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Match wits with an evil wizard in this brand-new puzzle hunt by Nathan Curtis.
370 backers pledged $12,989 to help bring this project to life.
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The Pitch

An evil wizard has you trapped in his tower. Armed with a handful of scrolls you can't read, spellbooks you can't open, and some mysterious artifacts, can you find a spell that you can use to escape?

That's the challenge that lies before you in What's That Spell?, a new puzzle hunt from constructor Nathan Curtis.

The Project

As you may have surmised from the pitch, I am writing a puzzle hunt. If you are unfamiliar with the term, a puzzle hunt is a group of puzzles (word puzzles, trivia, logic puzzles, or...well, almost anything, really) whose answers come together to achieve an overarching goal, or metapuzzle. In this case, 12 puzzles will come together in layers to form 3 nested metapuzzles. Solve the metapuzzles, and you can escape from the wizard's tower. If you get stuck, you'd better hope that the wizard is merciful.

The puzzles, for the most part, will be electronically delivered, and they will generally be the sort of thing you can print and solve. Some of the puzzles may contain links to audio or video resources. The metapuzzles, on the other hand, will rely on physical components. These will be delivered to your door, and I think you will get a kick out of the challenge of combining your puzzle answers with these props.

The Rewards

The basic reward is the puzzle hunt itself. The base price for the hunt is $30, which includes electronic delivery of the 12 puzzles and production and physical delivery of the props for the metapuzzles, perfect for solving in the comfort of your home. The expected date of delivery for "What's That Spell?" is November 2016.

What's That Spell? Solve at home, $30
What's That Spell? Solve at home, $30

I also intend to turn "What's That Spell?" into a live event in the Boston area. This will be similar to events put on by the Boston Area Puzzle Hunt League. For $40, you can register your team of 3-6 solvers for this event, which will take place in September or October 2016. The extra cost goes towards printing the puzzles and writing a few site-specific puzzles. For obvious reasons, if you wish to sign up for this reward, you should either live in the Boston area or be willing to travel there on the date of the event.

What's That Spell? Live, 3-6 solvers, $40
What's That Spell? Live, 3-6 solvers, $40

Whether you sign up for "What's That Spell?" to solve at home or as a live event, you will be able to choose between two difficulty levels: Apprentice and Archmage. The puzzles will be the same for both difficulty levels, but Apprentice solvers will receive more starting information with each puzzle. You will be able to choose your desired level of difficulty when you receive your backer feedback form after the campaign has ended.

If you want to support this project but don't want to go in for the whole hunt, for $1 you can get a single puzzle. You get to choose from a logic puzzle, a variety cryptic crossword, or a variety crossword. The puzzle will be delivered electronically by August 2016.

There are also some add-ons you can purchase. For $15, you can purchase a second set of the physical artifacts, so that you can solve along with a partner remotely. For $8, you can receive 10 additional puzzles from the first year of Tortoiseshell Studio. You may choose among variety crosswords, cryptic crosswords, logic puzzles, or a mix of all three. And for $30, you can receive 50 puzzles from Tortoiseshell Studio – 30 variety crosswords, 10 cryptic crosswords, and 10 logic puzzles. These puzzles were previously available to subscribers at Tortoiseshell Studio on Patreon, so if you are a subscriber, it wouldn't make sense to choose the bonus puzzles as an add-on. To choose any of these add-ons, edit your pledge amount after you have chosen your base pledge level.

What's That Spell? Add-ons
What's That Spell? Add-ons

The Stretch Goals

This puzzle hunt will be produced if the basic goal of $3000 in pledges is met. If the goal is exceeded, some additional rewards will be brought out. For every $500 over the goal, I will write or commission a standalone puzzle that will go out to everyone who pledged $8 or more. These puzzles may be thematically related to the world of "What's That Spell?" but they are not part of the hunt. And after 8 of these bonus puzzles have been funded, the next stretch goal will be a whole new puzzle hunt for an additional $2000. This hunt will be smaller than "What's That Spell?" and it will lack physical components, but it will go out to everyone who pledged $15 or more. The individual bonus puzzles will go out in November 2016, even for backers who chose the live version. The bonus puzzle hunt will be delivered later than the base rewards and standalone bonus puzzles, but I expect it to be ready by January 2017.

Update: Past $9000, the next few stretch goals will be bonus puzzles by guest constructors every $750.

To make all of the above clearer, here's a handy list of the various stretch goals and their associated rewards.

