Sunday, February 11, 2007


Every year, Microsoft has an event called Puzzlehunt. People assemble teams to go to Microsoft over the weekend and do nothing but solve brain teaser puzzles competitively over the course of the weekend. Every year people try to get me to go to this thing, and every year I think about it and eventually decline. It just sounds... too much.

As an intern, I did the intern version, Intern Puzzleday. The difference is that Puzzleday is one day, and has dumbed-down puzzles for the interns. Puzzlehunt is the whole weekend. Many people don't sleep at all over the weekend, opting to spend Sunday hopped up on something solving puzzles for more than thirty hours straight. I actually find the idea of Puzzleday much more appealing; one day of doing nothing but solving puzzles in a team sounds much more tolerable to me than two. I need my weekends to do stuff and sleep.

Intern Puzzleday was an interesting affair. The hundreds and hundreds of interns met up in a big conference room to distribute the puzzles put togther by the full-timers, and then raced to our assigned buildings and smaller conference rooms, along with the snacks and beer that the team captains set up. I'm thinking that the Intern Puzzleday was about 25 puzzles, and that Puzzlehunt is about 50 tougher ones, but that's mostly an irrelevant detail. Some of the puzzles had instructions or hints of some sort, and some had nothing. Our team gave out puzzles to people based on their declared strengths, and then those people started thinking. If the thinking wasn't very productive, they'd put the puzzle down and look for another one to solve, or start working with someone else on the team.

I don't actually even remember details about the puzzles for the most part, which is why I've been so vague thus far. But I do remember one. There was another intern on the FrontPage team when I was interning by the name of Sharif. He pulled a puzzle he hadn't seen before out of the stack. The puzzle was just a Photoshopped picture of candy conversation hearts with nonsense messages, like "IRU R" and "WT NOQT." Sharif looked at the picture for about five seconds, and started translating the candy hearts into English, almost as fast as he could write. He had finished the thing in a couple minutes, after many other people had just stared at it and never made it past the "here's my idea of what this puzzle might be stage." In a few seconds he had determined that the hearts contained non-Valentine's-related English messages abbreviated like a text message and then encoded with a cryptogram, and begun unscrambling the cryptogram.

That event was one of the creepiest instances of incredible mental acuity I've ever seen in my life.

It was fun for a while, but I was getting pretty tired of brain teasers by the end of a Saturday after like eight or ten hours... I can't imagine how sick of brain teasers I'd be after three times that long. Maybe it would be crazy fun, and I'm missing out.

Currently listening: Delerium—After All

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