Puzzle Hunts and Competitions – Here’s What You Need to Know

Posted: Tuesday, Oct 26 2021

Puzzle-solving is an engaging and out-of-the-box opportunity for groups of people to bond. The phrase “puzzle-solving” may bring to mind jigsaw puzzles or board games, but it is, in fact, a phenomenon much more elaborate than that! 

Recently, puzzle hunts and competitions have increased in popularity around the world, especially in North America. They bring together groups of people on college campuses, in high schools, at the workplace, and in cities around the world in a unique way!

These activities are somewhat similar to escape rooms but take place on a much larger landscape than one room.

Now let’s dive into what a typical competition looks like, look at some well-known puzzle hunts, and see how you can host one of your own!

What Are Puzzle Hunts and Competitions?  

Puzzle competitions are almost exactly what their name suggests. Puzzle hunts can be created and hosted by anyone – an organization, a school, or even just one person. Participants work on several smaller-scale puzzles with hints that lead to an intricate, game-winning final enigma! 

The topics and difficulty levels of puzzle hunts differ from host to host. Some events are centered on a specific interest, while others are more open-ended and appeal to broader audiences.

While there are hundreds of puzzle hunts, below we share with you some of the most wide-scale or longest-running puzzle hunts and competitions currently being hosted.  

The MIT Mystery Hunt  

Since 1981, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has hosted its annual college puzzle challenge called the MIT Mystery Hunt, which attracts more than 2,000 participants. Students, alumni, and others team up and compete against other groups to locate a hidden object (referred to as the “coin”). 

Undoubtedly, finding the coin on the huge 168 acres campus of MIT is no easy feat! This can only be achieved by first solving a series of complex challenges along the way. Then, using the answers from the previous challenges, teams move forward in the hunt until they discover the secret location of the coin.

The first team to accomplish this massive task wins. What’s the prize? The honor of creating the following year’s Mystery Hunt!

The Hunts have themes for an extra added bit of fun. Past themes have included Operation: Head Hunters (themed after Pixar’s Inside Out) and Huntception (inspired by the movie Inception). 

InteGIRLS Puzzle Hunt 

InteGIRLS provides prompts for puzzle hunts over the world to middle/high school-age girls. In 2020, InteGIRLS hosted a hunt for almost 1,600 girls across 54 counties and 35 states! With a range of difficulty levels, each hunt features a focus on Women in STEM.  

For example, a 2020 puzzle called “Jumping Gene” challenged participants to identify the sequence of “jumping genes” in a ring of DNA. Puzzles like these may be intimidating for the average individual, but are perfect for science-minded women! 

Western Washington University’s Great Puzzle Hunt 

Western Washington University’s Great Puzzle Hunt is a worldwide event that works as a hybrid of virtual and in-person puzzles, depending on team preference. Similar to MIT’s event, each team solves a series of puzzles, equipping themselves with clues to solve the final “meta puzzle”!  

Create Your Own Puzzle Hunt 

Create your own puzzle hunt and competition

With the help of some awesome online resources, creating your own hunt isn’t too hard. For example, LockQuest compiles data from past puzzle hunts to share the structures and puzzle prompts necessary to host your event.  

Also, check out From Dusk to Dawn. In this hunt, an apocalyptic zombie outbreak challenges game participants to stop the infection from spreading. First, the teams must navigate community venues, then locate the source of the outbreak, and finally, reverse the infection! 

Final Thoughts

Puzzle hunts and competitions are a blast! They activate critical thinking skills and unite people together. We hope you join a puzzle-solving competition in your community or even host one for a team! If you’d like to participate in a virtual escape room, you can find some options here too!