't get a chance to submit through the feedback form, feel free to ask them in this thread too!

This event was only made possible through the dedicated hard work of our wonderful team of staff members! Thank you to everyone who helped make this project a success through your countless hours of hard work, from the last-minute puzzle writing to the late-night hunt staffing to the entire week of pasting hundreds of copies of the same hints about the same four puzzles. Thank you!

Project Lead
Level 51

CheeseMuffin, rf215

Puzzle Design
Deusovi, Dogfish44, Level 51, lovemathboy, Mistrals, talkingtree

ALT, CheeseMuffin, Deusovi, Dogfish44, Level 51, lovemathboy, Mistrals, rf215, talkingtree

Special Thanks
- Yoshiap and talkingtree for their previous work on SPH Bot
- The Circus staff for letting us host this event on Smogon!
- The Dutch Plumberjack for coordinating the prizes
- Smogon's social media team for their help with publicizing this event
- My brother for designing the hunt's amazing logo
- All our solvers; we couldn't have made this event a success without you!


you lost the game
is a Battle Simulator Moderator Alumnus
Seriously, staff- thank you so much for everything! I can't even begin to imagine how many hours were poured into the makings and running of this hunt, and I can definitely say it turned out beautifully. You guys are amazing!!

As for the mini-AMA, were there any puzzle ideas that were worked on that the staff deemed too easy/hard to make the final puzzle hunt?
ok, now that i actually finished the damn thing (only a week late :P) i really need to thank you guys for hosting this!! most definitely the most fun i've ever had hunting excluding mitmh 2020 (altho sph came very, VERY close!). almost all of the puzzles were very well constructed and clever, and the "bossrush" of metas at the end was very thrilling! thank you guys for writing such great puzzles and doing a wonderful job with hints and moderation. i'm nothing but impressed!! can't wait to see what's next to come for sph :)

thanks to staff for the awesome hunt! it was cool interacting with staff and other participants and the puzzles were cool. my question is, if you could have any puzzle in the world written for you ,what would your dream puzzle be?what was the funniest thing you saw in the discussion channels? how does it feel to have a fandom? were there any puzzles in the hunt that you couldn't solve yourself?

Level 51

the orchestra plays the prettiest themes
is a Site Content Manageris a Community Contributoris a Top Tiering Contributoris a Contributor to Smogonis a Top Smogon Media Contributoris a Team Rater Alumnusis a Forum Moderator Alumnusis a Battle Simulator Moderator Alumnusis a Past SCL Champion
AMA part 1: Hunt Preparation (puzzles)!
Feedback form 3 said:
What puzzle did you think was going to get the least amount of forward solves?
Dogfish44: At the start I think we assumed Chorded, purely on the basis that even though it’s fairly straightforward, it’s the last puzzle out of 26.
Level 51: how the heck is chorded straightforward wtf
Dogfish44: I can explain how it works within like 3 sentences + it’s hard to miss the giant STENO :P
Level 51: As someone who failed to testsolve it, I thought Chorded was one of the hardest puzzles in the hunt to get into and originally didn't want to put it too close to the end, but the "prime puzzle territory" of 17~18 (puzzles just before unlocking Azelf) was full of other hard puzzles (1A2E and HE COMES) and we wanted to spread out the harder puzzles in the hunt, so in the mixing and matching, Chorded ended up being right at the end. I basically knew from the start that it was going to get the fewest forward solves, but hey, some puzzle's gonna have to go at the back eventually.

Feedback form 4 said:
Puzzles that were the hardest or most fun to construct?
Feedback form 35 said:
what was your favorite puzzle to write?
Feedback form 91 said:
What were your favorite puzzles to write and watch people solve?
Feedback form 99 said:
What puzzle are you proudest of writing?
Feedback form 129 said:
Which was your favorite puzzle to make?
Feedback form 151 said:
What were your guys's favorite puzzles to construct?
Feedback form 174 said:
What were your favorite puzzles to write?
Feedback form 186 said:
Which puzzle are each of the writers most proud of?
Deusovi: Hardest was probably HE COMES, just because of all the ways characters could be lost in copy-pasting. I ended up with three versions of the file - one with all of my notes on each puzzle, plus the characters separated out. I'd edit that one, propagate the changes to version 2 (which just had all of the puzzle data, separated out for visibility), and then change those to version 3 (the one you all saw).
Favorite was… I'd say Losing Focus? It was one of the few ideas I had that wasn't an absolute pain to construct, and it was hilarious to see people open the puzzle and realize what exactly was going on.
Level 51: For puzzles I'm most proud of, my brain says Azelf or Getting the Digits; both are fairly significant achievements for me. Azelf is probably one of the first times I've written a metapuzzle that felt neat, complete and almost like a puzzle in itself, while Getting the Digits is the first time I've written a proper logic puzzle for a hunt. On the other hand, my heart says I Think, Therefore Iamb was my favorite puzzle, simply because a lot of people liked it and I was happy to let out my poetic side.
For puzzles that were the hardest to write, Getting the Digits may have been up there, if you include the time I spent logically solving the Kaku Rogue from GPH 2018's USPC in preparation for writing the gimmicked grids. I Think, Therefore Iamb was actually surprisingly hard, since I wanted to be fairly faithful to the iambic pentameter and also use words and sentence structures that didn't sound too modern (for example, the word "communicate" was cut from the Mean sonnet because it doesn't sound like something Shakespeare would write, and its third quatrain was revised a few times too).
Some close runner-ups that might have been hard if I hadn't had the power of coding on my side to turn them trivial include the Morse-congruent pairs of words in It's a Long/Short Story (particularly the constraint that both sides of each matching pair needed to be picture-cluable), and the selection of good Light Screen-able words in Moves Like Swagger (which also couldn't be affected by the other options).

Feedback form 91 said:
Were there any puzzles that did you did not like to watch people solve?
Feedback form 129 said:
Which do you think was the meanest puzzle in this hunt?
Level 51: I'd like to think that if there were any puzzles like that we wouldn't have put them into the hunt… but to be honest watching people go through This Is The Only Logic Puzzle can get kind of heartbreaking. I thought the idea was alright when it was first passed by me during editing, but I didn't quite realize how difficult the individual parts were going to be.

Feedback form 35 said:
how come all the puzzles weren’t about pokemon?
Level 51: For a puzzle hunt that's open to the general public, having 100% of the puzzles be about Pokemon sounds like a way to alienate your audience very, very quickly.

Feedback form 40 said:
hardest puzzle to testsolve?
Level 51: My solo testsolve of Compounded took like 5 hours, and I never got anywhere in my testsolve of Chorded—I had opened the MIDI file in MuseScore as sheet music, so I never saw the STENO message, and even when Deusovi pointed that message out to me I really had no idea how to apply the notes to a steno keyboard. I'm not very good!!!
Dogfish44: Interestingly, it’s difficult to solve Candela Effect when your pages two and three don’t load in! I sympathise with those who managed to make progress in spite of missing those two pages...

