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This question is part of the best-puzzle award series.


What are your nominations for the best puzzles, here on Puzzling.SE, of the second quarter (Apr/ May / Jun) 2015?

Suggested guidelines for nomination:

  • Nominate each individual puzzle in a separate answer, so they can be upvoted/downvoted separately.

  • No more than 3 nominations per person.

  • Don't nominate your own puzzles.

  • Before you nominate a puzzle, check to see if someone else has already nominated it. If they have then add to that nomination as a comment (or edit it), instead of nominating the same puzzle again.

  • In your nomination, explain what it is that (in your opinion) makes the nominated puzzle such a good one.

Meta-meta issues:

  • Is this kind of thing allowed on SE?

  • What's the point?

    • To highlight and encourage good practice in a way that goes beyond upvotes.

    • To work towards building a 'hall of fame' of some of the best puzzles on the site (perhaps to reside on a future puzzling.SE blog) - think of it as our 'greatest hits album'. :)

    • To prompt members to put forward their own reflections on what makes a high-quality puzzle.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks B! I'd forgotten. $\endgroup$ – A E Jul 23 '15 at 19:29

11 Answers 11

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What is a ... Phrase™ ?

This is actually a series of puzzles (some of which fall no longer into Q2 but the initial ones do) and I haven't picked a particular one because part of the quality of these puzzles lie in the fact that the whole series is built in the same way, which provides a fair starting point for searching. All those puzzles deal with some meta-aspects of text or letters and reach from surprisingly simple to abstrusely complex. Although I haven't solved a single puzzle of this series (yet), I very much like the theme and enjoy reading the solutions, as they are rather inspiring.

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    $\begingroup$ Puzzles are fun, but the author has a habit of presenting lists of words/phrases as images, which isn't very accessibility-friendly. $\endgroup$ – glibdud Jul 21 '15 at 17:46
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    $\begingroup$ @glibdud Formatting a table with LaTex is hard. I use the images because I have better control over formatting and they look way better than if I had used one of those dull gray textboxes with the ugly font. If there are really a lot of people who cannot see images, I'd love to know. On one of these Phrase puzzles, at the request of a commenter, I did convert the image to a copyable list. On the other hand, if people can really see the images, but just want to copy the words and paste them elsewhere, then that is a different issue I guess. Which reason is the main reason for more people? $\endgroup$ – JLee Jul 22 '15 at 19:47
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    $\begingroup$ @JLee Well, me for one. I usually browse the site during breaks at work, and my employer blocks the popular image-sharing sites. That's why the only one of your puzzles I've submitted an answer for is the one that had the text in plain tables. I know from other conversations that others are in the same boat, but I couldn't begin to give you a number. I guess I just don't see attractive presentation of lists to be a good reason to limit audience, but I suppose it's subjective. $\endgroup$ – glibdud Jul 22 '15 at 19:52
  • $\begingroup$ @glibdud I am trying to imagine surfing the internet with no images, and... well, ... it's horrible. But, it really wouldn't be too much trouble for me to include both the image and the text form, but I suspect that that might annoy even more people, so I am not sure what to do here. $\endgroup$ – JLee Jul 22 '15 at 19:56
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    $\begingroup$ @JLee I think copy & paste text would be preferred, actually. $\endgroup$ – BmyGuest Jul 22 '15 at 19:58
  • $\begingroup$ would it be worthwhile to go back and "correct" these Phrase puzzles in this manner? Or is it better to apply this information moving forward? thoughts anyone? $\endgroup$ – JLee Jul 22 '15 at 19:59
  • $\begingroup$ @JLee Not all images, but there isn't really much of any legitimate business content on Imgur, so that's a pretty easy target for corporate network admins. $\endgroup$ – glibdud Jul 22 '15 at 19:59
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    $\begingroup$ @JLee I can't comment on deleted posts, but thanks a lot for nominating Andrew Void! :-) And it's never too late to add a new nomination to the 2015 Q1 thread... $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Aug 5 '15 at 20:53
  • $\begingroup$ @JLee, what I've done in the past is include an extra copy of things that might have an accessibility problem, at the bottom of the puzzle. $\endgroup$ – A E Aug 10 '15 at 13:55
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    $\begingroup$ @AE That's a great practice, and one that I have started doing now too, because of these suggestions. I always appreciate the feedback. Without it, I am just guessing what others might be experiencing. Thanks. $\endgroup$ – JLee Aug 10 '15 at 14:16
  • $\begingroup$ @JLee If you click on the 'edited on Jul 21...', you'll see the revision history of the post in the same way as for an undeleted post. $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Aug 10 '15 at 15:26
  • $\begingroup$ I have to admit, I don't like these puzzles. They are somewhat similar to "guess the sequence" puzzles and share some of that genre's problems: the rules used to determine which words are "in" or "out" can potentially be arbitrary, and there's potential for more than one rule to explain a list of words, meaning that puzzles might not be provably correct. Besides that, there are starting to be too many of them for my taste — they're no longer very original. $\endgroup$ – Kevin - Reinstate Monica Aug 17 '15 at 22:53
  • $\begingroup$ @Kevin I totally understand you on the "starting to be too many of them...", which is why I said in a recent comment that I will wait 1 or 2 weeks to post any more of them. I clicked your link, hoping for an ex. of "there's more than one rule to explain..." but it was not an example. I agree that a puzzle is good only if only one rule will work. However, it is impossible to consider all cases from every perspective, and sometimes someone will find another rule that seems to fit. In that case I will find counter-examples to add to the puzzle to show how the found rule is not completely correct. $\endgroup$ – JLee Aug 18 '15 at 14:11
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    $\begingroup$ @Kevin I cannot speak for any other puzzle-makers, but that is what I have done on the 1 or 2 Phrase puzzles of mine where there was some ambiguity. It's true that if I could/would have thought of it beforehand, then I would have included those added counter-examples when first posting the puzzle, but, in my opinion, it's better to fix it later than not at all. At least the future viewers will see a more complete puzzle. $\endgroup$ – JLee Aug 18 '15 at 14:13
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A hunt for long forgotten treasure ...but beware the pirate's curse!

