Record number of players participate in second-ever Key Clues competition

Tuesday, October 10, 2023
Poster featuring Dana Porter library and geese

A record 476 players signed up to participate in the second-ever Key Clues competition, which concluded last Thursday with an awards ceremony.

The competition, which ran from September 27 to October 3, challenged teams to solve a series of puzzles with the goal of being the first team to submit their unique key at a secret location on campus.

Though Key Clues ran for the first time in fall 2022, this year saw a relaxing of the entry requirements. Instead of requiring a specific combination of staff, faculty and students from within the Faculty of Math, the competition was open to teams of 3-6 people from anywhere in the University.

Part of the appeal of this year’s challenge was the playful theme: posters appeared all over campus announcing that Canada geese had kidnapped students and were holding them for ransom in Dana Porter Library. The only way to rescue them was to solve seven batches of puzzles, which had been developed over the summer by a crew of volunteer enigmatologists.

Zack Cramer, a lecturer in the Mathematics Undergraduate Group, joined the enigmatologist team last year because he loved the puzzles he used to solve at trivia nights during his PhD. Though he enjoyed creating a puzzle last year, he says, this year’s contribution was a major improvement. “I’m pretty happy with the growth that’s happened,” he says. “And it’s really fun to do.”

A total of 110 teams signed up for the challenge, though the difficulty of the puzzles and the time commitment required meant that far fewer made it to the finish line: thirty teams submitted correct answers to ten or more of the fifteen total puzzles. The closing ceremony recognized two of these teams: “wait,” which had the highest score, and “Biggest Fans of Blake,” which were the first to submit their key at the secret location.

Hugh Coleman, a 2A Math student, co-founded the team “Biggest Fans of Blake” last year with several other students who were taking MATH 145 from Blake Madill, a continuing lecturer in Pure Mathematics. Though they didn’t win, they decided to come back for a second try this year. “It was super fun, and the puzzles were even better than last year,” Coleman says. “Winning felt like pure dumb luck – having the right set of skills and knowing the right set of things.”

“It’s very satisfying to see the puzzles appear in random places on campus, accompanied by frustrated puzzlers,” says Ty Ghaswala, a Lecturer with the Centre for Education in Math and Computing and the Principal Enigmatologist for the competition. “It’s also enjoyable to watch and talk to first-time puzzle hunters as they discover the joy of puzzles like these. As one of the comments from our exit survey reads, ‘I’m addicted to puzzles now. I hope you’re happy.’ Yes. I am happy.”