Canned Hints

Canned Hints are pre-written hints, included in puzzle hunts in order to reduce the amount of work required by the hunt writers while the hunt is live. Commonly used in static, long-form hunts that are intended to be joined and solved at any time, their use outside of that setting is somewhat divisive, as while they do reduce the work load of the organizers, they can often fail to address the problems a team actually encounters during a puzzle.

Background[edit | edit source]

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Hunt Application[edit | edit source]

Canned Hints are mostly used simply as an easy way to provide hints to solvers. What differentiates uses is how they're presented.

The most common presentation method, seen in hunts like the Puzzle Boat series and several instances of REDDOT Hunt, is to have buttons that teams can click on to unlock a hint, often combined with some kind of Hint Currency to cash in. When a hunt has multiple hints to give, they'll usually be divided by the helpfulness of the hint (such as PB's Bronze/Silver/Gold hints) or by the part of the puzzle that is being hinted. This style usually involves hints being written based off testsolving feedback and the author's own solution. It allows the hints to be created, posted, and then left alone, but can be somewhat frustrating to solvers as there's always a chance that their particular problem won't be addressed.

A variation on the above, generally seen in Australian-style hunts or in-person hunts that use ClueKeeper, is to give teams hints automatically after a puzzle is open for a set period of time, which is usually in intervals of a day for Australian-style hunts, and on the order of 15 minutes or so for in-person hunts. This allows teams to play on an even playing field and is also relatively easy to administer, and this format can even be implemented as a simple webpage (such as in Edric's Treasure Hunt or Mark Halpin's Labor Day Extravaganza). Typically, earlier hints tend to either hint at earlier steps of a puzzle, and may be more cryptically worded, which can make teams stuck on a different part of the puzzle frustrated. To mitigate this, ClueKeeper hunts tend to allow teams to submit partial progress in order to demonstrate their progress in a puzzle, which may allow hints to be opened earlier.

The other common presentation method is for canned hints to be presented in Custom Hints's clothing. Rather than relying on solvers to decide what hints suits them best based on vague descriptions or ratings, this method has solvers write in for a hint request, allowing writers to choose from a set of canned hints to find the one that best suits the solvers. This allows for targeted hinting at the expense of more work (compared to button-based hints) and less success (compared to truly custom hints). Since part of the appeal of using canned hints is so that large, static hunts don't have to have someone on call for hint requests, this method somewhat defeats the purpose. These types of hints both are less popular for the above reasons, and more difficult to identify as Canned Hints unless the writing team actively comes out and says so. A mix of the two approaches may also be used, with canned hints being used to clue certain aha's, and custom hints used for data verification requests or other unforeseen sticking points.

Notable Examples[edit | edit source]

Hunt-wide Use[edit | edit source]

  • Puzzle Boats 2-8 (web) - All editions of Puzzle Boat outside of the original contain canned hints in the form of either bronze/silver/gold-level hints or hints marked with their topic.
  • Verwald's Treasures (web) - This hunt contained a hint system in its answer-submission system in addition to a custom hint system that opened a week into the hunt. Solvers could submit the word APPRENTICE, and be given options for further submissions to get hints on specific areas of a puzzle.

Puzzle Use[edit | edit source]

  • Water Bottle (MITMH 2021) (web) - A case of canned hints appearing as a puzzle element! The puzzle required solvers to submit a hint request (containing a specific phrase), which started a call-and-response chain of hint responses and requests that had to contain a particular word or phrase. All hints sent were Canned Hints, but notably used the hunt's otherwise-custom hint system.

See Also[edit | edit source]