Review: The Ordnance Survey Puzzle Book

It’s not often that Puzzled Pint receives a product to review. In fact, this marks the first time we’ve ever been sent a book to review! Today I’ll be examining The Ordnance Survey Puzzle Book [Amazon UK/ Amazon US (preorder)].

Slipping the book from its mailer, I could instantly see its amazing production quality. It is technically a softcover, but it’s paperback masquerading as hardbound. The glossy full-color cover is made of several layers of cardstock, giving it a firm feel. Instead of the cover being cut flush to the size of the pages, it’s a little larger. It overhangs the pages in the same way a hardcover book does. On the front was a detailed topographic map, with colors that pop — orange elevations, green parks, blue waters, red roads. On the back was the typical book blurb, but also a little Morse code above the ISBN number. A hint of things to come? Riffling through the pages shows that same beautiful style of map throughout. The vast majority of the book consists of a beautiful map on the right-hand page, with a series of questions on the facing page on the left.

My partner and I sat down with this book for an hour one evening. We thought we’d try a few and see how it stacks up to some of our favorite puzzle and game pastimes. As I mentioned above, each set of facing pages has questions on the left and a map to refer to on the right, preceded by an introduction to the history or relevance of the selected map. The questions rank from Easy, Medium, Tricky, to Challenging. We skipped around the book. There are 40 maps to choose from, which were “selected for a significant reason — whether that is a noteworthy moment in national history, a rare geographical feature or a site of special cultural interest.” As best as we could tell, there was no specific order or grouping. They seemed to all be of relatively the same difficulty, letting you skip around.

We picked one toward the front that looked interesting — Hotel Metropole, Blackpool, 1912 — and sat down to answer the questions. This is where we ran into a few snags. For all the beauty in product design this book offers, the “puzzles” fell into two categories: tedious searching for a thing we knew and tedious searching to match a thing we didn’t.

The experience felt a little “Where’s Waldo” (or Wally, for our British friends). Instead of combing through quirky side-characters in humorous situations to find Waldo, you’re scanning through beautifully illustrated elevation lines to find the second-highest peak. Or whether “back” or “bank” appear more times. Or a place that shares a name with a famous physicist.

The easy questions tended to be straightforward activities like “find a thing on the map” or “count things on the map.” The medium questions often pulled in some basic piece of trivia, adding challenge if you are not entirely confident in an answer — but comparable to the easy questions if you do know the answer (or look it up in a search engine). Ultimately, though, you’re still skimming through the map trying to find a word.

The Tricky and Challenging questions added puzzle elements. These were things like cryptic clues, anagrams, words with a common theme, sound-alikes (“royals hide things underground” ⇒ Queensbury), and so on. If you’re good at cryptics, you might end up with a word you can scan the map for. The other puzzle types don’t have great confirmers. Anagrams of place names, for instance, are much more difficult than anagrams of common English words (of the non-proper-noun variety), and often the anagram puzzles we typically see have some kind of confirmer structure. You end up having to go back and forth between the anagram (or other puzzle) and the map, trying to see if you can get a word to fit.

While beautiful, the whole exercise felt a little tedious, not terribly fun, and with a serious lack of “ah-ha” moments. The puzzles we’re used to will often have interlocking or thematic answers (giving good confirmations along the way). We’re not big fans of word searches, and this felt like it tread into word search territory (though I didn’t see it on any map). Ultimately, I have to admit that I may not be the target demographic for this book.

That said, it is a beautiful book, and could very well be a good choice for someone in your life. Nowhere does it define an age range, but it does feel like it might work well for someone that skews older than “Where’s Waldo” but younger than adult. Do you know a teenage puzzle fan? It’s also a book that I wouldn’t mind having out on the coffee table. It’s a great few minutes for you or a guest to browse through and to poke at an easy question. And at only £14.99, you’re not going to break the bank, if this sounds like something you have even the mildest curiosity about.

Last but not least, if you enjoy The Ordnance Survey Puzzle Book, you can look forward to the follow-up volume, The Ordnance Survey Puzzle Tour of Britain, coming this October [announcement]!

Production Value:
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DASH 11

You probably know this, but we strive to make Puzzled Pint a beginner-friendly event. Our charter is to to grow awareness of puzzle events, which we partially achieve by running Puzzled Pint every month. We see PP as a stepping-stone to more advanced events such as BANGs, MIT Mystery Hunt, and weekend-games. But informally, since the beginning, we have always kept DASH in mind as the “next step” for puzzlers after honing their puzzle skills with Puzzled Pint.

“DASH,” you ask? “What is DASH?” DASH, or Different Area Same Hunt, is an afternoon-long puzzle event that’s played on the same day in cities around the world. With regard to its “simulcast” nature, it is very much like Puzzled Pint. The puzzles are a little more advanced — though an easy track is available, and no matter what your level, hints unlock as you solve. It takes the shape of a walk around your city. But at its heart, it is solving puzzles with friends, just like Puzzled Pint.

