Puzzle Hunt Design TED Talk – Alex Rosenthal

Our friend and occasional teammate Alex Rosenthal delivered a wonderful TED Talk on puzzle hunts, puzzle design, and the undertakings that are winning and creating an MIT Mystery Hunt.

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It’s a delightful short speech. He also hid a puzzle within it. (I haven’t had time to attempt it, so I cannot hint you… although I have a few thoughts.)

Alex also had a short-lived YouTube series called The Aha Moment where he took viewers through the process of solving puzzle hunt puzzles. I liked the channel and I am still holding out hope that he’ll revive it.


  1. Thanks so much for your kind words, David! Work on the 2019 Mystery Hunt has taken over my free time this year, but once that’s over I plan to revive The Aha Moment for sure 🙂

  2. Good golly, Miss Molly. No disrespect to Alex, but the nerd/egghead quotient is infinity plus one for this video. However, that is not bad as what makes puzzle solving so wonderful is that there are puzzle designers for all echelons of puzzle solvers. As a dumb hillbilly, I can’t imagine having any fun trying to solve something constructed similar to what is in the video, but thankfully, there are designers for hillbillies like me.

    For me, the video provokes thoughts of how as designers we get our audience to the pay-off, which is the Ah-Ha moment Alex describes so clearly. Since there are an infinite number of ways to construct the “journey” regardless of the “destination”, I am drawn to the concept of “create for your intended audience and test, test, test”. There are no great puzzles unless the intended audience thinks they are great puzzles. In other words, there is no such thing as a theoretically great puzzle.

    So, while I may have been overwhelmed by my own cluelessness on the types of puzzles illustrated in the video, I am glad to have watched it and give props to Alex for preparing a stimulating and succinct presentation. More please.

    1. Thanks for your comment and kind words, David! And no offense taken regarding the nerd quotient– it’s definitely way up there. I agree that the Mystery Hunt probably isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but at the same time I think there are tons of people out there who would love puzzles yet have no idea they exist. I usually recommend Puzzled Pint (http://www.puzzledpint.com/) as a starting point for people, whether in person or through their archives

      And completely agreed on the importance of testing and design iterations. Our team (and most constructors, I hope) has pretty rigorous testing standards for the Mystery Hunt, both on making sure puzzles work as intended, and that they’re fun.

  3. Great TED Talk. Alex mentioned winning the MIT Puzzle Hunt, designing the next one, then again, winning the one following. I have personally experienced this but at a much, much lower level. I have found that game/puzzle designers who have done well and have enjoyed the games/puzzles I have designed/created end up having their own games which I play fairly well in and really enjoy. I think the “great minds think alike” phenomenon is happening here where each of us have similar design mindsets. Thanks Alex and good luck!

    1. Thanks, Keith! I’ve also been struck by how many people go from solving puzzles to constructing them. I never would have constructed if not for the Mystery Hunt, and there’s definitely a learning curve, but I’ve come to really enjoy it (which is largely thanks to getting to work with fantastic mentors and editors on my team).

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