Feedback form 50 said:
How do you guys write logic puzzles like the ones in 2-14?
lovemathboy: The best advice I can give is to make your logic puzzles like how you would solve them. Start with an empty grid and put some clues down. Make as many logical deductions as you can. Put a few more clues down. Make as many logical deductions as you can. Rinse and repeat. That’s it, really, the more puzzles you solve and make, the better you get at the genre and you’ll see more complex deductions that you can create. (The most awful type of logic puzzles are the computer-generated ones, most of the time they’re either boring to solve or very bashy in nature)
As for part 1 & part 2 (the 2 star battles with different rules that share the same grid layout), I made it the same way as above, except this time I have 2 grids of deductions to keep track of. It’s honestly a game of tweaking – making minor adjustments and re-solving the entire puzzle to see if it’s unique. There are shortcuts such as using a program to verify uniqueness, but these shortcuts come at a cost of puzzle quality.

Feedback form 53 said:
@Deusovi: What made you decide to attempt to summon a demon into everyone's computer?
Deusovi: I had an idea, and Level 51 didn't stop me.

Feedback form 73 said:
I always like hearing authors talk about their puzzles. Any notable changes that happened during editing/testsolving?
Deusovi: STENO was added in Chorded. (Yes, the original version of the puzzle didn't even have that! It was findable, but way too hard of a connection to make.)
Level 51: The original version of Substories had the anagram clues hidden in the actual flavortext of the puzzle, which made it basically impenetrable—it was later nerfed by moving them to the front page as blurbs.
Dogfish44: Expressionist Exhibition originally managed to miss the fact that Flash Frozen would make even more sense with alliteration. The original designs also were more directly clued as ‘ADOBE YOGURT’ as well.

Feedback form 129 said:
What was your funniest moment creating this hunt?

Feedback form 151 said:
Any particularly interesting ideas that didn't make it into the final puzzles?
Level 51: Mistrals wrote a fairly interesting puzzle based on a dataset of Smash players. You may be able to guess what happened next!

Feedback form 110 said:
how do you approach the design process of these puzzles and how does one join the design team for a puzzle hunt? I'm a game design student who likes to design puzzles, so I'd be interested in doing something like that at some point
Deusovi: I'm honestly not sure how to join the team for one besides starting your own. I've been doing puzzle hunts for about 8 years now, and this is my first time writing for a hunt. The easiest way is probably to start a hunt yourself! We're always happy to see more hunts pop up. I'd recommend starting small - look at the size of Puzzle Potluck 1. A good hunt doesn't need to be big, as long as the puzzles are solidly constructed and well-tested. (As for actually designing puzzles, we talk about that more later on. In short: start with a theme (coming from the answer, usually), and make sure each step follows logically from the previous ones.)

Feedback form 148 said:
For whoever made 2-16: how much Taylor Swift did you listen to while writing those sonnets?
Level 51: Not actually that much, since actually hearing the songs sung is probably detrimental to trying to put them into iambic pentameter, but I did end up reading lyrics a lot—for a solid week whenever I opened the internet browser on my phone it had a lyrics page open.
talkingtree: When I first started writing I had her whole discography on shuffle and then I realized it was more distracting than helpful.

Feedback form 151 said:
who thought it was a good idea to not put any flavor text on Fissures
lovemathboy: I thought it was fine during testsolving :shrug:
Deusovi: Yeah, this didn't end up being a problem in testsolving at all. I was surprised people tried overlapping things and didn't really use the title. I guess solvers in the hunt can't really use the information of who wrote the puzzle or when it was written. I enjoy puzzles that let you communicate "indirectly", but it's much harder to get indirect messages like that in the middle of a hunt, under time pressure and not knowing the author. Hopefully if we run this again, we'll be able to use more testsolves to help us iron out issues like this.
Level 51: I also testsolved this puzzle and hooked onto the idea of the title fairly quickly, so my testsolve went fairly smoothly (up until extraction, but that was before the small boxes had been added). I do think the title should be viewed as a potential source of flavor-like hinting, but I also didn't realize there were other potentially reasonable-sounding interpretations of the title (even if they seemed a bit more complex).

Feedback form 125 said:
Did you have a lot of puzzle hunting experience before being able to create good puzzles yourself? Are there any specific experiences that helped you become a better puzzle creator?
talkingtree: Hunting makes you a much better puzzle creator, and creating puzzles makes you a much better hunter. The former is fairly intuitive; you know what makes the solving process enjoyable from participating and can get inspiration. For the latter, it’s a lot easier to know what would be feasible from the constructing side if you’ve already tried it yourself and can eliminate some ideas off the bat. You can also get a much better idea of where to look if you know the best methods/spots to hide additional clues.

Feedback form 186 said:
Will Taylor Swift's puzzle ever reach the same levels of infamy as Ed Sheeran's, or will the greatness of 2-5 overshadow it?
Level 51: I certainly hope that if people remember the "singular music artist obsession" puzzles from SPH, they'll remember I Think, Therefore Iamb over Musical Expression, since I'm far prouder of the former; I wouldn't mind Dimmed Wits making an impression in the collective consciousness of SPH solvers, though. I also think that it's quite funny that you chose to use the word "overshadow" there lol

Feedback form 186 said:
Which artist should I ask to drop an album the night before SPH 4 next year?
Level 51: After being sniped by an album drop two years in a row I'm not sure I can take it anymore
Dogfish44: Honestly the album sniping is going to actively encourage me to write puzzles about my faves. Would love another Bjork album…
talkingtree: I’ve accepted the fact that we’re doomed to be unlucky with this if we decide to lean heavily on an artist for a puzzle.

Also, how many puzzles did you write last minute?
Level 51: The hunt started at 9pm on Saturday for me. I spent the morning (~10am-12:40pm) constructing Just Drop It, and in the evening (~5pm-7pm) I put together How Did We Get Here?. I think those were the only two written from start to finish and testsolved day-of, though if I recall This Is The Only Logic Puzzle did need to have some fixes applied even later on (~8pm+). The response sonnet for I Think, Therefore Iamb was also written in about 10 minutes, after the first team had already unlocked it (~1am).

