Monday, January 14, 2013

Unique Puzzles for a Yankee Echo Alfa Romeo

Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation!  Today I am pleased to be joined by Roy Leban and Parker Lewis from the small startup company Puzzazz.  If the name didn’t seal the idea, wait until you check out the name of their Kickstarter project!  “Unique Puzzles for a Yankee Echo Alfa Romeo” is not only a Kickstarter about puzzles but its title is a puzzle! Thank you both for joining us today.

Roy: Well thank you for having us! We’re glad to be featured on your blog.

Parker: We’re really excited about what we’re doing and are happy to chat about it.

I think we can all understand you guys like puzzles and have started a company about puzzles, but can you be a bit more specific about what your puzzling Kickstarter is all about?

Roy: Puzzazz is a puzzle technology company, which means that we’re all about building great technology to let people enjoy and solve puzzles on their digital devices, whenever and wherever they want to.

This Kickstarter campaign is for something that has never been done before on the scale that we’re aiming for. We want to produce a puzzlehunt -- a set of interconnected puzzles that combine to form a larger puzzle -- for everybody who likes puzzles. Not only does it show the world how much fun they can have with new types of puzzles, it highlights something that’s important to the company -- helping people have fun solving all types of puzzles.

Parker: Usually puzzlehunts are created for small communities and are not very accessible to larger audiences. We are trying to change that by creating a yearlong puzzlehunt for puzzlers across the country, and beyond!

Roy: In addition, we made our Kickstarter campaign a mini-puzzlehunt in and of itself. For example, there’s a picture of a pizza on our main page, which is one of the puzzles in the campaign.

Parker: Notice how it doesn’t look like your standard pizza? That’s because there is a secret answer word somehow encoded into the pizza. Try visiting our How to Solve Codes page if you get stuck.

Tell me a little more about your business.

Roy: At Puzzazz, we are building the future of puzzles for the digital world. We aren’t trying to take puzzles on paper away from anybody, but we see the shift to digital as inevitable, and we’re building the best place for people to find, buy, and solve all kinds of puzzles. We are creating the best venue for puzzle authors to get their puzzles to as many solvers as possible. In September, we opened the first puzzle store in the digital world where people can buy all types of puzzles, including crosswords, cryptic crosswords, various kinds of word play, logic puzzles, and even rebuses. Our first launch was for iPad and iPhone and we are currently working on versions for Android and Windows systems. We also have a number of puzzle ebooks available for Kindle.

So what made you come to Kickstarter?  Couldn’t you have just continued on with what you were doing?

Roy: We already have a store with 30 different products of a dozen types in it, but the puzzlehunt product -- the Year of Puzzles -- is really different from anything we currently sell. And, it’s a lot of work to get something as complex as a puzzlehunt off the ground. In addition to the puzzles themselves, there’s much more coordination with our outside authors than there is with regular content. Kickstarter gives us the opportunity to know that the Year of Puzzles will have enough subscribers in advance, so it’s a lot less risk. Before Kickstarter, there was no good way to judge interest in a product like this before you started producing it.

So what’s so special about a puzzlehunt puzzle?  Isn’t it just a specific kind of puzzle?

Roy: Puzzlehunt puzzles don’t have to be different, but they usually are. It’s an opportunity for the puzzle authors to do something different and for solvers to get something special. Since each puzzle can stand alone we can do things we can't do when we’re producing a whole book of one kind of puzzle.

Parker: You won’t see very many regular crosswords or word search puzzles. The authors usually put their own unique twist on standard puzzle types or combine two types into some sort of hybrid. Sometimes the puzzles don’t even look like puzzles at all. We’ve seen puzzles hidden in a bus schedule, in a sequence of movie clips, in a picture of a flower garden, and even disguised as a game of Twister. As you might imagine, solving these types of puzzles takes some out-of-the-box thinking.

Roy: And that’s precisely what makes them so fun!

Your campaign mentions not having puzzles that I’d have to paint my hand to solve?  What crazy kind of puzzles are you talking about?

Roy: The hand painting was a puzzle that I coauthored for one of the Microsoft Puzzle Hunts. You can see a picture of the hands in the project image and the video. To solve it, solvers had to paint their hand and then make sign language letters. When they formed the various signs, the colors on their hands would form different letters of the alphabet. It was actually an easy puzzle with this crazy twist. The first team to actually solve it did so in just minutes after we released it. They used a rubber glove and Sharpies. Pretty clever.

Parker: Puzzle authors are always coming up with crazy ideas, but they’re not always that obscure. In the update where we announced that we had met our goal, we included a puzzle by author Eric Harshbarger. He created some wacky palindromes that eventually lead solvers to a 7-letter answer word. This is a pretty original puzzle type that we’d never even thought of until Eric showed it to us.

I notice that your base level reward only provides one puzzle per month.   How long does it take to create such brain numbing puzzles?

