Kominers’s Conundrums: The Olympics of Brainteasers Is Here
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- The Olympics are in full swing, and at Conundrums we’re giving you a chance to get in on the action. Below, we present a series of puzzles based around three of our favorite summer Olympic sports: archery, sport climbing and diving.
The answer to each puzzle is a common English word or phrase — and even better, each one is a bit of a pun. Solving any one of them counts as a full solve this week, which means you can “medal” in whichever sport you choose. But if you do manage to solve all three, you can combine their answers into a bonus puzzle, and claim an absolutely epic prize.
A pair of Olympic archers both shot lettered arrows at the same target. While the scorekeeper kept track of the total scores and which arrows landed where, he forgot to write down which arrows were whose. Can you use the target image and scoring rules below to figure out which three arrows belong to the first competitor, and which belong to the second? Once you do, you should be able to use the letters on the arrows to spell out the answer to the following Conundrum: Why didn’t they allow archery in the Junior Olympics? It was too ___.
The first archer earned 66 points; the second earned 89.
Arrows that hit the bull’s-eye in the center are worth 10, and then the concentric rings around the bull’s-eye are worth 9, 7, 5, 3, and 1 point, respectively — starting from the inner ring and moving to the edge. Plus to make the game more intense as it goes on, there’s a special bonus rule in effect: your second shot’s point value is doubled, and your third shot’s point value is multiplied by 10.
This year, the Olympics decided to add sport climbing, in which expert climbers aim to make it to the summit by following routes made up of colored handholds. It’s essential to think through your route carefully before you start climbing, so you can reach the top as quickly and energy-efficiently as possible.
Here are our climber’s observations upon looking at the rock face; can you figure out the shortest route from the bottom to the top? Once you do, the colors of the holds will help you spell out the answer to the following Conundrum: What’s the main cosmetic benefit of moving sport climbing competitions outside? The sun helps the players get ___.
- From the BLUE hold at the bottom, you can reach the MARIGOLD hold, the RED hold and the UMBER hold.
- From the EMERALD hold, you can reach the ZUCCHINI hold and the RAINBOW hold at the top.
- From the GREEN hold, you can reach the INDIGO hold and the UMBER hold.
- From the INDIGO hold, you can reach the GREEN hold, the MAROON hold and the WISTERIA hold.
- From the MARIGOLD hold, you can reach the BLUE hold.
- From the MAROON hold, you can reach the INDIGO hold.
- From the NAVY hold, you can reach the ORANGE hold, the VERMILION hold and the ZUCCHINI hold.
- From the OLIVE hold, you can reach WHITE hold and the RAINBOW hold at the top.
- From the ORANGE hold, you can reach the NAVY hold, the RED hold and the YELLOW hold.
- From the PUCE hold, you can reach the VERMILION hold and the WHITE hold.
- From the RED hold, you can reach the BLUE hold, the ORANGE hold and the UMBER hold.
- From the SEAGULL hold, you can reach the YELLOW hold.
- From the UMBER hold, you can reach the BLUE hold, the GREEN hold and the RED hold.
- From the VERMILION hold, you can reach the NAVY hold, the PUCE hold and the ZUCCHINI hold.
- From the WHITE hold, you can reach the OLIVE hold and the PUCE hold.
- From the WISTERIA hold, you can reach the INDIGO hold and the ZUCCHINI hold.
- From the YELLOW hold, you can reach the ORANGE hold and the SEAGULL hold.
- From the ZUCCHINI hold, you can reach the EMERALD hold, the NAVY hold, the VERMILION hold and the WISTERIA hold.
In Olympic diving, competitors jump into the pool from heights that can boggle the mind — and show off a variety of different figures before landing with a splash.
Can you find the divers in the “letter pool” below? Their dive types are as listed — but we’re in the midst of the competition, so by now there might have been a bit of displacement. Once you find the divers, they’ll spell out the answer to the following Conundrum: What’s the problem with having too many people dive at once? It makes the water ___.
Remember, solving any one of the sports puzzles counts as a full solve this week, so feel free to send in any of them for your answer.
But if you manage to solve all three, then congratulations! It’s time to head over to the winners’ circle and collect your three medals. After that, all that’s left is to mount the podiums pictured below. And when you do so, you’ll receive a bonus answer describing a prize that’s almost mythical — a worthy reward for your puzzle-solving triumph.
If you shoot, splash, and scale your way to the summit of sports — or if you even make partial progress — please let us know at email@example.com before midnight New York time on Thursday, July 29.
Programming note: The next Conundrums will run on August 1.