As for the mini-AMA, were there any puzzle ideas that were worked on that the staff deemed too easy/hard to make the final puzzle hunt?
Level 51: I self-cut a few of my puzzle ideas during writing because they seemed too boring for the hunt (mostly identification/matching/sorting/indexing steps). They were mostly like How Did We Get Here?, except with a really boring extraction step. I won't elaborate on them further in case they get used in other hunts, but in general I don't think we cut ideas because they're too easy or hard; "too easy" is rarely a problem, while "too hard" can generally be nerfed down to an acceptable level (e.g. via flavor text or helpful confirmation steps, like alphabetical clue answer ordering).

were there any puzzles in the hunt that you couldn't solve yourself?
Dogfish44: Do you want the chronological or alphabetical listing?
(It's not that the puzzles were too tricky—just the experience of a test-solver who's only done about four or five hunts total, with a lot of the puzzles I missed being a case of "Dogfish should go Google things or read the flavour text". I can recommend test-solving to anyone wanting to improve their overall puzzling skills, by the way!)
Level 51: If I was solving in this hunt, I would have had absolutely zero chance of solving This Is The Only Logic Puzzle (I tried doing some steps alongside solvers during the hunt and got nowhere pretty fast). My failed testsolve of Chorded also indicated that I wouldn't be able to solve that puzzle in a hunt setting :P


Come back tomorrow for the next section of the AMA, on admin preparation and running the hunt!
I'm rather late on this (and breaking up the ama in the process hehe), but thank you so much for hosting this hunt. As always, the puzzles were top notch (still a bit tilted at 2-2 tho) and staff was helpful and kind. SPH 1 was my first puzzle hunt, and even though we only solved a few puzzles that year, I was hooked. Fast forward a few years and doing puzzles is a pretty big part of my life. Thanks for doing all you do to foster the development of this community year after year. :psyglad:

If you're reading this we are letting you know this is a simulation we've been trying to reach you fo...

Level 51

the orchestra plays the prettiest themes
is a Site Content Manageris a Community Contributoris a Top Tiering Contributoris a Contributor to Smogonis a Top Smogon Media Contributoris a Team Rater Alumnusis a Forum Moderator Alumnusis a Battle Simulator Moderator Alumnusis a Past SCL Champion
AMA part 2: Hunt Preparation (admin) & Running the Hunt!
Feedback form 17 said:
I'm always curious in the timeline. When did you have the layout set out. When were the metas completed, when were all puzzle drafts completed, what puzzles were cut, etc.
Feedback form 108 said:
Timeline of how the hunt came together!
Feedback form 145 said:
How long did it take to make all the puzzles and plan everything?
Feedback form 146 said:
What's the puzzle making process like (time-wise, where do ideas come from, how is difficulty/order of puzzles decided?). How involved are various puzzle authors with each other's puzzles? Is the puzzle hunt created "backwards" starting with the metapuzzles?
Feedback form 183 said:
How long did it take to write the hunt?
Feedback form 186 said:
Could you please provide a timeline of how many puzzles still needed to be written before the hunt?
Feedback form 192 said:
When did writing for this hunt start?
Level 51: A (not-so-potted) timeline:
  • 21 Sep 2019: PMD theme idea floated for the first time
  • 2 Jan 2020: I warily finish construction of the Uxie meta, which was originally called "The Gears of War" and a bit more flexible, in case we changed the theme
  • 9 Jan 2020: Nintendo Direct reveals a remake of PMD, which we take as a divine sign to lock it in as the hunt theme
  • 16 Jan 2020: First draft of Azelf is written while sitting in a Starbucks and sent to lovemathboy; the extraction was to put all the second halves of feeders in one long row and just take selected boxes out of it. lovemathboy is not impressed. Neither am I, to be fair. (Also, I didn't actually buy a drink at that Starbucks, which I feel kind of bad about.)
  • 26 Jan 2020: I produce the first draft of 1-M, featuring such wonderful feeders as CREATIONISM and FOREST FIELD. lovemathboy is not impressed.
  • 7 Feb 2020: While walking back to my dorm room, I am suddenly struck by the inspiration to write a metapuzzle based on Pokemon Tag Team GX cards. I almost blurt it to lovemathboy, but quickly delete the message because I realize no one else was gonna testsolve it lol
  • 8 Feb 2020: 1-M is finished, I send it to lovemathboy, and he gets owned by it so I dump a heck of a lot more flavor on the puzzle.
  • 17 Feb 2020: Azelf is sent to talkingtree, who also justifiably thinks it's lame.
  • 12 Mar 2020: talkingtree sends me an Azelf idea that involves mapping fingers to keyboard keys based on touch typing layouts, which is slightly better but something I still feel iffy about.
  • 22 Mar 2020: Mesprit meta is finished; lovemathboy testsolves it the same night, saying "how do you find these stupid shit that are amazing for puzzles"
  • 28 Mar 2020: 1-M, Uxie, and Mesprit feeders are opened for writing.
  • 30 Mar 2020: I think a lot about the GPH puzzle Everything and More.
  • 30 Mar 2020: talkingtree and I throw bits of Azelf ideas at each other until somehow the entire puzzle structure is lying on the ground at our feet. I pick it up and proceed to brag about it for the next four and a half months.
  • 20 May 2020: With hardly any progress made, the team makes the collective decision to add Deusovi to the team. (To be fair, he offered!)
  • 30 Jun 2020: I realize we need more testsolvers, and reach out to DF44, who agrees to join the team on short notice.
  • 25 Jul 2020: The hunt begins!

Feedback form 186 said:
Was 3-M written before or after 2-A, 2-M, and 2-U?
Level 51: haha
lovemathboy: hahaha
Level 51: It was written significantly after the three Round 2 metas had been finalized. As I mentioned in the wrapup, I did bake the answer BY THE SPIN OF THEIR TEETH into the letters of the three metas, so that in a worst-case scenario we could fall back on a simple "index by number" sort of mechanic; thankfully, though, we did manage to iron out a fun mechanic before that.

Feedback form 129 said:
Did you guys actually split up into teams for writing / testsolving like you said you would last year?
Feedback form 142 said:
How did testsolving and editing work on the hunt? What worked, what didn’t?
Level 51: So, this year, we actually started the process with fewer writers and testsolvers than we had last year. A few of our writers from last year indicated early on that they either weren't able to or weren't interested in writing for SPH this year, so we were short on manpower from the start. However, we did have CheeseMuffin and rf215 this year, and many authors seemed genuinely interested in writing more for SPH this year, so we pressed on nonetheless; early puzzles were each written by one person and testsolved twice by two separate people. Even after we added more staff, the trend mostly continued because we still didn't have enough active testsolvers (I think by the end Deus, DF and myself were basically just writing and testsolving each others' puzzles).
Testsolving and editing were both done purely on a one-to-one basis; they technically worked, in the sense that they produced viable puzzles, but I would probably say only barely; solo testing can't give you a good idea of how a team of multiple people will approach your puzzle, and with so few testers it's easy to get a skewed perspective on what parts are difficult. (A good example of this was Fissures, which both testsolvers found quite agreeable, but which actual solvers did not.)