Parker: It varies from puzzle to puzzle and from author to author. Our Year of Puzzles will feature many different authors throughout the year. The monthly puzzles will be a bit more involved, comparable in size to a Sunday crossword. If we reach stretch goals, we’ll add puzzles -- up to one a week.

$9973 is an awfully specific and suspicious target number, especially for a project about puzzles.  Is there a puzzle hidden there?  Where will all the money go?

Parker: Good eye! But no this is not one of the hidden puzzles. We like prime numbers and wanted to make the funding goals a little bit different than the standard round numbers. 9973 is the largest prime under 10000.

Well let me congratulate you on surpassing that number and continuing to push onwards!  You have one announced stretch goal with another suspicious looking target number of $16,993 that will include Holiday puzzles.  Have you come up with a number to hit to get the weekly goal or is that going to be announced after crossing the holiday line?  

Roy: 16,993 is another prime. We also used a prime (53) for the previously hidden Upgraded T-Shirt goal, which will let each person pick their own answer to the puzzle on their T-shirt. We needed about 50 T-shirts to make that practical, so we chose 53 to make it prime.

And, yes, we will be announcing the next goal shortly (another prime number of course!)

In today’s day and age of high speed activity how many people still sit down to work on a good puzzle?  How hard is it to find creators?  Is it hard to find an audience for your work?  Since your project is successful I have to believe there’s still a market for a good puzzle!  

Roy: In the US, about 1 in 3 adults solve puzzles of some sort on a regular basis. This can range from a crossword to Sudoku to the daily Jumble in the paper. Millions of people solve a crossword on paper every day. The New York Times is the most popular -- they have about 50,000 subscribers for their daily puzzle. However the digital market is still largely untapped, which is where Puzzazz fits in.

Parker: It’s great to know though that there are enough people out there who appreciate a quality puzzle and are willing to support the authors in their efforts!

The number of crossword puzzle authors is growing but it is still very much a niche community. There are even fewer authors for variety puzzles like the kind you see in puzzlehunts. One of the reasons I joined Puzzazz (apart from my love of puzzles, of course) was that I could see how Roy was building a company committed to help build and grow the community of puzzle authors.

I find that your metagame of having puzzles hidden inside your current project listing quite telling! Since your website allows users to check their answers have you been tracking how many folks have succeeded?  (I will admit I’ve solved zero so far!)  

Roy: We’ve gotten a great reaction to the puzzlehunt inside the campaign. It’s the first time anyone’s ever done anything like it on Kickstarter.

Parker: We have been tracking the solvers of our mini-puzzlehunt puzzles and can see both the correct and incorrect submissions. It’s really interesting to see some of the guesses before solvers hit on the right solution. There are quite a few people who have solved all the puzzles so far. When we released the update with the palindrome puzzle, it took some solvers less than five minutes to enter the correct answer!

Roy: And that’s one of the harder puzzles! We’re using those stats to decide what sort of hints to release. We don’t want to stump the solvers for too long. We want the puzzles to be challenging but also for everyone to succeed.

A key part of successful Kickstarters is backer participation and how to convert a potential backer into a full backer.  Besides teasing us with mini puzzlehunts how are you engaging your backers?  What kinds of things do you have planned for updates to give notice to those who just hit the “remind me” button and surf on?  Interviews?  Videos?  Stories from the project?

Roy: There are only so many hours in a day, so we have to prioritize, and I think that’s very important for anyone running a campaign. We’re active on Facebook and Twitter, we’ve sent out mailings to our mailing lists, and we’ve done a few interviews. We also have lots of puzzles in the mini puzzlehunt to keep everyone engaged.

By the time those people who clicked the “Remind me” button come back, there will be lots of updates and lots of cool puzzles for them to look through. We’re up to nine already.

What kind of marketing are you doing to spread the word?

Roy: We’ve done some advertising on Facebook. For any company running a campaign, it’s a great time to test advertising, to see how effective it can be. And, obviously, we’re trying to get as much of a viral boost as we can through people who have already pledged.

Do you have any tips/advice you give to anyone looking to start a Kickstarter?

Parker: Research and planning! There are a lot of great resources online with tips and important things to think about. Along with various blog posts, we found this book very useful: Kicking It: Successful Crowdfunding

Roy: We spent a lot of time looking at both successful and unsuccessful campaigns, so we could see what worked and didn’t work. But, ultimately, you have to stay true to who you are. Don’t do what others did if it doesn’t feel right for you.

Also, plan out as much as you can in advance. Once your campaign starts, you will be busy!

Thank you for spending your time with us!  Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?

Thank you for hosting us! We hope that we’ve explained our project well enough and maybe even found some more puzzlers along the way. Keep up the great work on your blog!

Thank you, I’ll keep plugging along to keep plugging projects just like yours. I hope to hear good things from your Kickstarter!