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BRIEF: WWU’s Great Puzzle Hunt returns to campus for eighth anniversary

Over 1,000 people are divided into teams to complete a series of unique puzzle challenges

Players line up in Red Square during last year’s Great Puzzle Hunt on April 15, 2023 at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash. Some teams create group costumes to wear during the hunt. // Photo courtesy of Dwayne Rogge of The Photo Treehouse

On April 20, 2024, the eighth annual Great Puzzle Hunt will take place at Western Washington University, attracting hundreds of participants. The event is free and open to all with teams of up to six players, with four to six being recommended. 

The Great Puzzle Hunt “is a fun, full-day, team puzzle solving event,” according to the GPH website where teams will compete in solving a variety of puzzles around campus, either in-person or virtually. 

For founder Millie Johnson, a former math professor at Western, the Great Puzzle Hunt is a way to get people engaged in STEM, teamwork and critical thinking skills while having fun. 

Johnson came up with the idea in 2014 when she heard the Bellingham Tourism Bureau was looking for a signature event for the city like the Ski to Sea race. 

“My immediate thought was, wouldn’t it amazing to develop a team event that complimented the brawn of the Ski to Sea but focused on the versatility of the brain,” Johnson said. She then contacted her student Kyle Rader to help design a game platform that could host puzzles she wrote. 

“We just started it as a fluke, and then it grew… it was so much fun,” Johnson said.


Players work together to solve a puzzle at last year’s Great Puzzle Hunt on April 15, 2023 at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash. This year’s hunt is scheduled for April 20. // Photo courtesy of Dwayne Rogge of The Photo Treehouse

By 2019, the Great Puzzle Hunt had become popular enough that teams would fly in from places like New York, Atlanta, California and Canada. 

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the event wasn’t held in 2020, but the following year the virtual version of the Great Puzzle Hunt debuted. This virtual version allows teams to play from anywhere as long as they have a device and supplies for a “wizard bag” (tape, scissors, hole punch, etc.). 

“That was when we first opened it up to the world,” Johnson said. 

Unbeknownst to Johnson and the team, the word had been spreading about the new virtual version amongst puzzle solving communities online. Teams from India, China, the Netherlands, Korea, Australia, France and the U.K. joined the hunt in 2021. 

In 2022, it was decided that the Great Puzzle Hunt would become hybrid, with virtual and in-person events in order to include any interested players. 

“This group of young boys in India won first place in the open so we streamed them over Red Square and everybody was screaming for them. It worked really well to be hybrid, and we decided to do that from here on [out],” Johnson said. 

Participants who are interested in playing this year can register their team by April 18, 2024. New this year is a feature that will allow players without teams to connect with each other when they register. 

If you are not interested in being a player but want to get involved, Johnson is always in need of volunteers. To volunteer, contact

Madeline Thielman

Madeline Thielman is a campus life reporter for The Front this quarter. She is a fourth-year journalism/public relations major and business administration minor. In her free time, she enjoys hanging out with her dog, spending time outdoors, and all things travel. You can reach her at

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