New to the game? Many of these puzzles may appear intimidating at first glance–but they don’t have to be! The first thing to realize is that the instructions will be confusing, and that’s on purpose. Figuring out what to do is usually a big part of the puzzle itself! Second of all, no two puzzles are alike. One moment, you’ll be sleuthing for clues in a cryptic-sounding sentence; the next, you’ll be solving a complicated mathematical logic puzzle; and then, you might find yourself working out a crossword-esque word game, or even folding origami!
That said, there are some puzzle elements that come up frequently, which you can familiarize yourself with. Let’s walk through a typical puzzle for practice.
Warning: spoilers for the “Mother’s Day Gift” puzzle below!
Example Solution for “Mother’s Day Gift“:
First of all, you’ll notice that unlike for a traditional crossword puzzle or sudoku, there aren’t clear-cut instructions for the puzzle. That’s part of the mystery for you to solve! All you know is that, eventually–possibly after multiple different steps of solving–you’ll eventually end up with the name of a San Francisco restaurant or point of interest (in other puzzle hunts, you would end up with a common English word or phrase).
If the puzzle has introductory “flavor text,” read it carefully–there are often clues hidden inside. Make note of anything strange, even if it isn’t immediately obvious what it means. In this case, why does “May 10th” have “(J)” in parentheses after it? Why does “Mother’s Day 2017” have “(N)” in parentheses after it? Setting those questions aside for now, the rest of the flavor text suggests that we should narrow down the list of jewelry gifts to a subset, using hints in the quotes from throughout the year. The final answer, as always, will be a San Francisco location, which the flavor text reiterates.
After reading the flavor text, it still isn’t obvious how to start. Let’s skim the rest of the puzzle looking for any strange patterns that stand out. Hmm… it looks like each of these Mom quotes is a fun fact, though they’re worded a bit awkwardly. They all have the word “some” in it. Ah! Perhaps each of these quotes is a real numerical fact, where the word “some” replaces the number! Googling a few of the facts confirms that this is the case (using Internet resources, such as Google or Wikipedia, is always fair game). Once you finish looking up all the facts (Who knew that there was one mother who gave birth to 69 babies?!) you’ll have a list of numbers like this:
- 122 million people call their mothers on Mother’s Day each year.
- Mrs. Hunter was pregnant with triplets for 375 days.
- A prolific Mrs. Vassilyev of Russia gave birth to 69 children in her lifetime.
- Dr. Dana Suskind, a surgeon and mother, founded an organization called the 30 Million Words Initiative to encourage parents of all socioeconomic backgrounds to talk to their babies more.
- African elephant mothers are pregnant for 92 weeks.
- In the first two years of a baby’s life, the average mother changes 7300 diapers.
- In the U.S., 75 percent of mothers with school-age children hold a job.
- Justin Bieber’s mother stands 56 inches tall.
- Marie Curie, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, had 2 daughters.
- Polar bear mothers need to gain 450 pounds during their pregnancy.
- New mothers in the U.S. are 26 on average, as of 2016.
- The oldest mother on record is an Indian Mrs. Kaur, who gave birth at age 70.
- The record for shortest interval between two consecutive births to the same mother is 208 days.
It looks like each of these numbers corresponds to the price of one of the jewels in the catalog! Matching up different parts of the puzzle is a common step in a multistep puzzle–be sure to keep all your information as organized as possible. Let’s go ahead and match each of our numbers up with the corresponding jewelry item:
- $122 million Sapphire Ring
- $375 Garnet Pendant
- $69 Diamond Brooch
- $30 million Peridot Collection
- $95 Topaz Earrings
- $7300 Pearl Necklace
- $75 Opal Ring
- $56 Topaz Pin
- $2 Amethyst Bead
- $450 Emerald Necklace
- $26 Garnet Bracelet
- $70 Pearl Ornament
- $208 Turquoise Collar
What about the date on which each mom quote was spoken? Those must be significant, but unfortunately the clues don’t seem to uniquely identify dates. For example, “On the first Sunday of the month”…which month? Maybe the title “Jewelry of the Month” means that the jewelry item gives the month? But how?
…Wait a second! Aha! It looks as though each of the thirteen jewelry items on our list above is a birthstone! Sapphire, for instance, is the birthstone of September. Let’s try converting each of the clues from a birthstone into a month. Doing this gives:
- September (birthday of one of the Sensational Six classic Disney characters)
- January (first Sunday of the month)
- April (third Wednesday of the month)
- August (Ohio-born President’s birthday)
- November (birthday of a Jonas brother)
- June (a day when I splurged)
- October (a day when I was bald and free)
- November (birthday of an actor in Friends cast)
- February (anniversary of a NASA tragedy)
- May (anniversary of an M-state’s admission to the Union)
- January (forty years before a solar eclipse)
- June (birthday of one of the Beatles)
- December (one of the top five most observed holidays)
The month crossed with the clue now gives us enough information to generate a list of dates:
- Sept. 5
- Jan. 1
- Apr. 19
- Aug. 20
- Nov. 5
- June 18
- Oct 14
- Nov. 2
- Feb. 1
- May 11
- Jan. 5
- June 18
- Dec. 25
But now what? How do we extract a San Francisco place from this arbitary list of dates? You know, we never did use those parenthesized letters in the flavor text. “May 10th” was marked “J” and “Mother’s Day 2017” (May 14th?) was marked “N.” Perhaps you’ve already noticed the connection–J is the 10th letter of the alphabet, and N is the 14th! Some types of special encodings pop up often in puzzles, such as this number-to-alphabet substitution (A is 1, B is 2, etc.). Other common encodings include Morse Code and Braille. Let’s see what happens when we turn each of the thirteen dates on our list into a letter:
- 5 => E
- 1 => A
- 19 => S
- 20 => T
- 5 => E
- 18 => R
- 14 => N
- 2 => B
- 1 => A
- 11 => K
- 5 => E
- 18 => R
- 25 => Y
EASTERN BAKERY! That’s the answer! Send it right away to email@example.com and head over to the bakery for a celebratory team photo!
As you solve each puzzle, you’ll invariably run into dead ends where you’ll need to backtrack, and there may be long plateaus where you’re completely stuck. Don’t worry, that’s expected! Keep scanning the puzzle for hints and patterns, and pay special attention to any information you haven’t used yet. If you’re really stuck, email firstname.lastname@example.org!
Can’t get enough? Check out the MIT Mystery Hunt and Microsoft’s Puzzle Challenge for more resources and examples. With practice, you’ll be topping the Mission Street Puzzles leaderboard in no time! Have fun!