Feedback form 32 said:
Did the difficulty/length turn out to be what you expected? How long a hunt was this supposed to be?
Deusovi: uh whoops
Level 51: lol
Deusovi: This definitely ended up longer and more difficult than we had anticipated. That's mostly my fault - this is my first time writing for an "actual" hunt, and I had a lot of new ideas I wanted to use (forgetting that hunt veterans were not our target audience).
Level 51: With the more complex meta structure this year and some longer and more involved puzzles, we definitely knew that the hunt was going to be more difficult than last year's—my initial thoughts were that we would see the first finish in around 12 hours, but I genuinely did expect similar performance among full-Smogon teams to previous years, so I was caught off-guard by the poorer performance there—in retrospect this was likely due to the fact that puzzles got difficult and stickier much earlier on in the hunt, so teams didn't really have time to gather enough solving momentum to motivate themselves to barrel through the longer puzzles later.

Why do you guys think this year got so many more signups than previous years if you advertised it less?
Level 51: I think the places we did mention it in this year were a lot more receptive of the hunt this year than in previous years; last year was the year where I felt we made the transition from an amateur hunt to really being an actual calendar feature on many solvers' radars (to mix my metaphors a bit). There was a ridiculous proportion of strong teams in our hunt this year, which I think is a direct result of our advertisement strategy (focusing more on puzzle-ish places and less on potentially very high-volume locations).

Feedback form 4 said:
Would be interested in hearing how much the staff actually lurks in team channels while we're solving, & any funny or interesting things you saw. How is it to have the gift of dramatic irony towards so many people at once? Best interactions with teams?
Feedback form 2 said:
What was your favorite moment while running the hunt?
Feedback form 35 said:
what were your favorite interactions with teams?
what was the funniest thing you saw in the discussion channels?
rf215: We lurked a lot! Checking to see where teams are, their reactions to various puzzles, making sure hints made sense to people (I toggled notifications on and off for so many channels, I think I broke discord mobile). First solves of the later puzzles were also super exciting. There was a lot of cheering in #staff for wins, and a lot of noooooo’s when people got unexpectedly stuck.
Dogfish44: Puzzle hunt hosts are probably the nosiest people in existence - I was definitely checking in on teams (especially after hinting) throughout. The best dramatic irony was watching the backsolve attempts on PRIDE - Pride and Joy, Pride and Prejudice, Pride Month, Pride Parade, Pride of Lions (ha!), Civic Pride…
Oh, and I developed a cult. That was a thing that happened.
Level 51: I don't mute any of the channels in servers when I host hunts, so whenever there's significant chat in a channel I tend to peek in and subsequently get quite invested in the team's progress, so I'll keep checking back. (Things are even quieter pre-hunt, so there's an even better chance I'll actually notice if someone says something, as some teams may have discovered.) I do limit myself to only requesting to sit in voice chats for teams whose members I personally know, though, which meant I missed out on hearing the solving process for a few of the good teams :(
My personal best moments of the hunt were the first few hours, watching teams solve our puzzles for the first time. Each time a team got the first solve on a puzzle (especially one of mine, and especially especially my more convoluted constructions) I popped off a little.
Having the dramatic irony isn't actually a great feeling; it's like watching a romcom where one of the main characters hasn't figured out that the other one likes them yet. There were multiple times in the hunt I really had to stop myself from PMing a member of a team who was agonizingly close to the final answer, lol.

Feedback form 99 said:
What's the most painful experience where a team got stuck on part of a puzzle that you had to sit through?
Level 51: Early on in the hunt, Shaymin Fan Club submitted RSA GUILD TRIP and then RSA GUILD SHIP for 1-M. Wondering what was going on, I went to go take a peek at their work, only to discover they had labelled their feeder answers with the wrong Pokemon name, causing them to extract the erroneous R and S. Cue 15 minutes of me sobbing in front of my laptop before they realized their mistake and promptly called in the correct answer.
Deusovi: What L51 said. There were several other moments like this (mainly people not recognizing that there was an invoke command in 3-M), but this was one of the most memorable.

Feedback form 4 said:
Things you wish teams wouldn't do?
Deusovi: The most frustrating things I saw were random anagrams, and teams not checking their work. Random anagrams will never be the solution to a puzzle, but I saw a lot of teams try to solve puzzles by anagramming various things in them. And there were also many instances of a team mistranscribing something, or miscounting, and then giving up on the correct path.
Level 51: Hoard hints! I think hints are an amazing tool to help keep team momentum going. For intermediate teams (the kind which finish the hunt, but not within the first day or so), hints are very important to help the team keep going and seeing new puzzles—I think some teams underestimate just how many hints they're getting in this hunt, and then lose steam and stop altogether, stuck in the early half of Round 1. Making progress on puzzles, even if via hints, keeps the less-motivated team members interested in the hunt, and seeing that green tick just sort of gives you an almost Pavlovian kick.
In fact, when staff were watching the (very, very close) race between the top three Smogon teams (Pepsimen vs P Squad vs Odd Group), we really thought Odd Group was going to pull off the win, but Pepsimen's willingness to use hints promptly not only kept them going but also kept team members sticking around. By the time Odd Group used their hints, a few of their team members were no longer checking in, so they naturally had less solving power on the remaining puzzles. I do think a large part of the reason Pepsimen won was intelligent hint usage.
Other mild frustrations include teams not reading flavor text and teams not getting meta puns.

Feedback form 35 said:
how were you able to answer our questions so fast all the time?
Dogfish44: Level 51 and Deus are both actual gods. But I suspect the answer is “Caffeine”... and at least in my case, juuust enough wine.
rf215: Agreed with DF, both L51 and Deus tended to reply before I could read hints/mentions :) But also, we usually had multiple people helping. And also, usually, a very reasonable number of pings were coming in. The last couple hours were very chaotic!
Level 51: I actually consumed close to zero coffee this entire writing process, I just have nothing else better to do with my life.
talkingtree: It was a combination of things. We had alerts set to go off whenever a hint request was called in and a system of reacting to the message to indicate that we were going to respond. In addition, this year we added a sheet for template responses on puzzles with common sticking places -- those could be simply c/p’d whenever they came up and made the process a lot quicker.

Feedback form 53 said:
I would like to know more about how the staff end of the SPH bot worked, i.e., how you saw the live guesses, hint requests, etc.
Level 51: It's pretty simple! We have one channel, #bot-output, which records all the guesses and unlocks of teams, and one channel #hints which tags all the staff every time someone requests a hint. (This meant that I would often go to sleep at night and wake up to like 70 pings the next morning.)

Feedback form 91 said:
How closely did you follow the progress of individual teams?
Deusovi: We were watching a couple dozen teams pretty closely, especially the people who got near the end! We couldn't come anywhere close to watching everyone, but if you finished there's a good chance we were keeping an eye on your progress.

