My boys just finished this year's Christmas puzzle hunt, (known in our family as "The Code"). Read below for a summary of how things went, or check out the actual puzzles if you want to solve them yourself or just wonder at the amount of work my poor boys have to go through before they get any Christmas presents. I've also written up a brief history of the Christmas code linking to all the puzzles from previous years.
I'm really pleased with how things went this year. I scaled the difficulty back compared to last year, and that was good for everyone's sanity. It's easy to see the difference in just the numbers. Last year's hunt had 24 puzzles, 5 metapuzzles, and 1 final metametapuzzle. This year there were only 9 puzzles and 2 small metapuzzles. I was nervous the boys might think I did too little, but I think I actually got the difficulty just right this year.
They did solve it a few days before Christmas this year, but that's a good victory for them. Last year, there was a tough Battleships metapuzzle and the deciphering of a Playfair cipher that all came together only late at night on Christmas Eve.
Of course, the most important feedback comes from the boys themselves. There was a priceless moment last night as one-by-one, the boys in turn had the final flash of insight needed to solve the last clue. There's nothing better for a puzzle designer than getting to watch that "ah-ha" moment hit with its explosion of laughter. And that laughter is always mixed---appreciation for the disguise of the clue and a bit of disgust at not being able to see through it all earlier. And last night, it was a perfect cascade of these moments from one boy to the next. After the first one finally got it, just knowing it was possible was all the others needed to reach the same insight themselves. It was perfect.
This morning the boys reported that this year's code was the "best one yet". I think I've heard that three years in a row now. That's what gives me the motivation to do all this again. I guess I had better start planning now if I want to improve again next year!