DASH 11 happens soon, and we’d be neglecting our duties if we didn’t share the information. With luck, it’s playing in a city near you — but there’s still time to volunteer to help run it in your city.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

A patient has come down with a variety of mysterious ailments, and your team has been called to investigate. You’ve dealt with puzzle-related illnesses before, but this time you’ll be working at a much smaller scale. Diagnose! Assemble! Shrink! Heal!

Registration closes Monday July 1

Rating System Feedback

tl;dr People mostly like the star difficulty rating system, so we’re keeping it.

You might have noticed that we’ve been experimenting with adding difficulty rating to puzzles.  I brought this notion to Puzzled Pint HQ last year because some teams in Austin kept asking which puzzles were the “easy” ones.  Looking further into this, it became apparent that those teams were generally of mixed experience levels, and wanted to give the easier ones to the more novice solvers to attempt first.

Our First Two Trials

We tested this in Austin as an A/B test adding “Easy, Medium, or Hard” to the top of each puzzle in October.  I asked each team after the event if they liked having the rating system.  Obviously, the teams that normally asked about difficulty liked it, but nearly all teams gave really positive feedback among them.  In fact, we had only a single negative comment of the nature “I was proud of myself, until I saw it was marked easy“.

In November and December, we went broader adding the same system to every city’s copies.  This went over less well with several complains by GC of people hating the system, and in December of the rating being inaccurate.   The ratings were based strictly on the “difficulty” response provided by playtesters on their feedback forms, but there was some judgement in determining the cutoff values between easy and medium and hard.

This negative feedback from GC was concerning and confusing, since the Austin test had gone so well.  We didn’t know if only the players that hated it were complaining and GC wasn’t getting the positive feedback, or if the testing in Austin was an outlier and the hate was universal.

Another Test

Because of that negative feedback, we decided to scrap the ratings system for January 2017 and think about a resolution.   It seemed the “I felt bad because this was supposed to be easy” was a common complaint on the feedback thread, so we decided on a slightly different system of using a 5-star rating instead of the English words.  Hopefully, this would convey the information, but allow people to rate their abilities themselves instead of having the implicit judgement of not being able to get an ‘easy’ puzzle.

Thus, February’s puzzles had this new system, but, by golly, we were going to solicit player feedback this time to make sure.  If you love charts like I do, you’ll like this next bit…

We had 434 teams do February’s set (1440 people, not including Game Control members).  The puzzles’ difficulties ranged from 2 to 4 stars, as is our goal, not too easy and not too hard.  Of course, in the future, it’s possible for various reasons that a puzzle set might legitimately contain a 1 or a 5-star puzzle.

February’s set was the most playtested, perhaps ever, in Puzzled Pint history. This ensures that the feedback on the system wasn’t tainted by incorrect difficulty ratings.  Even so, I made the call to bump the Cupid puzzle to 4 stars because it had a large standard deviation instead of keeping it at the strict mean, which would have been 3 stars.  We probably will formalize that going forward at setting star difficulties at the first standard deviation to the right of the mean.

So, how were the responses?

Well, first off, we didn’t have the response rate I’d hoped.  Even if you don’t consider teams that didn’t finish the puzzle set (i.e. had fewer than 5 completed puzzles), here’s the response rate by city:

Still, a 59% response rate is enough to represent a good section of our players, and the results are likely skewed away from beginners anyhow because beginners are less likely to finish the set and thus have not given a response.   Recall, Puzzled Pint is very much targeting the experience of the beginner puzzler, not the experts or even the ‘regulars’.

So, what were the survey results?

Only 4 teams in our survey reported that the difficulty ratings were harmful.  Amazing! We figured that would be higher considering the feedback on the GC thread.

90 teams did say that they were not helpful, but that they didn’t mind their existence.

67 teams said that they were helpful, but not necessary.

Finally, 63 teams said that they really wanted us to keep them!

Breaking Down the Data

Those stats alone don’t tell the full story.  Yes, more people wanted us to keep them than thought they were helpful, but we are interested to know how much they helped the more novice teams.

How are we to judge which QotM responses came in from the beginners vs the more experienced?  We hypothesized that, since we collect solve times, we could look at those and assume that teams that took longer to finish the set were the less experienced puzzlers.

But wait!  What about team size?  Don’t smaller teams take longer?  To check, I ran those numbers and came up with this lovely chart:

Nope! Team size matters very very little to overall solve time.  There is a clear downward trend, but the standard deviation is nearly a consistent 40 minutes for each sized team.

In the chart, I used larger bubbles when multiple teams had the same exact size and minutes taken.  As you can see by the data points, there was a huge variance of solve times, no matter the team size.

Therefore, I felt safe in doing the analysis based purely on the number of minutes taken to do the set, assuming those that took longer were the more inexperienced.  A simple histogram sorting those times into buckets of 15 minutes allowed me to create this graph of the opinion results:

First of all, let us revel in the lovely emergence of the Gaussian curve again in nature.  This one has a fatter tail than true normal, but it’s nice and smooth.  Ahh.

Next, we can clearly ignore the red bars, the ‘complainers’, as they are so few.  So, let’s look only at the rest.

