To celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Alinea restaurant, the three-star Michelin restaurant in Chicago, we built a two-month long alternate reality game called Pilcrow Bar. Every week, we published a new puzzle about a fictional pop-up restaurant. Thousands of people submitted responses for a chance to win prizes and dinners at Alinea. Visit pilcrow.bar to solve the puzzles
We collaborated with Field Notes to create Clandestine, their 41st quarterly edition. The books are gorgeous and useful note-taking tools — and, thanks to us, there are also layers of secret info waiting for you inside. We also built a puzzle hunt that coincided with the launch of the books, which attracted thousands of players who worked together to solve puzzles planted in retail shops around the world. Buy a set at Field Notes • CPLYPGPC9E2T8R
Architecture firm NBBJ approached us about embedding puzzles into the common spaces of a high-rise office tower they were building for tech company F5, in Seattle. We designed 42 puzzles — each a mix of letters, numbers, and characters — which currently live in perpetuity on the walls and doors of this space, tempting its denizens to hunt out and solve them all. Read more about the F5 tower
We worked with the Atlanta business Urban Escape Games to design an escape room that could be embedded in the suites at the Atlanta Motor Speedway for a local company's all-hands event. The game we came up with utilized a briefcase, a handmade computer, the signage and furniture around the suite itself, as well as an installation that hung on the other side of the track, a quarter-mile away. 1,400 employees played these 18 rooms across the course of the day.
Sandy ran a monthly puzzle segment on the local news program Chicago Tonight. Each segment started with an on-air puzzle presented to the host, Phil Ponce, about local Chicago news and culture. After that, Sandy showed a puzzle made up of video segments from recent news stories, clipped together to hide a cryptic message. Browse the puzzle segments on wttw.com
We designed team-building games for several convenings of MD Momentum, Accenture’s internal development conference. Our 90-minute games were designed to be run at scale, across dozens of rooms and several floors, for hundreds of employees, by moderators from within the company. The games ranged from an Indiana Jones-style adventure, to a mystery about an art heist, to a collection of forged books.
It’s your birthday, you’re 36,000 feet in the air, you’ve been handed a locked suitcase, and the only tools you have to open it are in the aircraft around you. Surprise! We designed and ran a bespoke escape-room-style birthday celebration that took place on a private flight from Chicago to NYC. A group of friends solved 12 puzzles over the course of the flight, with props including a snake-in-a-can scytale, a note hidden in an orange, 8 personalized t-shirts, a cryptex, and a pill bottle full of jelly beans.
We teamed up with The House Theatre to create The Last Defender, an experiment in immersive story and puzzling. It’s part performance, part puzzle, and part live action game. In an alternate reality, the United States and the Soviet Union are still mired in the Cold War, and have placed artificial intelligence in command and control of impossibly destructive nuclear weapons. Something has gone wrong, and players must use 8-bit arcade-style computer technologies and work together as a team to solve puzzles, make increasingly difficult decisions, and try to save the world. Named the 28th Best Escape Room by TERPECA • Golden Lock Award winner by Room Escape Artist
The Field Museum hired The Mystery League to design several hunts. The most recent one was to celebrate the opening of a new Mummies exhibit. Our hunt made use of ClueKeeper and augmented reality via the Zappar platform. Players used their phones to see virtual elephants, flowers, signposts, and pterodactyls, on their way to rescue a missing gem. Visit The Field Museum
Cards Against Humanity hired us to build a massive online alternate reality game, called Hanukkah LOL. The game centered around a character known as Dad, whose kids locked him in a literal escape room in his basement. Over 6,000 people helped Dad escape by collaborating on Slack to solve clues that were shown in Periscope broadcasts from the basement, buried in physical mailings, and hidden in stores around the country. Read on Medium.com: How we built this →
Author Patrick Somerville hired The Mystery League to design a puzzle for the plot of his book This Bright River, which features a main character who loves solving and creating puzzles. We designed a puzzle around the shape and size of actual rivers, and how they resemble the cracks in a decaying wall. (Patrick is now the showrunner for the TV shows Made for Love and Station Eleven.) Buy the book • Read reviews
For their annual fundraiser in 2020, mental health organization Catalpa Health, in Appleton, WI, had to quickly pivot to something that supporters could play in their homes. We built out an escape game in a box, involving a newspaper, a giant map, some post cards, some wooden coins, a brochure, and a fake cigar. It was a huge hit and helped Catalpa meet their fundraising goal for that year.