This puzzle does it all. It not only gives a wonderful visual aid that's integral to solving the puzzle, but it also provides many, many different elements of puzzles in its cryptic, twisted text. Solving the puzzle was a true team effort, aided by a large amount of people on the forum. Each stanza had a different way to get to its solution, making the puzzle accessible to a huge population of the puzzlers here. The map itself not only was important to the solution of the puzzle but also contained more than one puzzle in and of itself, making it a fantastic visual.

Any puzzle that can provide so many different puzzles of so many different types inside itself while still maintaining the feel of one overarching puzzle, as well as being able to bring the community together to solve the puzzle as a team, I feel is deserving of the highest praise.

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    $\begingroup$ The only thing that makes this one a little iffy for me is that the author had to add an enormous number of hints before someone could get it. In my opinion, a more ideal version of this puzzle would be clearer from the outset. However, perfection is a hard ideal, and I think this comes pretty close for the reasons you've stated. $\endgroup$ – Aza Jul 20 '15 at 17:56
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    $\begingroup$ I agree with that sentiment exactly. I think an easier version of the puzzle would be perfect - however, there are SO many things going in the right direction for this that I'm willing to nominate it through its difficulty. $\endgroup$ – Bailey M Jul 20 '15 at 17:59
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    $\begingroup$ I also agree, but the aspect of "working together" is only sparked by the interactive nature of the puzzle, i.e. by having comments and additional hints. As a 'stand alone' puzzle ( in a book etc. ) it would need more starting-points (or would be frustratingly difficult), but for a social site, it was perfect. I think the two properties are somewhat exclusive of each other. $\endgroup$ – BmyGuest Jul 21 '15 at 6:46
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Who shall come to the tea party?

Trevor Powell took a math/logic puzzle that I might have skipped over on its own and turned it into a masterpiece of puzzle exposition. I encourage everybody to at least read the puzzle (even though the write-up is long). The puzzle itself was perhaps a standard logic puzzle (I don't really know what qualities make a puzzle "good"), but I hope that this puzzle leads to more people writing creative fluff for future puzzles!

Edit: It also led to Édouard's equally delightful answer.