Feedback form 129 said:
How much caffeine did you guys need to staff the server during the entire hunt?
Level 51: I think like half of us literally can't take caffeine lol, I just kept myself fueled by the adrenaline generated by my fight-or-flight response to endless Discord pings.
talkingtree: Yeah I have a bad medical response to caffeine. A lot of the time though, staffing and watching progress and enjoyment over something you created is really exciting so that made it easier to stay motivated.
Deusovi: No caffeine here either. Just a lot of free time, which I spent with Discord open in the background.
rf215: Apparently I consumed enough caffeine for the entire staff combined.....but that’s also a normal intake for me when I’m getting up early.
Dogfish44: How the three above functioned I genuinely don’t know - if I could’ve had coffee on an IV drip, that’d have been a genuine option.

Feedback form 155 said:
Did anyone else finish with zero hints remaining?
Level 51: 14 teams used all 16 hints; of those, only Odd Group and Timjaninja finished.

Feedback form 174 said:
What were some unexpected problems that came up during the hunt?
Level 51: From a puzzle perspective, there's always errata, which we have slowly come to realise are almost inevitable with our tiny testsolving capacity (of about 3-4 regular testsolvers), as well as puzzles being harder than we realized they would turn out in testsolving (e.g. Fissures). In terms of administrative hiccups, SPH Bot started slowing down significantly after a day or so (maybe due to the unexpectedly heavy load?), and eventually just decided to stop working, so we had to reboot it a couple of times. A few days in we realized it wasn't logging sub-step solves for This Is The Only Logic Puzzle, so SPH Bot's logging had to be fixed (which changed the way we constructed our guesslog). Finally, there was one instance where SPH Bot failed to update the score of a team (Odd Group) after a solve, which was probably due to a write collision, so we had to code in a command that let us add points directly to teams.

Feedback form 186 said:
How disappointed were you when you saw we used a sonnet generator?
Level 51: Honestly, that sounds pretty understandable if you really don't want to write the poem and just want to get on with the next puzzle. We've definitely provided lacklustre submissions in response to similar requests before.
talkingtree: We were generally pretty forgiving in response to these -- however, a small number of teams tried to submit a sonnet that someone else (either Shakespeare or popsonnet’s Tumblr page) had written, and we had a limerick saved as a response to that:
There once was a team that was winning,​
but got caught by our strict TurnItIn-ing!​
Although this is mean,​
we're keeping it clean--​
Now go and repent of your sinning!​
Deusovi: I was fairly disappointed when I saw autogenerated sonnets, but figured that if teams were really determined to put in the minimum amount of effort, we wouldn't get anything good out of them anyway.

Did Mishi Society get banned from adding reactions to the announcements? Was it because we did this?
Level 51: Yes and yes.

What’s the biggest difference you have found as constructors between how you think about a hunt when you have big brother style access to team’s solving processes vs when you don’t?
Level 51: I find I generally feel a lot of pressure on myself as a constructor when I can see teams stepping through my puzzle, getting caught in ways I didn't foresee or unexpectedly finding certain parts frustrating. Especially in a Discord setting, where users have profile pictures and names tied to them, the experience of watching someone else genuinely struggle on a puzzle you've written can be quite painful and make you feel some degree of failure. (Note that I distinguish here between "slowly working through a tough section" and "genuine struggle".) On the other hand, when the frustration is abstracted away into another server and I can only see the team racking up solves, I'm generally content (except when they start racking up strings of wrong answers).


Come back tomorrow for the last section of the AMA, on general puzzle talk and some other questions!

Kit Kasai

Love colored magic
Thank you SPH staff and everyone who made this possible for putting in so much hard work into this amazing puzzlehunt! Ever since sph1 this has the event that I look forward to the most every year :) The hunt was really enjoyable all throughout despite the addition of some dreadfully devious puzzles towards the later half (that I loved despite destroying my last remaining brain cell)

Puzzles are fun, I'm glad I was introduced to this kind of thing and I hope we can see sph4 next year :)


you lost the game
is a Battle Simulator Moderator Alumnus
Hi! I'm back with another 2 questions :D

1) What's the dumbest moment you've had while writing the hunt?

2) What's the coolest thing you've learned while trying to testsolve someone else's puzzle? Can be things like the website what3words, or learning all of the names of the UNDERTALE characters, etc.

Level 51

the orchestra plays the prettiest themes
is a Site Content Manageris a Community Contributoris a Top Tiering Contributoris a Contributor to Smogonis a Top Smogon Media Contributoris a Team Rater Alumnusis a Forum Moderator Alumnusis a Battle Simulator Moderator Alumnusis a Past SCL Champion
AMA part 3: Puzzles in general & other questions!
Feedback form 35 said:
do you feel sad when people dont solve your puzzles?
Deusovi: Yes, definitely. It's frustrating when people get stuck, or don't notice something that you thought was obvious. As a puzzle constructor, you want your puzzles to be solved, so when that doesn't happen it can be sad.
Backsolving is a thing that happens too, so I don't get upset over it: it's an expected part of the hunt. But it can be much more disappointing when people skip over your work and then complain about it, without bothering to actually solve it.

Feedback form 35 said:
how would you recommend getting better at puzzles?
lovemathboy: It’s simple, do more puzzles.
Dogfish44: Do more puzzles. And Google things - especially things you sort of know but have a weak memory on.
Deusovi: The best way to get better at puzzles is to do more puzzles. It also helps to know about all the common tools (Qat, Onelook, Nutrimatic, Quipqiup…), and look at the answers for puzzles you don't end up solving. Figuring out how you could've figured things out during the hunt is a good way to learn. (Oh, and archive binging past hunts. I've read through all the archives of every big hunt, probably multiple times each.)
Level 51: I second the point about archive binging—in the same way that you prepare for an exam by doing papers from previous years, learning about the mechanics of previous puzzles can help prepare you to think about upcoming ones in the correct way.

Feedback form 72 said:
Do you guys have any tips for writing hunt puzzles?
Feedback form 129 said:
If you guys could give any advice to an aspiring puzzle-writer, what advice would you give?
Feedback form 133 said:
To you, what makes a good puzzle?
Deusovi: A good puzzle will be set up so that the solver will figure it out. You want to make the solver have as tough of a time as possible, but eventually succeed. This is a hard balance to strike, but in general it's better to overclue things than to underclue them.
You should generally start with a (mechanical) theme -- often based loosely around the answer that's assigned to the puzzle. Coming up with actual ideas for this is pretty hard, but it helps to write down ideas you have at other times. Whenever you come up with an idea for a puzzle, write it down, and then check your list of ideas later if you're low on inspiration.
Oh, and testsolve. Make sure your puzzle gets clean testsolves, with no extra hints or interaction with you (other than confirming/denying answers). This is absolutely vital.
As for specifics… don't use ciphers unless you're exploiting a very particular property of them. Don't use unclued anagrams. Make sure every piece of information is used, and you adequately signal to your solvers when something is or is not important. When the puzzle is finished, the solver should understand exactly why everything in the puzzle was set up in that particular way.

