In the mid-1980s, Games magazine published two features that changed my life.
The first, “Escape from the Dungeon” (800KB PDF), is simply the best puzzle I’ve ever worked. It’s just the right level of challenging, has clever twists, and of course appealed immensely to an old Dungeons & Dragons hand like me.
The second, “Strangeness in Paradise” (2.5MB PDF), described the Miami Herald‘s Tropic Hunt. This event sent Floridians racing all over Miami to discover and solve wacky puzzles based on real-world objects (like the Goodyear blimp). Organized by Gene Weingarten and Dave Barry, the Tropic Hunt was in its second year and already a huge success.
I couldn’t get down to Miami easily, so clearly there was only one other choice: create a Hunt here in DC. It would combine the physical energy of the Tropic Hunt with the mental gymnastics of Escape from the Dungeon…
That first Hunt debuted in 1987 July and spawned numerous sequels. These extravaganzas were originally held as live-action events, where puzzlers interacted with real people (sometimes all over the Washington, DC, area) as they progressed from answer to answer. Most of the puzzles used weren’t original, though they were often rewritten to fit a particular storyline.
A few (1994, 1998) are now available online for you to test your mettle! To solve any online Hunt, send me your answer to each puzzle when you complete it. If you’re right, I’ll email the next step back to you.
Three brave and clever teams competed on October 14. Did Koschei the Deathless turn them into turtles for his soup? Maybe! But in the end, one team claimed the Tsar’s reward.
In 2008, the originators of the Tropic Hunt that started all this madness rebooted under the auspices of The Washington Post. Needless to say, we deferred to their experience and did not concoct Hunts of our own during this time. (We may have been a little busy raising kids anyway.)
This one was held in August 1998 and was (I believe) a success. The puzzles are challenging without being impossible (or overly tedious), and the whole event wrapped up in six hours or so. For this online version, I’ve included two opportunities for enterprising solvers to try a harder version of the original puzzle.
This Hunt actually formed the entertainment part of our wedding. Unfortunately, in attempting to outdo all previous Hunts, I came up with something a little too big—nobody came close to finishing that day. Now that it’s online, though, you’re welcome to take as long as you like. One other caveat: Unlike the 1998 Hunt, this one does not require that every puzzle be solved. You’ll get a better score for figuring out everything, but you can finish even if you solve only the eight or ten crucial puzzles. (You’ll know which are crucial because you won’t be allowed to progress without solving them.)
My dad took over as Hunt Organizer for these years. (Yes, these things are genetic.) Events tended to involve less running around, and more straightforward puzzle solving.
After two years of running hunts (and not competing), I was glad to let other friends take over the planning and execution phases. This time around, the event was an old-fashioned scavenger hunt instead of a puzzle-solving contest.
We had so much fun the previous year that we decided to run another Hunt. This time, seekers were espionage agents in search of a hidden microfilm.
This was a straightforward race between two teams to reach a final destination. Each clue pointed to the next location, which could be anywhere around Washington, DC, or Montgomery County, MD.