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Treasure hunt 'round the world! (series)

I am so thankful that this was not a "semi-interactive puzzle"

This series has been very creative with very different questions. It has led the solvers on a journey.

The puzzles are simple and straightforward but require multiple layers of solving.

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Magician, Assistant, Nine Dice and Two Cups

This puzzle has it all! The presentation is hilarious. From having the magician go off to fight dragons, to having the reader kill the assistant, every detail not only entertains, but serves a purpose to make any potential solution unambiguously verifiable. His premise (the existence of a "magic trick") is surprising, and a solution is far from obvious. However, once you see the solution, it is quite satisfying and clever.

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    $\begingroup$ Support. I really love this one, although imho none of the solutions come close to the quality of the puzzle itself. $\endgroup$ – GOTO 0 Aug 17 '15 at 17:11
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The Hangman Game Backwards

I'm not sure if this is a brand-new type of puzzle, but I've never seen any like it before. The premise is a game of hangman that was lost with only one space left to fill. The solver is given a number of letters that conceivably could have filled the space, with clues to what words would thus have been formed. The challenge is to determine the final state of the game, in the form

The question was: _ p p l e

Alex created a number of these fiendishly simple puzzles, and others were inspired to create some as well. The third puzzle by Alex is lean and elegant, and my nomination for best of the quarter.

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Such a late answer will probably languish unnoticed at the bottom, but I think it deserves a mention:

Complete the world's longest self-documenting sentence

The premise of this puzzle is a nice challenge the idea of which should be familiar to any budding logician or fan of Godel, Escher, Bach. It's an 'obvious' idea to come up with once you know about the concept of self-referentiality.

My answer to this question is probably, among my 433+ posts on this site, the one that I've put the most effort into creating. It was an incredible slog and took hours out of my life, but actually getting an answer out at the end made it all worthwhile.

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SIGINT Challenge #1 - Image Steganography

This puzzle had surprising depth for something that looked mostly harmless from the outset.

There were many different types of things required to solve this puzzle and I personally had to do a lot of research and learned a lot.

There was one small issue that caused the puzzle to linger unanswered for a while but it was definitely a lot of fun.

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    $\begingroup$ I wish someone would write a comprehensive guide to this question because I read the question, then I read the answers, and I still have no idea what's going on. $\endgroup$ – Bailey M Jul 21 '15 at 13:39
  • $\begingroup$ I guess we somewhat skipped that because 2012rcampion was updating the puzzle with the solution as we went. I might revisit it and write a comprehensive solution. $\endgroup$ – LeppyR64 Jul 21 '15 at 13:41
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SIGINT Challenge #2 - Alien Message

Like the first SIGINT challenge, this one went deep. Taking almost 3 weeks to answer, it seemed to just go deeper and deeper and people were able to uncover each way the data was hidden.

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Is this Tetris puzzle solvable?

This was a question from a user who had a serious -- and good -- question, and the answer was spot-on.

Not all of our best questions are challenge questions, and the primary reason I like this one is because it suggests that we're still not only capable of, but quite good at answering non-challenge questions from users who visit the site.

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    $\begingroup$ -1. I've upvoted both the question and Tryth's answer since I thought they were good quality (a perfectly fine question, a nice succinct answer), but IMO neither is outstanding: they're pretty mediocre and don't deserve to be the top-voted question and answer on the site, nor to be the best in the quarter. There are many many other questions and answers which were more original and took more effort to write. $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Aug 4 '15 at 18:28
  • $\begingroup$ +1 There sure are more difficult puzzles around on the site or more original ones, but this puzzle was great because so many people could relate to it. I guess almost everyone who visits any stackexchange site has played tetris at one time or another. It was actually this question that got me to join puzzling.SE. $\endgroup$ – Sumyrda - Reinstate Monica Aug 16 '15 at 9:48
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The Duplicator and the Safe

This has to be my 2nd nomination for this quarter. Simply because it is so lovingly abstract. While the story-line is fun to read, it also sent my brain buzzing just to understand what the actual question is. Let alone trying to solve it. This is one of those puzzles, which I'd consider "mathematical" without obviously being so. Something which enlarges one's horizon and forces one to leave the comfort-zone of thinking.

Maybe nothing too special for professional mathematicians - but I'm none :c)

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