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June 5, 2015

Step Up and slay the dragon: PuzzlePalooza 2015

by Neida Mbuia Joao, Online Op/Ed Editor
Ready your horses and jousting sticks and prepare to battle through the toughest PuzzlePalooza yet. The sixth annual incarnation of the country’s “premier high school puzzle competition” kicked off on May 18 and closed out on May 22. Running on a truncated schedule (abbreviated from the competition’s usual four days to three) the puzzle competition soared to new heights (both literally and figuratively).
With contestants charged to “slay the dragon” and save a princess’ pet and with an out of school field trip to Bohrer Park in Gaithersburg, this year’s medieval festivities provided an interesting change of pace from those of years past.

Pre-Puzzlepalooza

As usual, this year’s Puzzle Lords: David Stein, Peter Ostrander, James Schafer and Peter Hammond spent about a year preparing for the competition. “It is a year’s worth of work. It involves countless numbers of videos, emails and social media networking,” Puzzle Lord Stein said.

This year’s enrollment, just under 300 students, did not surpass last year’s record enrollment, but came close to matching it. PARCC days were spent preparing students for the competition in the auditorium. PuzzlePalooza practice consisted of solving various mini-puzzles much like the ones contestants would face later on in the actual competition.

The Puzzle Lords also sent out Pre-PuzzlePalooza emails and tweets to participants containing mini-puzzles. Those who successfully solved the mini-puzzles were entered into a raffle and awarded prizes, such as vuvuzelas and a special cone of silence which would come in handy the final day of the competition.

Day One: May 18, 2015

As PuzzlePalooza commenced, contestants entered their rooms and began to form their teams of about 16 puzzlers. They were told that their mission (should they choose to accept it) was to slay the dragon that had kidnapped a young princess’s pet. Each group then named their pet, princess and “orders of knights” (aka their teams). Some Orders of Knights were as follows, “The Order of the Phoenix,” “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday” (or the Order of Nights), “The Order of Moredoor,” and “The Order of the Sleepless Knights from the Kingdom of Northslumberland.”

Teams also came up with a latin motto to support their order. Based on their team name and Latin motto, they decorated a shield with their team’s coat of arms. Some teams even created twitter pages on which they interacted with the Puzzle Lords and with the other “orders.”

After completing the prep work to establish their team’s themes, the puzzlers started on their puzzle packs. Most teams divided up into groups of 2-4 contestants, a strategy that helped them solve puzzles faster. “We settled into a semi-democratic independent arrangement to begin puzzling. It was quite free form, and we self-assigned puzzles and groups based on what we felt comfortable with,” said junior Benjamin Felber.

At the end of the day “The Fierce Cadets of the Amazonian Queendom of ‘Merica” were in the lead for the most puzzles solved. “For both days we were in the top for the most amount of the puzzles solved. It was a pretty cool experience,” said order member, junior Audrey Krimm.

Day Two: May 20, 2015

The second day of the competition, traditionally spirit day, was now upon the teams. Contestants spent most of the time before school decorating their classrooms and hallways with balloons, streamers and posters. Some teams came to school in costume, such as the Puzzle Cowboys’ western themed outfits and the Order of the Sleepless Knights’ pajamas. A lot of puzzlers also got decked out with face paint, with the order of the Phoenix painting lightning bolts on their heads and the Knights of PETA putting on animal face paint. Everyone contributed to make sure that their team had tons of spirit. “A lot of us brought in our own things and participated and tried to decorate the room as much as we could. We had lights and a giant pokeball and it was real fun,” said member of “The Kingdom of Smash in the Order of a Cheeseburger” David Hsu.

As far as puzzling progress goes, the second day was a bit of a mixed bag. Everyone worked incredibly hard, and some teams made a lot of progress.
Other teams, like, The Alphabetic Order of Letters, felt a little stuck. “It was the roughest day. It was rough because everyone else was buying hints and catching up. But as we got more momentum, it started to get better,” said junior Ramya Durvasula.

By the end of the day “The Fierce Cadets of the Amazoniaon” were still in the lead and going strong and seemed poised to finally break the PuzzlePalooza tradition that the team in the lead on the first day never wins the competition.

Day Three: May 22, 2015

For the final day of Puzzle Palooza this year, the Puzzle Lords did something they never had before: an out of school field trip to a park. The field trip was an exciting change of pace from the traditional 4-day PuzzlePalooza schedule. The change was brought about mostly by necessity. “There were only 2 HSAs so there wasn't enough in school time,” said Puzzle Lord Stein.

The field trip also gave puzzlers ample time to complete the longer and more complicated puzzles. Intense puzzling was interspersed with various exciting physical challenges. The contestants also enjoyed Subway catering for lunch.

Answers to completed puzzles helped answer other puzzles that led the contestants to certain images. These images needed to be put together in a very specific order for the contestants to make a spear.

Toward the end of the day, each team was given a chance to slay the dragon. Those with the most correct pictures from their spear were able to take the most steps towards the inflatable dragon and people who didn't spend money on hints were also allowed to step forward.

Each team took a crack at the dragon, and at one point it seemed like “The Fierce Cadets of the Amazonian” was finally going to demolish tradition, after maintaining the lead for two days. they almost hit the dragon with the arrow and won it all, but the judges decided that they had not actually hit the dragon. In the end The Corsairs of Umbar took down the dragon and saved the princess’s pet.

After the day long festivities, awards were handed out. Iron Puzzler, or the award for teams who completed the competition by spending the least money on hints, was awarded to “Moredoor.” The coveted spirit award was given to the “Puzzling Cowboys,” who received miniature horses on a stick as their prize. “The Fierce Cadets of the Amazonian” were given first loser, which is awarded to the losing team with the most points.

After three days and over twelve hours of puzzling, a lot of puzzlers came away from it feeling fulfilled. “I really enjoyed PuzzlePalooza. I felt like we were pushed to organize and drive ourselves, for the joy of competition and puzzling,” said Felber.



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