Kominers’s Conundrums: Fast Forwarding Your Favorite Games

People spend their summers in all kinds of ways — some head to the beach, while others barbecue or go hiking in the Adirondacks. Meanwhile, a number of the world’s greatest gamers do something totally different: They play through videogames absurdly quickly, round-the-clock, in a streaming telethon for charity. At these events, players with monikers like Mitchflowerpower, Dangers and Argick prove their prowess by executing button-presses perfectly, exploiting software glitches and generally knowing everything there is to know about the digital worlds they’re conquering. Fans tune in from around the world, cheering on the players — referred to as “speedrunners” — and donating money to worthy causes.

The most recent edition — “Summer Games Done Quick 2021” — wrapped up last weekend, having raised a total of $2.9 million for Doctors Without Borders. If you missed the action, or just feel nostalgic for some classic games, we’ve got the perfect puzzle for you.

Below, we describe some imagined “speedrun strats” for a number of well-known games. Some are titles commonly covered in the “Games Done Quick” series, while others are games of the “Checkers” or “Mahjong” variety that you might have at home.

Your goal is to identify the games, and then fit their names into the grid below. Once you do that, the highlighted column will spell out this week’s answer, which is important advice for anyone who is speedrunning in the summer.

Kominers’s Conundrums: Fast Forwarding Your Favorite Games
  • Newfangled radar helps you ensure that all your shots hit, ending the game in 17 turns.
  • Perfect dice rolls, plus going around the board backwards gives you a chance to snag “Park Place” and “Boardwalk” just minutes into the game.
  • The titular spinning blue critter zips past pretty much everything in the stage, ringing in within record time no matter whether the terrain is made up of green hills, bridges, jungle, or scrap!
  • British intelligence technology enables you to listen in on the other six players’ negotiations and submit your orders moments after they do.
  • Get the Queen to h5, and the game is as good as over.
  • Everyone’s favorite plumber faces an epic journey to rescue royalty — this time, with the help of an extra-special cap (and sometimes a talky parrot). The game features many moons, the largest of which has dangers you can skip by taking advantage of low-gravity physics.
  • Who knew you could even speedrun a game that’s mostly just about positioning and stacking seven different shapes? But it’s not out of the question that you might somehow manage to clear 100 lines of blocks in under three minutes.
  • Good deeds are rewarded in this game about climbing up and (not) sliding down — but speedrunners have figured out that everything is much faster if you use a trick spinner that always lands on the right numbers.
  • By manipulating the card shuffling process, you know precisely what’s going to end up in the envelope: Mustard; the Conservatory; and the Candlestick. So you play as Peacock and wrap up the game on the first turn.
  • So long as you don’t mind some distortions in the 8-bit graphics, you can reach the Wily robot masters in record time by glitching through walls. Even so, defeating “Cut Man” might take guts.
  • With all the tiles positioned perfectly, pushing just one row creates a path you can follow to pick up every single treasure, while your opponents stay trapped in the maze.
  • Sometimes the best way for Samus to SAVE THE ANIMALS is to play through the game in reverse, collecting the minimal number of energy tanks needed to defeat Ridley before any of the other space pirates. Shiny!

You’ll have to figure out where each game goes in the grid. However, that shouldn’t be too hard because most of the games have a unique number of characters in their name. And if any of the games sound wholly unfamiliar, don't fret — you can always turn to family, friends, or even Google for help.

But of course, real puzzle-game pros solve grid-less! Once you’ve figured out the answer to the main Conundrum, you can use the following “cheat codes” to uncover something that will help you run through your favorite games faster than your friends can say “No fair!” 

1 3 2 2 12 / 1 6 5 5 4 4 5

In order to complete this bonus puzzle, however, you’ll have to sort out how and where the cheat codes should be entered.

If you speed through this puzzle — or if you even make partial progress — please let us know at skpuzzles@bloomberg.net before midnight New York time on Thursday, July 22.

If you get stuck, there’ll be hints announced on Twitter and in Bloomberg Opinion Today. To be counted in the solver list, please include your name with your answer. And don’t forget to sign up for our Conundrums email list!

Programming note: The next Conundrums will run on July 25.

Previously in Kominers’s Conundrums…

Our search for secret space watermelons left us looking at 14 mysterious files assembled by Lara Williams, each one picturing something spotted on Mars, along with the Earth location and date of the sighting. The puzzle format was a bit mysterious: we suggested solvers would have to “figure out how to combine the different types of image information” and “put all the evidence in order.”

After identifying some of the objects and locations in the images, astute solvers eventually noticed a pattern: each pair shared only a single letter. “PUMPKIN” and HOOVER DAM,” for example, share only the letter “M”; “EGG” and “CENTRAL PARK” share an “E.”

Discovering this relationship introduced a constraint that made it possible to sort out some of the more ambiguous images. For example, it had to be a “DOUGHNUT” with “DEVIL’S TOWER,” rather than a “BAGEL,” because the latter would have overlapped with both an “L” and an “E.”

