Eric’s Puzzle Party 17 and Team EMBU

This past weekend, Lisa and I had the honor of attending Eric’s Puzzle Party (EPP) 17 in Auburn, Alabama. This annual puzzle hunt event hosted by Eric Harshbarger was an 11-hour team-based puzzling competition.

In total, there were 28 puzzles. To complete the hunt, we had to find clues hidden all over Auburn.

The puzzles were considerably more involved and challenging than what you’d find in an escape room.

I’m incredibly proud to report that our team walked away from competition with a victory.

Image of an eagle biting the EPP 17 Trophy.

A few of our favorite puzzles

This EPP was held on April 1 and all of the puzzles were themed on pranks and bad jokes.

The 21 puzzles that made up the main game are all available on Eric’s website. Lisa and I supported the solving of quite a few of these, but the bulk of them were deciphered by our teammates. This being our first major in-person puzzle hunt, we needed some time to find our place on our team.

My favorite of the original 21 puzzles (which it seems many disliked) was the sphere assembly puzzle, “Having a Ball.” (Unfortunately it’s one of the few that you cannot play from home.)

Having a Ball sphere assembled.

Having a Ball

I adore mechanical puzzles and this 3D printed sphere was a great challenge. One of the highlights of the day was when I went to have the puzzle “graded” by Eric. I decided in that moment to take it apart and quickly reassemble it for a higher value victory. I sat down in a big chair in the coffee shop that he used as his base. I was deeply focused, trying to not completely wreck my sphere while improving upon it. A young woman sat down next to me and started interrogating me about what I was working on, why I was working on it, and if she could play. I did my best to be kind and answer her questions… but I desperately wanted her to leave me and my focus alone. Fortunately, everything worked out and I got the thing back together at a higher value.

Finding the Toy box 

After solving the 21 main puzzles, we worked on the metapuzzle (a puzzle that was built from little bits of information pulled from the puzzles of the main game). This culminated in us searching a wooded park for a toy box filled with the second set of puzzles (for those who could find it).

Searching for this box felt like looking for a hidden immunity idol in Survivor. We were wandering down a trail looking for “three oak trees.” Running through the woods in the middle of a day of heavy puzzling was good fun. Plus we had a silly mishap on our end while working with our incredibly talented rival for first place, the ImPEACHables. They got to witness our only major stumble of the day, which is too difficult to explain if you weren’t there. Fortunately it didn’t set us back more than about 15 minutes.

The Toy box puzzles

These were our favorite puzzles of the day. They are not available on Eric’s website. With his permission, however, I am posting two of them. They are, in my opinion, magnificent.

All that I will say is that if you solve them, you will know that you succeeded. If you solve them, reach out. I’d happily fill you in on the context.

Puzzle 1

Puzzle 2

Team EMBU (with a silent b)

Rex Miller, one of our earliest readers, assembled team EMBU. Rex brought us onto an incredible team of puzzle hunters, including Rich and Jonathan from the world famous ClueKeeper platform.

Team EMBU puzzling at EPP 17.

In addition to being a fun and brilliant bunch, under Rex’s leadership our team was highly organized and staggeringly efficient. After the dust settled, we learned that we jumped out to an early lead solving 7 of the initial 21 puzzles before any other team had completed any of them.

Early on, Lisa and I were a little intimidated by the experience and insane speed of our teammates. We were simply trying to make ourselves useful. After we both had a few solves under our belts, we captured the majority of the clues hidden around Auburn, and had become truly functional teammates.

There were a couple dozen clues hidden around Auburn. Our group worked hard to gather them all, which took some doing, considering that none of us were from Auburn. In fact, more than half of our team hadn’t even set foot in Alabama prior to this puzzle hunt.

We knew in the moment that we were doing well, but we truly didn’t realize just how great we had done until the scores came in at the end.

EPP 17 score graph shows EMBU decisively in the lead throughout the entire competiton.

I’m not just saying that because we decisively won. We truly weren’t sure. We even prepared for the incredibly unlikely tiebreaker challenge.

That said… I think that Rex knew we had won.

Last thoughts

This was the first and last time that Team EMBU will compete at EPP. We won’t be able to remain a team based on the rules for team structure at EPP.

Team EMBU victory photo in the Auburn University Student Center. The team is gathered around the war eagle holding trophies.

Puzzling with this particular group of people was a joy. It was intense. It was fun. And it was hilarious.

Wrecking puzzles and escape rooms across Alabama and Georgia with this crew was one of the most delightful experiences that I have had in my puzzling career and I am going to treasure the memory of this weekend. Yes, there is an escape room company in Auburn; get excited for the forthcoming reviews.

I had heard a lot of great things about Eric’s Puzzle Party prior to attending. Someone had described it to me as “the best kept secret in puzzling.” Based on what I saw, I think it’s true. EPP offered a high quality and exceptionally fair puzzle hunt. Eric’s care and attention to detail were on display from the opening moments of the hunt through to his closing, detailed walkthrough at the end of the day.

This puzzle hunt was one cohesive vision. That was truly impressive.

Thank you to Eric and all of the people who helped him organize this event.

Thank you to our teammates.

Thank you Rex. We wouldn’t have even heard of EPP without you. We’re thrilled that you asked us to be a part of your team.

I hope that we can return next year with a new team.

One last time:



  1. Congratulations on your victory.

    What did EMBU stand for? Or does it just have an unexplained letter in the middle of it like Bexar (pronounced Bear) county in Texas?

    1. nothing quite so sinister – every year we have to provide a name when we sign up for a team – since we had not decided on one, I used the initials for the last three teams (Ecru, Moon Pie and Bill the Cat) and added unknown to create a placeholder “EMBU” – which we ultimately decided was good enough to use
      and sort of evolved from those humble beginnings…

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