Both light green and orange show no clear trend, but it does seem the dark green increases as solving time increases.  For a clearer picture let’s ignore the number of teams in each category and look at the percentages within each:

Now we can see a significant trend.  Ignoring the outliers on either end (there’s only one team in the 20-34 bucket).  Even though a pretty constant percent of the teams think the rating aren’t helpful, the longer a team takes to solve the more they like the rating system!

Okay, so there’s one lingering question that remained in my mind.  Is this city dependent?  Maybe some cities just hate them and others like them?  Will we see a significant variance among cities, or will they all just be average?  Well, check this out:

Boom!  We have a triangle!  I’ve put the size of each city on the X axis, and their average rating on the Y.  As cities grow the responses move towards the mean answer of ‘slightly yes’.  Still, I’m amazed at the variance in the smaller cities (this is actually locations, not cities, but you know what I mean).

Boston, our largest city by far is clearly supportive of the rating system, not like Victoria’s 100% support, of course, but solidly above the disdain that Tacoma’s 17 people have.  Luckily, this chart shows that, by combining cities, I wasn’t significantly masking any strong negatives from only a few.  No city really minds the system (on average), and most of them are well into the ‘yes’ range.  Austin (both sites) are well into the yes range, which validates the earlier testing there.

Overall folks, the rating system is here to stay.  Thanks for participating, and please keep the suggestions and feedback coming, so we can continue to improve in the future.

Yours Truly,

Neal Tibrewala
Puzzled Pint HQ

 

A Call for Puzzle Authors — Write for Puzzled Pint!

The puzzles you see every month at Puzzled Pint don’t just materialize out of the aether. They all start as rough prototypes, often just a simple draft thrown together in a Word document, with little flavor text and no graphic design. The puzzles take several trips through the feedback loop — as first Headquarters, and later playtesters, help polish the rough edges. At the end of this process, we have a month’s puzzles ready to print.

At the moment we have the rest of 2016’s puzzles scheduled. We currently have nothing on the books for 2017. There are a few folks with theme ideas, but we’re not able to put people on the calendar until the first draft of puzzles is ready. We roughly know how long it takes to go from draft puzzles to final puzzles, but “I think I maybe have this idea for a theme and this really cool coding mechanism” is a little too vague to reliably schedule.

So this is an official call! Have you thought about writing puzzles for Puzzled Pint? It’s easier than you expect and this is your chance! While we’re happy to get puzzles from anyone, we would particularly like to see more:

  • authors who are women
  • authors who are people of color
  • authors outside the United States

And although collaborations are fine, we prefer if a single author is responsible for the month’s puzzles. This helps align them editorially, balances difficulty across the whole set of puzzles, and helps ensure two puzzles don’t accidentally use similar mechanisms. (Plus, the folks at PP headquarters would rather manage a single cat than a herd of cats.) If you’re interested in writing only a single puzzle then scroll down to where we talk about bonus puzzles.

The puzzle-writing process is simple. If you have a specific theme in mind, you can (optionally) ping HQ and we’ll let you know if we’ve heard of anyone else also thinking about the same theme. Write some puzzles: a location puzzle, puzzles played at the event, and (optionally, but strongly encouraged) a meta puzzle. Send those our way (with solutions). The solution part is important, especially for new puzzle authors. Puzzles in their draft stage often have unpolished edges, like leaps of logic that are obvious to the author but may need a little flavor text or examples before being visible to others. Once we have puzzles and answers, we’ll put you on the calendar and work with you to help refine the flow of the puzzles, over the course of a couple rounds of playtesting. You can find a lot more detail about the process and requirements at http://www.puzzledpint.com/info/author/.

If you’d like to get your feet wet by writing a single puzzle, as opposed to a whole month of them, we’re also looking for bonus puzzle authors. Some authors like to write a whole set of puzzles, including location, meta, and bonus. Some want to focus on just the main set, without a bonus. We find that players enjoy having a bonus puzzle available, but we cannot always offer one every month. If you’d like to submit just a single puzzle, we’d be happy to work with you on getting it ready for a bonus. (Hey! Here’s a dirty little secret: one can make an arbitrary puzzle fit just about any month’s theme by simply changing flavor text and graphic design.)

This is your call to action! Write puzzles for Puzzled Pint!

PP After Dark – Solutions and More!

Earlier this week, Puzzled Pint Portland was invited to participate in OMSI After Dark, an adults-only nighttime event at a local science museum. The theme was “forensics.” We pulled some thematic puzzles from past months to reprint, and also brought along some surplus copies we had on hand to show people what we’re all about.

There was quite a bit of interest! We started with 100 copies of Brian Enigma’s “What is Puzzled Pint?” info sheet, and ran out of those less than halfway through the evening. OMSI was kind enough to reprint those, as well as more copies of the three featured puzzles:

Brian Hahn himself was on hand to help us tell people about Puzzled Pint, as were regular GCs Matt Shields, Jen Dumont, and yours truly.

As shown in these photos we tweeted, we also pulled out Brian Hahn’s “Paddles” from October 2015 and Andrea Blumberg’s March 2016 Comic Book Mystery as examples of different presentation formats. We’re extremely grateful to all our volunteer puzzle authors who share their creativity with us!

If you were at OMSI After Dark on Wednesday and are looking for solutions to any of the above puzzles, here they are: