The 2021 Cryptex Hunt is On

A quick reminder: This year’s Cryptex Hunt has commenced.

Pokemon meme depicting a trainer facing off against a Nevins cryptex reads, "Wild Cryptex appeared!"

Justin Nevins, Errol Elumir, and company (including REA’s own Sarah Willson, among many more of our friends) have created a unique puzzle hunt through 8-bit text adventures.

Errol made a remarkable text-based puzzle game a few months ago that blew my damn mind.

Text adventure: Pixel art kitchen depicts your character's wife and the plate of eggs she made for you.
Errol’s Present Quest

If you’re new to puzzle hunts, I strongly suggest that you take a look at my Puzzle Hunt 101 primer.

If you aren’t already participating, I’d suggest gathering your puzzle friends and getting involved. This crew always does interesting, innovative, and fun things.

Escape Rooms of New England – Everyday Superheroes Always Saving Our Butts [Reaction]

The New England escape room community is special. There is a camaraderie among the businesses and the players that doesn’t exist in any other escape room market we’ve visited. It’s inspiring.

This spring, the Escape Rooms of New England teamed up to create Everyday Superheroes Always Saving Our Butts. This collaborative puzzle hunt embodies what we love about these escape rooms. They are welcoming, ingenious, and fun!

Everyday Superheroes logo, presented by the Escape Rooms of New England.

Everyday Superheroes Always Saving Our Butts

What a title!

While playing this in June, it was strange to reflect on how this puzzle hunt was carbon dated to a specific month of 2020… but then, it’s been a strange year.

A toilet paper roll icon.

This amusing theme really makes the entire thing. Each of the participating companies embedded toilet paper icons on their homepages as beachheads for the hunt. Amazing.

The Collaborators

22 escape room companies and We the Enthusiasts Passports collaborated to pull this off.

That coordination is impressive and inspiring.

The prize is extremely generous. You’ll be entered into a drawing to win 2 free tickets to every participating escape room company.

This community is working together to build awareness for one another at a time when all their businesses are struggling.

The Puzzles

We enjoyed the variety of the puzzles. They differed immensely in style, difficulty, and execution.

We loved that we really had no idea what we’d be up against when we found each toilet paper icon.

We especially enjoyed “United We Stand” by Escape New Haven. If you only solve one puzzle from this hunt, let it be that one.

Not all of the puzzles were created equal. Some of these would have benefited greatly from answer verification, or a hint system. We also wished that the solution website had saved our solutions, but luckily, we’d logged them in a Google Sheet, so we didn’t lose all our work when we submitted one answer with a typo.

That said, these flaws weren’t game-breaking. The set up worked well, especially when you think about how many creators were involved, and the simple fact that no one makes any money from this.

Escape Rooms of New England

It’s no coincidence that we’re bringing RECON, the Reality Escape Convention, to the birthplace of Everyday Superheroes Always Saving Our Butts. We chose to host the inaugural in-person RECON in Boston precisely because we knew this New England community – the businesses and the players – have the kind of mindset that we want to shine a spotlight on.

RECON eye & penrose triangle logo.

Given the events of 2020, however, we’re waiting another year to host RECON as an in-person event.

But we are still excited to bring you RECON this August. This summer’s RECON will be global. Please join us digitally August 23-24 for inspiring, actionable talks and community conversation.

And we look forward to bringing RECON to New England in August of 2021!

This is the community where we hosted one of our most packed meetups to date in December 2018… and the owners made it a potluck. With homemade French toast!

It’s also the community we picked to highlight with our 2018 April Fool’s Day post.

We love the welcoming, supportive, caring vibe of the New England escape rooms.

Play Now

The contest ends at the end of the month. Solve now to be entered to win. All those free escape room tickets will come in handy when you attend RECON 2021!

The Illicit Guide to the 2020 Cryptex Hunt

It’s that time again: the Cryptex Hunt is back.

Sponsored by Justin Nevins, the original creator of the cryptex, the Cryptex Hunt is an annual free online puzzle hunt. This event was born out of the Escape Room Secret Slack and this year’s hunt really is Errol Elumir’s baby. And while we’re on the subject of Errol, he’s going to be speaking at RECON!

Pokemon meme depicting a trainer facing off against a Nevins cryptex reads, "Wild Cryptex appeared!"

2020 Cryptex Hunt Key Details

When is the Cryptex Hunt?

It starts on Saturday, February 29th at 8PM.

There are 8 chapters and a single chapter will be released every evening for 8 crazy nights.

Chapter? How does this work?

Errol wrote a novel for the hunt and embedded 1 puzzle into each chapter… because he is a very, very lazy man.

The novel is approximately 54,000 words. To put that into context, it is about 5,000 words longer than Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five… which is on the short side for a novel… but it is still really quite a feat that Errol wrote this.

How much does it cost?

Nothing. It’s free. All that you have to do is register.

Are there prizes again?

Yup. The grand prize will be a fancy-pants Nevins Line Cryptex.

There are also other prizes.

Illicit 2020 Cryptex Puzzle Hunt Tips

General Puzzle Hunt Advice

If you’re brand new to puzzle hunts, check out my new primer on the subject.

You can disregard the segment on cryptic crosswords. I have it on good authority that there aren’t any in this year’s hunt.

Personally I think that’s a good thing because it should make the hunt more approachable.

Approaching the Novel

There will be a single puzzle embedded in each chapter. Once you find and solve that puzzle, you’re good for the day.

Based on my vague conversation with the Cryptex Hunt team, I’m guessing that there will be a lot of other details beyond the puzzle of the day. When I go to solve, I’m going to do my best to avoid getting too neurotic about tracking every single detail.

Errol feeling the pain as his voodoo doll is stabbed witha pin labeled "finale 2.0"
Andrea Hersom made this delightful doll “for” Errol.

That said, it’s still a novel and a puzzle hunt. I’m assuming that a solid understanding of the novel’s story will be important when the final puzzle rolls around. I could be wrong, but I assume one should focus on solving the puzzles while keeping a general awareness of the story.

Another Room Escape Artist Puzzle?

I’ve also heard that this year there won’t be a Room Escape Artist puzzle (as there have been in past Cryptex Hunts) because we didn’t fit naturally into the novel.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ there’s no such thing as a perfect puzzle hunt.

2020 Cryptex Hunt Registration

Puzzle Hunt 101

Puzzle hunts and escape rooms are different beasts.

Escape rooms aren’t really about solving hard puzzles. Success in an escape room has much more to do with communication, observation, and cooperation than it does with raw puzzling skill.

Puzzle hunts, on the other hand, really are about information organization and puzzling skill. That said, there are still a great number of skills, patterns, and tools that can help an individual find more success in a puzzle hunt.

My aim here isn’t to help you become a fantastic puzzle hunter. That truly takes years of practice and a lot more knowledge than I have to share. My hope is that this primer can set you on your own journey to become a stronger puzzle hunter.

A child's letter puzzle.

Basic Puzzle Hunt Structure

Puzzle hunt puzzles come in all shapes, sizes, and complexities. As a general rule, your typical puzzle hunt puzzle has 4 parts to it.

In this specific order:

  1. Flavor Text – When the puzzle is introduced there is usually some kind of contextual clue – however vague – that should key the solver into what they are looking at. Soak in this flavor text. Then look at the puzzle.
  2. What is the Puzzle – You cannot count on a puzzle hunt puzzle to declare itself at face value. If it looks like a sudoku, it might not actually be a sudoku. Take in the flavor text and other clues to determine what you’re even looking at.
  3. Solve the Puzzle – Once you know what you’re looking at, it’s time to solve the puzzle. Maybe that’s filling out a crossword grid; maybe it’s something else. Whatever it is, do it.
  4. Extracting a Solution – Congratulations! In step 3 you solved a puzzle, but you didn’t actually finish the puzzle. Puzzle hunt puzzles have a final step called extraction where you have to push the puzzle a step further and pull a final answer out of a solved puzzle. Again, refer back to whatever flavor text you have on hand. It probably points you towards an extraction.

Extractions are one of the defining characteristics of puzzle hunt puzzles. It’s a different way of thinking.

Saving Your Work For Meta Puzzles

Another defining characteristic of a puzzle hunt is “meta puzzles” or puzzles made from the solutions of previously solved puzzles.

Meta puzzles are essentially a puzzle hunt’s boss battle.

As you solve along, save your previous solutions. Failure to do so will render the meta puzzle unsolvable.

As a general rule, when working on a puzzle hunt, save all your work. You never know what will prove useful later. Google Sheets has become the community standard tool for working on puzzle hunt puzzles. Google Sheets are great for sharing and saving information as you solve.

A toddler attempting to assemble a simple puzzle.

General Puzzle Hunt Tools

Unlike escape rooms, outside knowledge and tools are essential for solving a puzzle hunt. These are the basics that everyone should have on hand when tackling a puzzle hunt puzzle.

Cipher Sheet & Apps

You never know what kind of encoding a puzzle hunt puzzle might use.

The free monthly international puzzle gathering Puzzled Pint has a basic code sheet that they provide at all events. This thing is pretty useful because it lists a number of common puzzle hunt encodings.

The code sheet is far from exhaustive. These free apps offer a lot more detail and decoding functionality:

iOS – Puzzle Sidekick

Android – Puzzlehunt Assistant

Cryptogram Solvers

Cryptogram solver tools can make quick work of deciphering. Rumkin Cryptogram Solver has a great assortment of options.

A word of advice: don’t go crazy blindly running what seems like a cipher through every conceivable decryption method.

Google Sheets

Google spreadsheets are a puzzle hunter’s best friend. Use sheets to collaboratively puzzle with friends/ teammates. Use them to keep a record of all of your work and solutions for the eventual meta puzzle.


Truly advanced puzzle hunters can have a silly volume of tools at their disposal. Sometimes they even build their own tools.

Don’t go nuts finding and using tooling. At the end of the day, these tools are only useful if you know how to use them appropriately. The best thing that a novice puzzle hunter can do is to figure out how the puzzle wants to be solved. Do not attempt to brute force every possible solution with a collection of digital tools.

Cryptic Crossword Puzzles

One last note on a specific puzzle type: cryptic crosswords or cryptics.

These are a special kind of word puzzle rooted in wordplay. There’s a whole language to these things. They are legitimately fun, but they require a ton of outside knowledge.

This guide can get you started on cryptics – or in a pinch – can help you work through a set of cryptic crosswords.

The first time I came across a cryptic crossword puzzle, I had no idea what I was looking at and failed so hard. Now that I’m dabbling in them, I like them a lot.

Starter Puzzle Hunts

If you’re completely new to the idea of puzzle hunts, I strongly recommend starting with Puzzled Pint. These are free puzzle events held all over the world. The archive is freely available online.

I’ve found my journey into puzzle hunts as fulfilling as it has been arduous. It takes work, but the more you put into it, the more you get out of it.

Finding Puzzle Hunts

If puzzle hunts become your thing, the Puzzle Hunt Calendar is an invaluable resource as it keeps a comprehensive list of puzzle hunts.

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.

TED's red and white logo

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.