MaPP Challenge

What is the MaPP Challenge?

For players

During a MaPP Challenge, you and your friends will team up to experience a narrative strikely similar to a story you probably know well: perhaps you'll be "catching 'em all", or finally get admitted to wizarding school. But nothing comes for free, as your team will need to  solve clever puzzles using your logic and wit, revealing hidden messages and, eventually, a final meta puzzle tying them all together. If you've played an escape room before, it's kind of like that, but this puzzlehunt isn't limited to just one room, or one building, but will send you exploring several locations across the hosting campus. We look forward to welcoming all prospective adventurers, sci-fi spaceship captains, and legendary heroes to join our quest - see you soon!

For a sneak peek at the kinds of puzzles you might be tackling, check out our Teaser Puzzle:

For teachers, sponsors, chaperones, organizers...

(Psst, hey players! There are potential spoilers ahead!)

The MaPP Challenge is a roughly three-hour puzzlehunt generally involving three threads of multiple related puzzles. Our puzzle designers take the essence of ideas from ongoing mathematical research, and distill them into puzzles accessible to our 7th-12th grade players, experienced as a themed alternate reality experience

Upon arrival at a host campus, teams of 4-8 students are collected together for an orientation session explaining the basic concept and boundaries of the game. At this time an overall narrative, often themed as a parody of some aspect of pop culture (movies, books, games), is presented to the teams. Once given the starting information, teams are presented with three location puzzles, each serving as a trailhead for a thread of puzzles, for which each puzzle solved reveals a new layer of puzzle in that thread. Eventually, these threads reveal an overall “meta puzzle”, requiring the team to collect together information from throughout the day to solve.  

Location Puzzles are designed as low-floor, high-ceiling recreational mathematics puzzles that often can be solved by brute force, but contain clever strategies that can optimize a team’s approach. The solution to the puzzle reveals information about a campus location that a team member must physically travel to in order to unlock/obtain access to the next layer of puzzles.

Warm-up Puzzles are the first layer of mathematical puzzles. The puzzles typically have very well-formed instructions and serve the purpose of introducing the players to terminology or strategies necessary for later puzzles in this thread. The solution to these puzzles will reveal information necessary to solving the meta puzzle, and unlock another location puzzle which will need to be solved to access the next layer...

Main Puzzles are the heart of the MaPP Challenge. Each is inspired by a peer-reviewed research article in mathematics published within roughly the last decade. Again, solutions will reveal information necessary to solving the meta puzzles and unlock another location puzzle which will need to be solved to access the next layer...

Cryptic Puzzles are the final layer in each puzzle thread and are the most challenging of puzzles, often requiring logic and identification of hidden information to solve. The intent is to have players exposed to a deeper aspect of the mathematics experienced in the main puzzles. Yet again, the solutions provide the players with more information to solve the meta puzzle.

After the event, our organizers often show players the research paper that each puzzle was based upon, and explicitly make the connection between the puzzles they solved and mathematics being actively researched by academics.

While the use of “puzzles” to motivate mathematical problem-solving is well established, the puzzles utilized in MaPP have a particular element that is novel when compared to other math outreach events: as elements in a broader puzzlehunt, each puzzle solves to a hidden word or phrase. This offers several advantages that make MaPP puzzles uniquely effective in promoting mathematical problem-solving. (1) The solution words tie into the context of the game’s narrative, facilitating player immersion in the alternate reality setting (Gilliam et al, 2016), while also integrating into the game’s broader metapuzzle. (2) Players are given space to grapple with open-ended problems, but must distill their inquiry into making a Specific Choice as defined in (Lewis et al, 2021), providing scaffolding that allows players to know when their inquiry leads to an apporpriate conclusion. (3) The ability to submit incorrect answers and receive immediate feedback supports an environment of "Safe Failure" (Chess & Booth, 2013), giving players room to make mistakes and learn from them. (4) Solution methods that lead toward extraction of letters that plausibly lead to a sensible word or phrase give players confidence in correct problem-solving methods without the intervention of an expert, and when players backsolve from a conjectured correct solution or partial solution, they still must use mathematical problem-solving techniques to interpret these words or letters as the corresponding mathematical concepts.

Importantly, our players have fun, learn about their host campus, and strengthen their mathematical identities by demystifying the work of living mathematicians as not so widly complex as it might seem at first glance!