I'm interested in learning to construct puzzles myself, but am surprised at the lack of any sort of 'central' community for that sort of thing. What tools and resources should any constructor know about? Do communities actually exist?
Level 51: The set of tools and resources is probably quite similar to the set that solvers use: for word puzzle construction, the trinity of reverse dictionary searches (OneLook / Qat / Nutrimatic) is the first that springs to mind. I use this list of cryptic abbreviations and some lists of cryptic indicators to help write cryptics (they're both a bit on the loose side, so I just go with the ones that make sense to me). Google Sheets is, as always, a great way to store your work, collate data, and lay out puzzle plans as you write puzzles.
In terms of puzzle community locations, the only fully public one I know of is the Cracking the Cryptic fan Discord server—I can't quite put in a recommendation for it since I'm fairly new there myself, and it definitely leans much more heavily towards logic puzzles than word puzzles (ironically). But there are indeed people there who discuss puzzles, I guess.

Feedback form 35 said:
whats a good way to meet more people who do puzzles?
Feedback form 91 said:
I feel like puzzle competitions can be very exclusive, especially when all of the top teams are made up of super smart MIT students and their friends who already know each other. How do you break in to becoming part of the community and make friends through puzzles?
Deusovi: I wouldn't say all the top teams are made up of MIT students. Some parts of MIT are more into puzzles than most people, but there are a lot of teams that have no affiliation to MIT whatsoever. As for your question though, the MITMH free agents list might be helpful? That, and just doing more hunts.

Feedback form 91 said:
What would you recommend for somebody who is relatively new to puzzles, but who is interested in starting to write puzzles? How do I share puzzles I have written if I do not have the resources to run a hunt like Smogon?
Feedback form 133 said:
Where / How did you get experience writing puzzles before SPH?
Deusovi: If you don't know anyone who's into puzzle hunts, one option is Puzzling Stack Exchange. It's a bit weird format-wise (as an adaptation of a Q&A site), and doesn't let you do puzzles involving external links or weird formatting tricks. But it's a good place to practice making puzzles and get feedback. (The main downside is that your old puzzles that are poorly thought-out will not be deleted, and you will have to live in eternal shame.)

Feedback form 91 said:
What are other hunts you would suggest that I practice solving puzzles on?
Feedback form 129 said:
Do you have any hunts that you would recommend a puzzling team from SPH to try out?
lovemathboy: Early round Galactic Puzzle Hunt, they make great puzzles and the early puzzles are quite easy and accessible to newcomers.
Deusovi: Agreed on early round Galactic. I'd also recommend Puzzle Potluck, Red Dot Hunt, and the recent hunt Puzzles Are Magic. If you're looking for a challenge, try Mark Halpin's Labor Day sets: these are mostly "standard" wordplay-based types (crosswords, dropquotes, etc), but they can get pretty difficult.

Feedback form 133 said:
In your opinion, is there enough uncharted territory in terms of puzzles? Or do most puzzles nowadays feel like X puzzle from Y hunt, to you?
Deusovi: There's a lot of territory that's pretty thoroughly covered. A lot of the puzzles I see remind me of some other puzzle -- I generally wouldn't go so far as to say "this is basically the same as this other puzzle", but the individual mechanics are things I've seen a lot, and recognize nearly instantly. Puzzles like Just Drop It and Metamorphosis in particular are mechanics I've seen a lot before. (Still good puzzles! Just both in very common genres.)
I still think there's a lot of "uncharted territory" though! I tried to make my puzzles more distinct-feeling and avoid the "standard puzzle hunt genres" as much as I could, but I may have gone a bit too far in that direction.

if you could have any puzzle in the world written for you ,what would your dream puzzle be?
Level 51: I know this probably can't exist, but a puzzle that uses Pokemon in a meaningful way (beyond just as a dataset of strings and numbers and type matchups) would be very cool… I can't even begin to imagine what that would entail or how it would work, but it would definitely be way out of the capacity of most solvers lol.

Feedback form 21 said:
What is your favorite logic puzzle type?
Dogfish44: I’m a sucker for a good variant Sudoku - Killer and Knights variants are fun in particular. I’m less skilled at Thermo Sudokus, but they’re often rather literal art forms...
lovemathboy: Icebarn! Icebarn is such a great genre with several interesting entry/exit restriction deductions. Have some written by yours truly: https://puzz.link/p?icebarn/10/10/c6fg1uc6fg1uc6fg1uc61eb8zvtd3bfa858zz0tb3de/14/19, https://puzz.link/p?icebarn/10/10/nig8npspflg9nbndg8cmzz32zgcb7izb2zzpje/1/19, https://puzz.link/p?icebarn/10/10/007u828i92aa8i83fs04zrks147zh6tm7zz47t/1/18 (From Logic Masters India, warning: very hard)
Level 51: Kakuro!! It sounds like a weird choice perhaps, since Kakuro are sometimes memorization-heavy, but I really like the feeling of having one step leading to a nice cascade of progress, and Kakuro does this very neatly. Well-made Kakuro also generally don't rely on memorizing partition sums except for the ones on extreme sides (like 30in4 or 21in6, that kind of stuff), and they're nice and clean to solve even without external lookups.
lovemathboy: Kakuro is not a genre!!!
Deusovi: Statue Park, definitely. I'm a fan of the more "geometric" deductions it allows, and different piece banks can lead to a lot of interesting properties. (I also enjoy Heyacrazy, a genre that I created -- mostly for its mind-melt-y potential.)
talkingtree: This is a tough one -- I’ve been working my way through the archives of https://puzz.link/db/ and am almost done with 13 genres. Of these, my favorites are probably KinKonKan (particularly the trickier ones like: https://tinyurl.com/y5wfve96 ) and Country Road (a recent good, though possibly too tricky to start with, one is this: https://tinyurl.com/y392dsn2 ), which I got into thanks to lmb’s constructions for Regional Tours last year. Yajilin is an old classic too, and both bachelor seal and aoiatuage write solid ones pretty regularly (examples: https://tinyurl.com/yxuc95z6 https://tinyurl.com/y2ts7kz8 )

Feedback form 174 said:
What is your favorite number?
Level 51: It's actually 83 :) I have no idea why but I really like 83 as a number, it just has a nice feel to it. I can't explain it.
Dogfish44: Of course it’s 42. It divides so evenly and in so many different ways… and, if I hadn’t goofed up when I was creating an account for my high school blog, I’d have been Dogfish42 throughout the internet! And yes, I was making HGTTG references when I was 11. How about it?

Feedback form 21 said:
What's your favorite prime number?
Dogfish44: 8999
lovemathboy: 9001
Level 51: So I know I just said my favorite number was 83, which is prime, so it should go here, but the number I like most for being prime is 694201.