Previously in Kominers’ Conundrums…
- Newfangled radar helps you ensure that all your shots hit, ending the game in 17 turns. (BATTLESHIP)
- Perfect dice rolls, plus going around the board backwards gives you a chance to snag “Park Place” and “Boardwalk” just minutes into the game. (MONOPOLY)
- 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! (SONIC THE HEDGEHOG)
- British intelligence technology enables you to listen in on the other six players’ negotiations and submit your orders moments after they do. (DIPLOMACY)
- Get the Queen to h5, and the game is as good as over. (CHESS) [There really is a three-move checkmate that involves moving the Queen to board position h5 — although your opponent has to play rather poorly in order for this strategy to work.]
- Everyone’s favorite plumber faces an epic journey to rescue royalty — this time, with the help of an extra-special hat (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. (SUPER MARIO ODYSSEY) [This clue implicitly references the speedrunner Dangers, who played Super Mario Odyssey in this year’s Summer Games Done Quick — in an unusual format centered around a parrot character in the game called Talkatoo.]
- 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. (TETRIS) [Tetris records are awesome.]
- Every good deed is 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. (CHUTES AND LADDERS)
- 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. (CLUE)
- 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. (MEGA MAN) [In the original Mega Man, one of the villains is named “Guts Man,” and his weapon is especially powerful against “Cut Man.”]
- 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. (LABYRINTH) [Never heard of Labyrinth? You should try it out — it’s one of my all-time favorite games!]
- 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! (SUPER METROID) [The clue describes a particular speedrunning challenge, in which the game is played in “reverse boss order.” “Shiny” was an oblique reference to the speedrunner ShinyZeni, who is known for a long-standing world record in that category. ]
Once you had identified the games, you could fit their names into the grid as follows:
Reading down the center column spelled out “important advice for anyone who is speedrunning in the summer:” STAY HYDRATED! (In addition to being legitimately good advice, this phrase was something of a meme in the videogame speedrunning community.)
And there was a bonus puzzle, for pros who wanted to “solve grid-less.” We provided the following “cheat codes,” which we explained would “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
The cheat codes were made up of 12 different numbers — seeming to correspond to the 12 different clues. And the instruction to solve “grid-less” implied that you should use the original order of the clues, rather than the order of the game names in the grid. But even then, if you just looked at the letters in the numbered positions in the games’ names, you got gobbledygook.
We had also said “you’ll have to sort out how and where the cheat codes should be entered,” hinting that some sort of sorting was needed. The trick was to realize that the two codes respectively had five and seven numbers in them — and there were five videogames and seven board games among the answers to the clues.
SONIC THE HEDGEHOG
SUPER MARIO ODYSSEY
CHUTES AND LADDERS
We were extremely excited to see this puzzle get some traction in the game speedrunning community. Most thrillingly, one of my favorite runners — who goes by the moniker Argick — solved the puzzle live on stream along with his followers. (Showing how a true speed-puzzle-solving pro tackles Conundrums, he correctly guessed the answer before solving any of the clues!) You can watch his solve-through below (and you should totally check out his Twitch channel, too).
Ross Rheingans-Yoo solved first, followed by Zoz*, Franklyn Wang & Cindy Yang, Zarin Pathan*, Andrew Garber, Argick (see above), Ellen Dickstein Kominers, Arman Pathan, Scott Wu, Brian “Brossentia” Cook, and Kari Johnson. The other 18 solvers were Mason Arbery, Jim Avery, Bella Beckett, Jim Casagrande, Noam D. Elkies, Yannai Gonczarowski & Elee Shimshoni, Kaylie Hausknecht, Lazar Ilic*, Paul Kominers*, Joshua Krieger, Colin Lu*, Jordan Or, Nancy & Murray Stern, Sanandan Swaminathan, Michael Thaler, Nathaniel Ver Steeg, Eric Wepsic, Chris Wirth, and Ryan Yu. (Asterisks denote those who also solved the bonus puzzle.)
The Bonus Round
Google’s massive Olympic RPG; reimagining countries’ flags as anime; and a “‘wormhole’ between geometry and numbers.” The Print Shop returns; the history of “The Oregon Trail”; the “Playdate” game system; and a trip to the “Vaporwave Mall.” Norwich Cathedral welcomes Dippy the Dinosaur. Oxford admissions brainteasers (hat tip: Willemien Kets); too much “Peppa Pig”; and hiding malware inside of AI. Plus inquiring minds want to know: What’s driving the run-up in Pokémon card prices?
Late-breaking news: After standing for multiple years, that record was apparently just beaten last night by the runner zoasty.
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.
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