Sandy teaches Transmedia Puzzle Design each year at the University of Chicago. In the class, students are taught the fundamentals of puzzle design, how to test puzzles, and how to elegantly embed puzzles naturally into different mediums. Assignments include story-based puzzle adventures and construction of tabletop escape games. Students have praised the course as “one of my favorite classes I’ve taken at UChicago” and described Sandy's teaching style as “welcoming” and “encouraging.” Shown: a 3D-printed and laser-cut project from the 2021 class
We've built out games for several bar and bat mitzvahs. For one, we were asked to build a game within the world of Harry Potter. We designed a set of puzzles that involved mixing potions, magical magnifying glasses, a mini Quidditch game, and a laser-cut and 3D-printed logic game set around the grounds of Hogwarts.
Aaron, a longtime fan of The Mystery League, commissioned us to build a bespoke afternoon puzzle hunt that culminated in a marriage proposal to his girlfriend Kim. The puzzles celebrated the couple’s personalities and favorite things, and it led them on a quest to restaurants, stores, parks, and the library in their neighborhood of Chicago's Albany Park. Photo by Dean Santarinala
The UChicago World puzzle hunt was a week-long hunt we designed with and for UChicago students in the spring of 2021. The hunt imagined a universe in which another World’s Fair took place on the school’s campus (where the original 1893 World's Fair actually did occur), and where each puzzle represented a showcase of UChicago’s curriculum and culture. Student-designed puzzles experimented with form and media ranging from AR to TikTok to Google’s Museum Explorer. The hunt is archived at uchicago.world
For a special dinner at James Beard-winning restaurant Fat Rice, we designed a puzzle that got inserted in oversized fortune cookies. The puzzle was a simple, but the presentation was delectable.
For the summer Games Issue of AirBnB Magazine, we wrote a travel-themed puzzle called Postcard Espionage. On each of four postcards, there was a simple cryptogram. The solutions to all four puzzles combined to reveal a secret message. The magazine was sent to thousands of AirBnB hosts around the country. You won’t be able to access the magazine online, but if you’d like to check out the puzzle, shoot us a message.
The Curse of Peg Leg Sullivan is a unique storytelling/puzzle adventure about a real person named Peg Leg Sullivan and the curse he may have put on Chicago by (maybe) starting the Chicago Fire in 1871. It’s part history, part fiction, and part puzzle. And it’s free to play. Download and play the game on Vamonde
The MIT Mystery Hunt is the tentpole event in the world of puzzle hunting. Sandy is on Team Palindrome, which has been competing in this hunt for decades. In 2021, Palindrome won the hunt, which meant that it was our privilege to write the 2022 Hunt. Around 100 Palindromers spent a year building a 200-puzzle hunt called Bookspace, about the inner world of books. Sandy was one of three editors-in-chief, as well as a designer, coder, and puzzle writer. Read about the puzzles Sandy wrote for the hunt.
Since 2010, Sandy has been a regular contributor to the NPR Sunday Puzzle, hosted by Will Shortz. Sandy has had 12 puzzles read on the air by Will and offered as a challenge to the listeners. (He's also had about twice that many puzzles rejected. 😊) Read all of Sandy's NPR puzzles
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Sandor Weisz runs The Mystery League. He has been making puzzles and games since he was a teenager. He's a member of the National Puzzler's League. He writes puzzles any chance he can get, which you can find @pzlr on Twitter, in the Mystery League Dispatch, or occasionally on the NPR Sunday puzzle. He lives in Chicago with his wife, two kids, and dog.