Feedback form 29 said:
Why PMD: Explorers themed?
lovemathboy: It’s my all-time favorite game!
Level 51: Easily manipulable plot to fit our evil puzzly schemes >:)

Feedback form 31 said:
Where y’all at in life? Graduating from college in a few years and wondering if people still do puzzles as adults.
Level 51: I'm graduating from college in a few years and wondering if people still do puzzles as adults.
Dogfish44: Briefly - I teach adults having graduated + got my PGCE specialising in maths. So yeah, Adults™ still puzzle.
rf215: I’m a working adult and didn’t start really doing puzzles until like last year. I'm sure many of my coworkers do puzzles, and I shared some with my work team. Adults definitely puzzle.
Deusovi: Currently on track to get a Masters in math. Absolutely no idea what I'm going to do afterwards - I'd like to do some form of teaching or tutoring higher-level math, but haven't figured out the details.
talkingtree: Confirming that adults puzzle!

Feedback form 35 said:
what do you do outside of puzzles?
Deusovi: Basically nothing. Puzzles are pretty much my only hobby. (I am not a very interesting person.)
Dogfish44: I teach! Yeeep. Oh, and I play Battle-By-Post (#MandatoryPlug), and I’m part of a few quizzing communities which keep me reminded that I’m not that smart.
talkingtree: I’m a swim coach and teacher and love doing both. As for hobbies, I’m very involved in Smogon—I’m a senior staff member, I co-run most elements of the Doubles OU community, and I play/build for competitive matches pretty often.
rf215: I have way too many hobbies. In between them, I work in software.
Level 51: My other hobbies include rhythm games (literally only osu!mania ok lol) and competitive Pokemon, but both are scenes I'm very much washed up in, sadly.

Feedback form 35 said:
how did the hunt organizers first learn about puzzle hunts?
lovemathboy: My first exposure to Puzzle Hunts was The Hunt: Worlds hosted by Predator/Acer, one of my online friends dragged me into it since we both liked scavenging (searching the web for) answers to random Pokemon questions. The puzzles weren't the best and featured a lot more "searching" than "solving", and several answers were guessable without solving the puzzle at all. Here is the solution pdf if you’re interested: https://acerblobstorage.blob.core.windows.net/media/scavenger/answers.pdf
Afterwards, Level 51 hosted a tiny Smogon-based puzzle hunt with 4 puzzles and a meta for a small community and that’s how we met! And then we've hunted together (and made puzzles together) ever since!
Dogfish44: I invoke my favourite phrase, "Blame Level 51", who introduced me to hunts via SPH2 (I was helping with the Cryptic for the Flying Press Puzzle Page), after that I got added to the Eggplants for MUMS 2019… and things happened from there!
Deusovi: I don't remember what exactly did it, but sometime in 2012 I had seen the MIT Mystery Hunt mentioned. I archive-binged it, then went on to try SUMS 2012 (and fail miserably at it, only solving one puzzle). But that got me hooked, and as soon as I got the chance to join a more dedicated team, I took it.
talkingtree: Level 51 brought me into puzzle hunting too; my first major hunt experience was GPH 2018 and I’ve loved them ever since.
Level 51: Some alumni from my high school decided to host a puzzle hunt in the school; they stuck up pieces of paper with QR codes around the place that linked to a puzzle hunt website. I had no idea what I was doing but together with three friends (who also did not know what they were doing) we managed to win the hunt—not by finishing first, but by having the most solves (no one actually finished, haha). I distinctly recall dictionary attacking two of the puzzles in that hunt lol. It wasn't the cleanest hunt, but it got me interested—a year or so later, sitting in my office job in the army, I found devjoe's MIT puzzle archive and started reading puzzles nonstop. Then came GPH 2018, and the rest is history.

Feedback form 45 said:
is anybody on the team a taylor swift fan?
Level 51: probably talkingtree honestly
talkingtree: I may or may not have over 100 of her songs in my iTunes discography. I may or may not also be listening to folklore right now.

Feedback form 91 said:
How did the Smogon team meet?
Level 51: teal6 ran a puzzle trail sort of deal in the Tournament discord, and naturally, since people wanted to win plushies, they decided to group up to find smart people to guess their way through the trail. (We did win a number of plushies, but we decided to send the money to charity instead.) A few months later, Galactic Puzzle Hunt 2018 was happening, and I wanted to join but wanted a team to do it with, so I asked in the Discord server we had used to solve the puzzle trail. From there we got teal, thecommondude, Scarf Nihilego, ALT, and Mistrals, and I dropped in a few of my irl schoolmates too (the three I mentioned in my earlier answer). (EDIT: AND TALKINGTREE AS WELL I'M SORRY)
Our original aim (which is sometimes still quoted) was to solve 5/41 puzzles in the hunt… we ended up completing the whole thing. Halfway through GPH I added lovemathboy because I was getting murdered by logic puzzles, and he proceeded to haul our team through Adventure and the Great Galactic Bakery because he's just like that.
talkingtree: Level 51 failed to mention that he also added me…. I’m only a little bit devastated.

Feedback form 99 said:
For every staff member: what's your favorite Pokémon?
Feedback form 174 said:
What is your favorite pokemon?
Dogfish44: Grumpig is my spirit animal.
lovemathboy: Shaymin-Sky!
rf215: Someone asked me this hunt if it was Sneasel :) I have an actual soft spot for Snorlax, and made a giant (10lb) plush of it once!
Deusovi: Honestly not sure. Snom's good though.
Level 51: It's a toss-up between Togekiss, Gengar, and Porygon2 :( the curse of knowing too many Pokemon is that it's impossible to pick a favorite.
talkingtree: I’m probably supposed to say Trevenant or Exeggutor or something as the animated trees of the series. However, I’m gonna go with Empoleon since it was the starter I used in my first-ever game, Pokemon Diamond.

Feedback form 148 said:
For whoever made 2-11: thoughts on Deltarune?
Level 51: I liked it! I was originally going to say that it doesn't quite pack the same level of emotional punch as UNDERTALE, but I remember now that I walked back through the town after the game and talked to everyone and thought about the passing of time and started crying, so there's that. Apart from the story, I thought the mechanics of its battles also made them a little too easy, and the hidden boss fight isn't quite as much of a show-stopper as Sans or even Geno Undyne. (Also a bit shorter, but that's neither here nor there—it was a rather generous amount of content for a free game anyway.)

Feedback form 174 said:
What is your favorite taylor swift song?
talkingtree: This question is the only one I’m the most qualified to answer. Getaway Car probably takes top honors for the lyrical illustrations, vocal delivery, and Jack Antonoff’s production. I’m gonna go ahead and give 10 honorable mentions because I doubt other people will weigh in here: Cruel Summer, All Too Well, betty, exile, Soon You’ll Get Better, New Romantics, Call It What You Want, Mine, Haunted, and The Way I Loved You. Taylor gets a lot of flack because of her radio-oriented singles like ME, Shake It Off, We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together, and Look What You Made Me Do, but if you look past those she’s a great song writer who changes up her style as she grows.
Level 51: the one where she sings about the guy who does the thing

Feedback form 174 said:
What is your favorite monopoly property?
Dogfish44: Vine Street! Though Mayfair is obviously iconic, and I always get good omens from games where you get The Angel Islington…
Level 51: I didn't even know it was possible to have a favorite one of these

Feedback form 174 said:
What is your favorite color?
Level 51: oh boy I bet Deusovi has a good answer for this one
Deusovi: >:/
talkingtree: Hex code #51FACE :3
Dogfish44: Neutral colours like Ivory and Cream are cool. This comment was sponsored by Every Landlord Ever.
Level 51: I would like to take this opportunity to point out that the Completionist role in the SPH3 server has color #DABBED and it's actually quite nice.

