Build-Your-Own-Puzzle

Build-Your-Own-Puzzle is both a type of puzzle popularized by the Galactic Puzzle Hunt, and a solve path element used to disguise the presence of another puzzle type. Depending on its use, it can force solvers to create a new puzzle whole-cloth, or complete another task that secretly creates a solvable puzzle at the same time.

Background[edit | edit source]

As a Puzzle Type[edit | edit source]

The art of puzzle creation is often saved for the people behind the scenes on a puzzle hunt, but some authors have tasked solvers with this job instead. In some cases, a "write-your-own-puzzle" puzzle is just a joke, intended as a free answer or as a way to flavor an otherwise unflavorful solve path. These kinds of puzzles don't necessarily expect you to create a full puzzle, nor do they really check your work, beyond whether you have the right answer.

However, some of these puzzles do in fact check your work, with extraction either relying on the puzzle you created, or gated behind something checking that your puzzle meets the expectations and constraints of the setter. This version of a build-your-own-puzzle was popularized by the Galactic Puzzle Hunt, where in 2018 a puzzle called Make Your Own Fillomino required solvers to simply do that. There were constraints, but if they submitted a valid puzzle, they'd get information back that could be used with their own puzzle to solve the hunt's puzzle. Since then, one of these puzzles has shown up in every GPH, albeit with variations: 2019 had solvers write a Crossword and 2021 had them construct an overly-constrained math test one question at a time. Notably, all of the GPH puzzles in this style have the title "Make Your Own X", which has led to at least one other case of a non-GPH hunt creating a puzzle in homage to the GPH tradition, even if the puzzle itself didn't fit the traditional 'Make Your Own...' model.

Puzzle Application[edit | edit source]

As a Puzzle Type[edit | edit source]

A build-your-own-puzzle puzzle is essentially only constrained by its extraction mechanism. Otherwise, writers could technically force solvers to create any type of puzzle. However, since puzzle creation is usually a very involved process, long and complicated puzzles, like Conundrums should be avoided. If solvers have to completely stop their flow to focus on writing a puzzle that would be difficult to write even for an experienced writer, then it's not a good choice. Similarly, puzzles that take can't be tested automatically by a computer program (like Conundrums) or take a very long time to test manually (like Conundrums) should be avoided as well. Grid-based puzzles in particular are good options, as they can usually be tested quickly, and can often be submitted by a string of plaintext.

The 'next steps' for a build-your-own-puzzle are also quite variable. Since the goal is usually to input something, writers have the ability for the "output" to be anything they want. This can be another, similar puzzle that then needs to be solved, it can be an overlay or change that can be applied to the original input, or it could even just be the final answer on a silver platter. Most commonly, however, the output will be directly related to the input in some way, allowing the output itself to be different for every solver (if they use a different input, of course). Common ways to do this include applying a substitution cipher to the puzzle (if it's word-based), providing a supplemental grid of letters (especially if it's number-based), or incorrectly solving the input puzzle (regardless of if it's word or number-based).

As a Solve Path Element[edit | edit source]

When used as part of a solve path, a build-your-own-puzzle is usually much more constrained. This is because the goal is often to hide the presence of the puzzle until it is already being created. As such, build-your-own-puzzle as a solve path element is best used in puzzles without a lot of information, such as metapuzzles or minimalist structures. It also fits well in instructional puzzles, where the manipulation of something can easily be turned into a solvable puzzle by the end. Grids as an additional visual element are also quite commonly used, as they provide a boundary for the creation of the puzzle, and can act as an additional clue to the true nature of the puzzle being solved.

One key thing about build-your-own-puzzle as a solve path element is that the solver should be able to recognize what they're creating as an additional puzzle to solve. As such, the puzzle should be of an established type. Additional clues can be helpful, but are not necessary if the resulting puzzle is sufficiently identifiable via structure, like an Akari or a Maze.

Strategy[edit | edit source]

As a Puzzle Type[edit | edit source]

Build-your-own-puzzle puzzles usually come with their own set of instructions, meaning that the main difficulty is less in identification or figuring out what to do, but how to do it properly given the constraints on the process. If solving as part of a team, check if anyone has experience with writing puzzles of the given type. They'll be best equipped to attack the puzzle head-on. If nobody fits the bill, though, don't fret. Many of these puzzles are small-scale versions of the more difficult task, like creating a 7x7 crossword rather than a 13x13. There are also often tools online that can help with either generating a puzzle, or constructing one by hand without contradictions.

Since construction of a puzzle by itself is rarely the only part of the puzzle, make sure to save your work, and be prepared to submit multiple puzzles or variations, since it's always possible that your initial submission won't be enough to extract all the information you need.

As a Solve Path Element[edit | edit source]

A big part of solving a hidden build-your-own-puzzle is being able to identify what the puzzle is once it's been created. Familiarizing yourself with the basic structure of logic puzzles and other grid-based puzzles is a good first step, since many will have unique characteristics that help you figure out what it is. Akari, for example, has black squares that sometimes have numbers on them. A crossword will have black squares and letters in white squares. A maze will have no letters or numbers, but a lot of walls. Differentiating between similar puzzle types, particularly the number-based logic puzzles, can be difficult, so also keep an eye out for flavortext that clues a particular one, like mentioning the translation of a Japanese puzzle name.

Recognizing a puzzle type prior to completing the construction is also possible, and can help with the construction process, particularly if one is well-versed in the constraints of a given puzzle. However, this is usually not necessary, and most of these types of puzzles can be fully constructed without knowing the puzzle type beforehand.

Notable Examples[edit | edit source]

As Flavor[edit | edit source]

  • Build-A-Puzzle (MUMS 2016) - Solvers don't actually need to submit any kind of puzzle here. Instead, they're tasked just with finding the correct indexes to apply to a set of words to get an answer that fits the given constraints. Otherwise, there's no checker, and no additional construction steps needed.

As a Puzzle Type[edit | edit source]

  • Make Your Own Fillomino (GPH 2018) - The one that became a GPH mainstay. The original puzzle required solvers create a fillomino puzzles with several constraints. First, they couldn't use 4s as givens. Second, they could only have up to 36 givens in the grid. Lastly, the solution had to have 8 tetrominoes, with two each of the LITS shapes. Doing this correctly gave teams a Click to revealletter grid that was generated based on their puzzle's solution, allowing them to extract using the unclued tetromino placements.

As a Solve Path Element[edit | edit source]

  • Light Fairy and Shenkuu Fairy (Chaos In Neopia - Huntinality 2022) - As a meta, this puzzle had 7 answers that needed to be placed in a grid, with instructions on which letters to shade in as black (with numbers from 0-3 on some). Click to revealThis ended up being a surreptitious way of constructing an Akari grid, which could be solved to extract a final answer.

See Also[edit | edit source]