Kominers’s Conundrums: The Olympics of Brainteasers Is Here

The Olympics are in full swing, and at Conundrums we’re giving you a chance to get in on the action. Below, we present a series of puzzles based around three of our favorite summer Olympic sports: archery, sport climbing and diving.

The answer to each puzzle is a common English word or phrase — and even better, each one is a bit of a pun. Solving any one of them counts as a full solve this week, which means you can “medal” in whichever sport you choose. But if you do manage to solve all three, you can combine their answers into a bonus puzzle, and claim an absolutely epic prize.

A pair of Olympic archers both shot lettered arrows at the same target. While the scorekeeper kept track of the total scores and which arrows landed where, he forgot to write down which arrows were whose. Can you use the target image and scoring rules below to figure out which three arrows belong to the first competitor, and which belong to the second? Once you do, you should be able to use the letters on the arrows to spell out the answer to the following Conundrum: Why didn’t they allow archery in the Junior Olympics? It was too ___.

This year, the Olympics decided to add sport climbing, in which expert climbers aim to make it to the summit by following routes made up of colored handholds. It’s essential to think through your route carefully before you start climbing, so you can reach the top as quickly and energy-efficiently as possible.

Here are our climber’s observations upon looking at the rock face; can you figure out the shortest route from the bottom to the top? Once you do, the colors of the holds will help you spell out the answer to the following Conundrum: What’s the main cosmetic benefit of moving sport climbing competitions outside? The sun helps the players get ___.

In Olympic diving, competitors jump into the pool from heights that can boggle the mind — and show off a variety of different figures before landing with a splash.

Can you find the divers in the “letter pool” below? Their dive types are as listed — but we’re in the midst of the competition, so by now there might have been a bit of displacement. Once you find the divers, they’ll spell out the answer to the following Conundrum: What’s the problem with having too many people dive at once? It makes the water ___.

Remember, solving any one of the sports puzzles counts as a full solve this week, so feel free to send in any of them for your answer.

But if you manage to solve all three, then congratulations! It’s time to head over to the winners’ circle and collect your three medals. After that, all that’s left is to mount the podiums pictured below. And when you do so, you’ll receive a bonus answer describing a prize that’s almost mythical — a worthy reward for your puzzle-solving triumph.

If you shoot, splash, and scale your way to the summit of sports — or if you even make partial progress — please let us know at [email protected] before midnight New York time on Thursday, July 29.

If you get stuck, there’ll be hints announced on Twitter and in Bloomberg Opinion Today. To be counted in the solver list, please include your name with your answer. And don’t forget to sign up for our Conundrums email list!

Programming note: The next Conundrums will run on August 1.

Previously in Kominers’ Conundrums…

Once you had identified the games, you could fit their names into the grid as follows:

Reading down the center column spelled out “important advice for anyone who is speedrunning in the summer:” STAY HYDRATED! (In addition to being legitimately good advice, this phrase was something of a meme in the videogame speedrunning community.)

And there was a bonus puzzle, for pros who wanted to “solve grid-less.” We provided the following “cheat codes,” which we explained would “uncover something that will help you run through your favorite games faster than your friends can say ‘No fair!’”

The cheat codes were made up of 12 different numbers  seeming to correspond to the 12 different clues. And the instruction to solve “grid-less” implied that you should use the original order of the clues, rather than the order of the game names in the grid. But even then, if you just looked at the letters in the numbered positions in the games’ names, you got gobbledygook.

We had also said “you’ll have to sort out how and where the cheat codes should be entered,” hinting that some sort of sorting was needed. The trick was to realize that the two codes respectively had five and seven numbers in them — and there were five videogames and seven board games among the answers to the clues.

Pulling letters first from the videogames’ names and then from the board games’ names spelled out the bonus answer, SPEED BOOSTER, which is an item that literally speeds up the player character’s running in Super Metroid, and is found in an area of the game called “Norfair.”

We were extremely excited to see this puzzle get some traction in the game speedrunning community. Most thrillingly, one of my favorite runners — who goes by the moniker Argick — solved the puzzle live on stream along with his followers. (Showing how a true speed-puzzle-solving pro tackles Conundrums, he correctly guessed the answer before solving any of the clues!) You can watch his solve-through below (and you should totally check out his Twitch channel, too).

Ross Rheingans-Yoo solved first, followed by Zoz*, Franklyn Wang & Cindy Yang, Zarin Pathan*, Andrew Garber, Argick (see above), Ellen Dickstein Kominers, Arman Pathan, Scott Wu, Brian “Brossentia” Cook, and Kari Johnson. The other 18 solvers were Mason Arbery, Jim Avery, Bella Beckett, Jim Casagrande, Noam D. Elkies, Yannai Gonczarowski & Elee Shimshoni, Kaylie Hausknecht, Lazar Ilic*, Paul Kominers*, Joshua Krieger, Colin Lu*, Jordan Or, Nancy & Murray Stern, Sanandan Swaminathan, Michael Thaler, Nathaniel Ver Steeg, Eric Wepsic, Chris Wirth, and Ryan Yu. (Asterisks denote those who also solved the bonus puzzle.)

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Scott Duke Kominers is the MBA Class of 1960 Associate Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, and a faculty affiliate of the Harvard Department of Economics. Previously, he was a junior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows and the inaugural research scholar at the Becker Friedman Institute for Research in Economics at the University of Chicago.

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