After figuring out the letters, the next step was to read them in sequence according to the dates on the files:

PUMPKIN / HOOVER DAM (January 30, 1993)

Kominers’s Conundrums: Fast Forwarding Your Favorite Games

HIPPO  / NIAGARA FALLS (March 24, 1994)

Kominers’s Conundrums: Fast Forwarding Your Favorite Games

STUMP / DISNEY WORLD (August 10, 1995)

Kominers’s Conundrums: Fast Forwarding Your Favorite Games

FOOT / FANEUIL HALL (January 25, 1996)

Kominers’s Conundrums: Fast Forwarding Your Favorite Games

PIG / STATUE OF LIBERTY (December 9, 1997)

Kominers’s Conundrums: Fast Forwarding Your Favorite Games

SLUG / THE ALAMO (May 6, 1998)

Kominers’s Conundrums: Fast Forwarding Your Favorite Games

EMU / GATEWAY ARCH (December 9, 1999)

Kominers’s Conundrums: Fast Forwarding Your Favorite Games

HANDBAG / DEVIL’S TOWER (November 25, 2000)

Kominers’s Conundrums: Fast Forwarding Your Favorite Games

BUS / MOUNT VERNON (June 4, 2001)

Kominers’s Conundrums: Fast Forwarding Your Favorite Games

KNIGHT / SPACE NEEDLE (July 21, 2001)

Kominers’s Conundrums: Fast Forwarding Your Favorite Games

DOUGHNUT / MESA VERDE (April 22, 2002)

Kominers’s Conundrums: Fast Forwarding Your Favorite Games

EGG / CENTRAL PARK (April 22, 2016)

Kominers’s Conundrums: Fast Forwarding Your Favorite Games

PRETZEL / GRAND CANYON (September 5, 2018)

Kominers’s Conundrums: Fast Forwarding Your Favorite Games

FOX / USS TEXAS (February 2, 2021)

Kominers’s Conundrums: Fast Forwarding Your Favorite Games

The crucial evidence of watermelons on Mars had been “MISFILED UNDER ‘X.’” The answer was an “X-Files” pun, and after figuring it out, you might have noticed a number of confirmatory clues: art in the style of the “X-Files” collectible card game, as well as references to key catchphrases from the series (“we wanted to believe,” “the truth had to be out there,” and “trust no one”).

There was a bonus puzzle, too. We explained (emphasis added):

Conundrums intelligence understands that there’s some sort of hidden message or instruction you can find after opening these files. Reducing this problem to something you can interpret might involve a leap or two — but Conundrums is off for the next few weeks, which means there’s a number of days to figure it out. We know we can count on you!

Looking closely, you might have noticed that there was information in the files that wasn’t fully utilized in solving the main puzzle — the dates. The clues suggested “counting” them somehow, and then turning those counts into a message.

The trick was to determine which absolute day of the year each date fell on, with January 1-31 being the first 31 days, and then February 1 being the 32nd day, and so forth. (Of course, you had to watch out for leap years, as we suggested obliquely in the instructions.) This gave a number for each day; looking at the remainder when that was divided by 26 indicated a letter in the alphabet. Stringing those letters together in order spelled out one more “X-Files” tagline: “DENY EVERYTHING.”

Kominers’s Conundrums: Fast Forwarding Your Favorite Games

And believe it or not, that wasn’t quite all: there was one more Easter egg, which we indicated was “so subtle that spotting it might take years — or at least until Conundrums’s next season.”

The dates on the files were set in the years of the different X-Files seasons, with 2001 appearing twice to stand for both the main series and the “Lone Gunmen” spinoff, which only aired that year. (Nobody counts “Millennium.” And why did we include 2021? Because we want to believe.)

Zoz solved first, followed by Ross Rheingans-Yoo; Michaela Wilson; Ellen & William Kominers; Lazar Ilic; Zarin Pathan; Nancy & Murray Stern; Anna Fitzpatrick & David Iserson; Yannai Gonczarowski & Elee Shimshoni; Franklyn Wang, Cindy Yang & Joyce Tian; and Sanandan Swaminathan. Only Lazar Ilic and Anna Fitzpatrick solved the bonus puzzle. Ellen Dickstein Kominers pointed out that another major watermelon mystery really was recently solved. And thanks especially to The DeStories Family and Tamar Oostrom for test-solving!

The Bonus Round

Extracting the “Holy Grail”; games as human history; a new type of optical illusion (hat tip: Ellen Dickstein Kominers); and a “Patchwork” grid puzzle by Eric Berlin. Celebrating bidoof; watching a mesmerizing glass octopus; and exploring the AI-generated art scene (see especially “Overwatch painted by Max Ernst”). Alan Alda is now on TikTok; and the original Charizard card is returning in October. One month until the Reality Escape Convention. And inquiring minds want to know: How does The Escape Game make its props?

Some can even play Super Mario 64 blindfolded.

You can check out recordings of the event here.

Apologies to those who got stumped on this one – somehow none of the proofing turned up the fact that "HIPPOPOTAMUS" may have been a more appropriate answer.

The puzzle also featured language pointing to “marking the spot,” which both clued the “X” in the answer and the idea of crossing the words in the pairs together to form (slightly misshapen) “X”s at the overlapping letters.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Scott Duke Kominers is the MBA Class of 1960 Associate Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, and a faculty affiliate of the Harvard Department of Economics. Previously, he was a junior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows and the inaugural research scholar at the Becker Friedman Institute for Research in Economics at the University of Chicago.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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