  • $3000: The "What's That Spell?" puzzle hunt, plus any puzzles purchased as additional rewards - Funded!
  • $3500: A bonus variety cryptic crossword by me - Funded!
  • $4000: A bonus variety crossword by expert constructor (and my chief testsolver) Jeffrey Harris - Funded!
  • $4500: A bonus variety crossword by me - Funded!
  • $5000: A bonus logic puzzle by Pavel Curtis, of Adalogical Ænigma fame (but no relation to myself) - Funded!
  • $5500: A bonus variety cryptic crossword by cryptic virtuoso Kevin Wald - Funded!
  • $6000: A bonus variety crossword by me - Funded!
  • $6500: A bonus variety crossword by Joon Pahk, of Outside the Box Puzzles - Funded!
  • $7000: A bonus logic puzzle by me - Funded!
  • $9000: A bonus puzzle hunt, written by Denis and Marc Moskowitz. Expected delivery January 2017.
  • $9750: A bonus puzzle by Erin Rhode, constructor and editor for the 2014 MIT Mystery Hunt - Funded!
  • $10500: A bonus puzzle by Gaby Weidling, lead puzzle developer for Lone Shark Games - Funded!
  • $11250: A bonus puzzle by Scott Weiss, constructor for two Mystery Hunts - Funded!
  • $12000: A bonus puzzle by Tanis O'Connor, editor of The Maze of Games and constructor for four Mystery Hunts - Funded!
  • $12815: A bonus puzzle by Neville Fogarty, co-founder of the Indie 500 crossword tournament
  • $13315: A bonus puzzle by Wil Zambole, constructor and GC for too many puzzle hunts to name just one
  • $13815: A bonus puzzle by Craig Kasper, who has had puzzles published in both the New York Times crossword and the US Puzzle Championship
  • $14565: A double feature! Two bonus puzzles from Bruce and Roy Leban, co-founders of the Microsoft Puzzlehunt back in 1999

 In the happy event that all of the above stretch goals get funded, I will hunt down additional constructors to write more bonus puzzles.

Where Your Pledge Goes

There are a number of expenses associated with producing this puzzle hunt. First and foremost, there is my time and labor spent constructing puzzles. Then there is the expense of producing and shipping the physical components of the hunt. Additionally, I will be paying a number of collaborators for this project: an editor, testsolvers, some graphic designers, and the guest constructors for the stretch goals. There may be other incidental expenses along the way, and if so, I will keep you informed with campaign updates.

Risks and challenges

The biggest obstacle to overcome in producing this hunt is writing the puzzles. Fortunately, I am an experienced constructor, having previously written and edited puzzle hunts for the National Museum of Mathematics and the Boston Area Puzzle Hunt League. I have produced 5 puzzles a month for Tortoiseshell Studios’ subscribers on Patreon since May 2015. I have already designed the 3 metapuzzles that make up What’s That Spell?, so at this point I only need to write the 12 individual puzzles.

There is some risk involved in producing the physical components for the extravaganza. I have already priced the components over a range of quantities, and I am confident that I can produce and ship the components in the required timeframe.

The bonus puzzles and stretch goals will be delivered electronically, so there are no physical production costs involved. As I said above, the bonus puzzles are already written. The stretch goal puzzles will be written by a variety of constructors, giving each constructor more than enough time to get their puzzle ready.

For the Boston-area run of What's That Spell?, I will need to assemble a team to produce the event and help write site-specific puzzles. I welcome any offers for assistance in this part of the endeavor.

The Boston-area run also has a tighter deadline. Because late fall weather in Boston is not always conducive to an outdoor puzzle hunt, I want to run this event as soon as feasible. I am currently aiming for September 24. Although this is a pretty tight deadline, I believe I can pull it off. After the Boston event I will work out any kinks in the production process before I send out the puzzles to solve-at-home backers in November.

In the happy event that we reach the stretch goal of an additional puzzle hunt, that second hunt will take additional time to write and edit. My best guess is that the second hunt will be ready by January 2017.

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  1. Select this reward

    Pledge US$ 1 or more About US$ 1

    One Puzzle

    You don't want the whole puzzle hunt, but you want to show your support? Great! As thanks, I'll send you one (1) logic puzzle, variety cryptic, or variety crossword—your choice. Or, if you have contacted me about special shipping arrangements, pledge at this level and then edit your pledge to match the amount of the level you would have pledged at.

    Estimated delivery
    21 backers

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  2. Select this reward

    Pledge US$ 30 or more About US$ 30

    What's That Spell? Solve at Home Edition

    For $30, you get the puzzle hunt, with 12 puzzles and 3 metapuzzles, including physical components, delivered to your front door.

    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Only certain countries
    305 backers

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  3. Select this reward

    Pledge US$ 40 or more About US$ 40

    What's That Spell? Live

    I plan to adapt What's That Spell? as a live puzzle hunt event in the Boston area, similar to (but separate from) BAPHL. For $40, you can register a team of 3-6 solvers for this event. You must be able to travel to Boston for the date of the event, which will be in late September or early October.

    Estimated delivery
    Limited 41 backers

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Funding period

- (30 days)