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'Puzzled Pint' Contestants Crack Codes Over Beers

By Kyla Gardner | April 28, 2014 5:50am
 Monthly "Puzzled Pint" pub nights swap out trivia for wordplay and code-breaking.
Puzzled Pint
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LINCOLN SQUARE — "Puzzled Pint" isn't your average bar game: Smartphone use is encouraged, and hints are plentiful.

But that doesn't mean the pub night, which has been going strong in four other cities and is new to Chicago, is easier than bar trivia.

"It’s a lot more intense than a pub trivia night," said Sandor Weisz, a Chicago chapter organizer. "The way that it's similar is that the purpose is to have a night out and drink and do something with your brain."

Though puzzles take many forms — from jigsaw to crossword and sudoku — most of the brain teasers at Puzzled Pint are code-based and broken through binary, morse, braille, or alphanumeric code.

 Every puzzler gets a code sheet and "Puzzling Basics" primer at the pub game night.
Every puzzler gets a code sheet and "Puzzling Basics" primer at the pub game night.
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DNAinfo/Kyla Gardner

But those translations aren't necessarily the tricky part, as every participant gets a code sheet and "Puzzling Basics" primer. The tough part is teasing out which code to use and how.

"Puzzle solving is all about pattern matching," Weisz said. "The essence is the 'a ha moment,' when it all clicks and you figure out how the pattern resolves."

Carl Cohoon, 34, was on the team that completed all five puzzles first at April's game night at Leadway Bar, 5233 N. Damen Ave. in Lincoln Square.

He said of the "a ha moment:" "It's very hard to explain, but it's like, 'Oh, that’s how you get to that final answer. It's very, very rewarding."

The puzzles also use smaller elements of jigsaw, logic games or wordplay. One puzzle at the April event was a series of "Before and After" phrases, similar to game shows "Jeopardy!" and "Wheel of Fortune," where two expressions are connected by a common word — such as "free fall" and "fall apart."

Another exchanged song titles and artists for synonyms, so puzzlers had to figure out that "Ladies Are Not Among My Many Issues" stood in for Jay Z's "99 Problems," and "The Shy Partygoers" meant "The Wallflowers."

Because participants can use their smartphones, that makes the puzzles more fun to create and solve, Weisz said.

Weisz, who lives in Lincoln Square, created one of the puzzles for April's challenge and has contributed to the Sunday Puzzle on NPR.

"Google is your friend," he said. "Because this is codebreaking and often involves pop culture, you might as well embrace it. It gives you the permission to use the knowledge well beyond what you can assume that your participants have in their brains."

The addition of Puzzled Pint, which is held the second Tuesday of every month, has added to "a burgeoning puzzle scene in Chicago," Weisz said.

"Group puzzling is fun," said participant Jimmy Williams, of Uptown. "All day I'll do puzzles by myself, but it’s a different experience when you’ve got other people here, and you're working on something together."

Teams are timed and can compare their solve-time to others completing the same puzzles on the same night in Portland, Seattle, London, and Missoula, Montana.

"That’s kind of a minor point of it," though, Weisz said. "It's really for the fun of it."

The next "Puzzled Pint" has the theme "Princess Bride" and takes place May 13. To find out where it's held, however, contestants need to solve a puzzle that goes up on www.puzzledpint.com on May 12.

But "Puzzled Pint" isn't about turning away curious newcomers. If someone can't solve the location puzzle, there are hints and even a hotline available for help.

As the website encourages: "If this sounds even remotely interesting to you, you’re going to love it."

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