Feedback form 174 said:
What is your favorite food?
Dogfish44: Wine is food, right? I mean, it’s basically grapes… fine. Lasagna it is!
talkingtree: Is it cheating if I just say pasta?
rf215: bread and cheese
Dogfish44: And only that? (So can a rat~ )
Level 51: beef sukiyaki :3 most warm soupy things are my kinda thing, though rice > noodles any day.

Feedback form 174 said:
What's something you wish the participants of Smogon Hunt knew?
Level 51: That every instance of someone saying "when SPH 4 happens" brings me deep pain.

how does it feel to have a fandom?
Level 51: Awful.
Dogfish44: Depends on how much the fandom puts into my paypal account. As is, dire.

1) What's the dumbest moment you've had while writing the hunt?
Level 51: None immediately spring to mind, unfortunately—there were definitely a few unfortunate oversights I made, like letting the wrap-around difference in Order Up! extract a sensible letter, but I can't think of any particularly spectacular episodes of idiocy I had this hunt (which is sad, because there were definitely some). I also went back through my PMs with lovemathboy to look for the phrase "I'm dumb" but all I got was me talking about writing bad code.

2) What's the coolest thing you've learned while trying to testsolve someone else's puzzle? Can be things like the website what3words, or learning all of the names of the UNDERTALE characters, etc.
lovemathboy: I learned stenotype existed :o
Level 51: Probably either about chorded keyboards from testsolving, or if I can stretch the question a little, while talking about HE COMES I learnt that Unicode characters have really, really weird names. Like one of the sideways Es in the "SEA IN CZECH" part of that puzzle was actually a character called COMBINING SEAGULL BELOW, and that there's another one called COMBINING SNAKE BELOW. Both of which are just little squiggles, why would you give them such weird names???? (Also, that the space of codepoints is divided into 17 planes, and the second onwards are called "astral planes".)

Feedback form 46 said:
M̸̩̥͇͕̩̩̗̩͉͎̖͙̮̼̼͇̭̌̎̄͗͗͒ͩ͂̀̋̄ͣ̌́͂͝ͅͅu̸̟̱̞̦̜̣͖̥̭̣̺͐̓̅́ͨ̋͂͊̓̈́̆̒͆̓̆̐̔̕ͅḑ̡̠̙̗͓̺͎̗̅ͧ̌ͭͨ̓ͧͩ͞ḵ̢̨̳̥͇̬̟̯̤͓͈̝ͮͯ̆̿ͧ̐̂̈́̀̕i̵̗̝͇͙͉̘͖̣̲̓ͨ͋͒ͣ̌̀ͧ͆ͫ̇̽̈́ͩͩ̀ͧ̀̚p͊̏̓ͯ͏̳͙͓̳̬̘̭̫̹͇̹̬͡ ͮ̌͋̎ͬ̆̈̊̑͘͏̢̨̨͓͇͎͎̣͉̳̠̮̬̻̣̪͚̞ṃ̴̢͕͈͎̎ͣ͌̑̍̐ͥ͋͆̿̆ͩ̕͝u̸ͥ̍͒ͧ̽͑̈ͯ̄̆̓̽̅͏̶̡͔̮͉̼͚̣̫͔͓͔̮͝ͅͅḑ̴̳͙̞͓̻͙̰͖̬̫ͫ̔̇ͦ͐̽̓̇͌͢͞k̵̢̨̲̫̜̰͍͉̯̤̞̬̞̼̝͍̺̝̈́̈̊̍̀̆̌ͬ̔̈̒̓ͣ̾̀ï̧̙͍̞̗̫̰͉̼͇̣͍̳̳̫̻͔̖̗̾̍ͯ̇̈́͊̒̂͜ͅp̡͌͒͒͏̷͎̹͎̬̳̼̪̯͍̯ͅ?̪͓̬̼̗̫͇̪͚̯̼̘̞͇̘͈̮̈́͐ͨ̈́ͥ̎̍͐͌̓̓ͬ͗ͧ̽̓ͮ̌̚͜͜͠͞ͅ
Level 51: um. help? is anyon̷̢͈̙̰̼̑̂́́e̷̤̱̬̤̓͛̿͑̀͛̿͊̀̃͑͘̕͠ ̵̨̼̳͙̎̊̿́̀͘͠͝t̶͍̻͉̖͔̣̖̖̗͓͕̟̄́̈̚͝ȟ̶̛̭̝̼̻̪̱̯̘̳̮͙͖͑̌̈̆̓̋̂̆̊̾̕͝ͅe̵̢̤͈̰̮̹̱̬̻̼͉̣̱͉̳͑̑̐͂͘̕͝r̴͎̻̊̔̋͌̑̍̅̈́̈́̕ȅ̸̬͙̺̖̲̞̺̘̦͔̜̮̞̼̖́̀̍̔́̃̍̀͋̊̇̕ i̶̢̨̯̦͇̙̫̫͙͚͗̽̆͌̿̐̒̆̕͜͠ ̵̢̼̆̀̔͛̌ĉ̶̩̤̺̗̪͒̑́̎͑͗̇͐́ȁ̸̡͈̥̟̪̺̠̦͔̻̦͕̖͔̋̀̑̆̑̐̏̂͠ń̸̢̦͉̭̪͇̫͉̟̤͋̿͛͋͂̅͠͝'̴̡̙̯̫̤͓̗̦̠͓̻̂̽͠t̴͔̼̽͋͛͒̃͊̈͐̾̇͠ ̵̡̘̥̥̣̻̅̒̈́̋b̶͍̙͍͍͎͖̽͊r̷̜̬̟̗͓͇̘͙̬͙͈͐̍̔͐̚ͅ


And that wraps up all the questions for our AMA! We tried to answer all the questions we got, excluding the ones we felt we covered in the wrapup itself—if you posted a question you think we missed, or if you have any more questions, we're all still in the SPH3 server, so feel free to ask around there and hopefully a staff member will notice your question! (Don't ping, though. We're all a little tired of being pinged in that server in particular.)

With the AMA concluded, that's all from us for this year! We hope you had fun with the hunt and got some interesting answers to your interesting questions, and we hope to see you stick around the puzzle community in time to come! We're cool, we promise :) Thank you to everyone for the great couple of weeks!

The SPH writing team

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