Puzzle Hunt sends students on solving spree

What do the Hunger Games districts, the Riverbanks Zoo, Jane Austen novels, Cards Against Humanity and classical music all have in common?

They were all featured USC’s third annual Puzzle Hunt.

Throughout last week, puzzles were posted and teams worked together to solve those puzzles to find something hidden on campus.

An average of six puzzles per day were released over a period of five days for a total of 36 puzzles.
Chris King, a third-year mathematics student, wrote all but three of the puzzles himself.

King brought the Puzzle Hunt to USC in the spring of 2012 after reading about the event at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which holds the biggest hunt of its kind. He has worked with the Honors College and Honors Council to create a similar competition at USC, and it has grown steadily ever since.

Hosting the Puzzle Hunt is a huge time commitment, and King said he can’t even begin to estimate the amount of time he has spent on it. He started working on the puzzles almost immediately after last year’s competition.

“It’s a lot of editing, a lot of looking over, a lot of inspiration. We try not to do the same things over and over again,” he said. “I spent of lot of hours in the shower or in class just thinking of that bright idea.”

Despite the grueling hours, King said it’s work that he enjoys doing.

“I enjoy doing the research and looking it up and making the graphics and seeing the final product. Someone really gets tickled when they realize, ‘Oh wait, this one’s about the districts of the Hunger Games,’” he said. “It’s a funny punch when they finally get it. There’s something for everyone.”

King’s favorite puzzle overall was “Sink or Swim,” which combined the game Battleship with a crossword puzzle. He said he got a lot of positive feedback from people outside of the USC Puzzle Hunt and it was called a “new concept.”

Other puzzles King was especially proud of were “The Luckiest Place on Campus,” which was a word search with the names of Horseshoe buildings in the shape of horseshoes, and the puzzle that involved the Hunger Games districts.

But his favorite part of the Puzzle Hunt is seeing people labor over his puzzles.

“That’s part of all artistic things. You create your work for other people to appreciate it. It’s a really great feeling when you see other people working hard on something you made. It’s a better feeling when they finally figure out what you’ve made,” King said. “I enjoy people working together and working on what I put a lot of effort into.”

There were 47 teams in this year’s hunt, up from last year’s 30. Teams could have an unlimited number of people on them, but some teams competed with only one member.

Twenty of this year’s teams were composed of USC students, but the remaining teams were remote, and came from as far as China and the United Kingdom.

Local division teams win by finding the object hidden on campus, while remote division teams win by sending an email with the final answer.

Four remote teams have already won, but no team from USC has won yet. King predicts that one team will be victorious within the next few days.

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