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By Grace McCarthy   Contestants in the Great Puzzle Hunt scrambled across Western’s campus on Saturday. They competed to solve four primary puzzles and one Meta Puzzle, a game that challenged their knowledge of various topics. Contestants came from as far as New Mexico, California and Canada for The Great Puzzle Hunt at Western. Associate math professor Millie Johnson and the Great Puzzle Hunt club organized the third-annual puzzle hunt. Contestants were playing for a $50 Amazon gift card for each member of a winning team in each of the three categories. In its first year, Johnson hoped to get 30 students interested and ended up having over 300 play. This year 462 players in 96 teams used their deduction and reasoning in quests that started at 10 a.m. and ended at 5 p.m.  

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A group of players attempt to solve one of the four main puzzles during the 2018 Great Puzzle Hunt on Saturday, April 14. // Photo by Grace McCarthy
"It just makes me so happy there’s so many people that will just run around in the rain and say ‘let’s build something and build puzzles for a day,’” Johnson said. The Open category was the largest, even surpassing the WWU Students category. Scoring was determined by how many minutes a team took to solve a puzzle, plus the hints each used. Bonus time could be subtracted from the puzzle score. The first-place teams were The Reason We’re All Here Today, in the WWU Student category; Team Rigby, in the WWU Alumni category and Circles All The Way Down, in the Open category. The game’s mission was to bring people together with diverse skills to work toward a common goal. Although a contestant may have knowledge in one area, an entire team is needed to finish the game. Puzzles were tackled from various subjects, including arts, humanities and math. Changes in this year's game included tweaking the scoring system and getting more donors involved. Johnson said she hopes to make this event free in the future. Tickets were $5 for students this year but would have been $15 to $20 without donors. For Johnson, this event is no small feat. The day after each year's event, Johnson starts planning the next year's hunt. She dedicates 40 hours per week outside of her job to the Great Puzzle Hunt. The puzzles take at least two months to write. After that, Johnson sends at least 49 drafts to each of the puzzle testers, even one in Norway. With the testers’ help, Johnson continues editing each puzzle. Johnson spent two years collecting 3,000 toilet paper tubes for this year’s humanities puzzle. Scott St. Clair, The Great Puzzle Hunt club president, works to advertise the yearly game. His work includes putting up posters around campus and downtown Bellingham, as well as running the club’s booth at the Western info fair. “Considering we’ve got a good return this year, we had a good return last year, I think it’ll keep being a pretty popular event on Western’s campus,” St. Clair said.   The club is open to Western students and works to advertise the event. St. Clair said the club is always open to new members. Jenni Miska, a first-year graduate student, was a new competitor in the hunt. “I’m excited to be surrounded by other people who like puzzles as much as I do,” Miska said. “I like to play games, I like to solve things. There aren't many good outlets for that, so having this event is really cool.” Johnson hopes to further community involvement. Her goal is to expand the puzzle hunt into businesses in downtown Bellingham and Fairhaven. “I hope I can turn this into a whole, Bellingham-brainiac weekend,” she said.  


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