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Thread: My take on this hunt -- one man's opinion

  1. #1
    CharlesLS is offline Junior Twelever +1 Bronze CharlesLS is an unknown quantity at this point
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    Default My take on this hunt -- one man's opinion

    First off, my background, so you can decide how much credibility you think I have.

    I spent a few weeks working on this contest, and amongst other things regularly talked with Ken in chat. I am veteran of many other puzzles and puzzle hunts, a regular puzzle author, and would like to think that I've acquired some feel for how these things are put together in that time. I don't know Ken personally, and while I am a long-time lurker on this board, I haven't been an active member. I have solutions to the first 8 puzzles as part of a small group.

    Anyway, on to the contest. From the outset, I have been convinced that the rules were written intentionally so as to guarantee Ken a profit. In particular, here's what I mean:

    Ken's exposure, at this moment, on each book sold is $45. You pay $30, he might send out up to $75 in checks. At this point, Ken is not sending out any additional checks.

    Once Ken has sold 1,000 copies, that exposure drops to $5. When he has sold 5,000 copies, he makes money off every book, in the absence of awarded prizes for #6.

    On the other hand, let's look how much advertising Ken is getting for that $45. How many people bought this book based upon the posts on tweleve who otherwise wouldn't have? Did Ken get enough additional people for his investment of $45?

    After all, it is unlikely that word of mouth will stop working the moment the 1,000 prizes for #5 become unavailable; as long as the contest is deemed genuine because it has a history of giving out those checks, and as long as it's still able to give out those checks for #1, word of mouth should work.

    So this $45? It's a very good marketing strategy, but not in and of itself proof in my mind that the book is genuine. Rather, it's simply proof that getting in on the ground level earns you a small amount of money. This would be true of a genuine book, but it would also be true of a scam. So it's not proof one way or the other.

    After all, if for your $45 you get two more people to buy the book, Ken has made money off of you. I was told in chat that there's another group besides myself that has solved #7. I would ask that group to confirm that there is something in the solution to #7 that helps lead to this impression. (I don't believe a general statement such as that is any help to a solver, so I'm willing to throw it out there).

    So, at this point, Ken's exposure is $45/book plus $10,000 up front to ccord. That's a lot less than you would have thought, isn't it?

    So, what about the next puzzles. Well, from the outset, I was concerned about this possibility, and in particular the following rules:

    You submit answer for puzzle number 7.

    You will be sent a check at the point in time that we have confirmed and verified all winners for that specific puzzle. In the event that all of the prizes have not been claimed, then the money will be sent when the time limit for the game has terminated.
    This is a very strange rule to write. I asked Ken about this a few times in chat, because it runs contrary to some of the things he said. Among his claims about the hunt and this rule:

    - It's written to ensure that the solvers are the ones who win the money.

    No, it's not! Because he doesn't even check the answers when they are submitted; in fact, it took a struggle for me to even get him to confirm my answer to #8 ARRIVED. So in fact, person #1 who submits their answer to puzzle 6 has no advantage over the very last person to submit one. Until enough right answers come in, nobody gets any information, and that means if the first solver has a typo they can't find, they get no money.

    This is even more of a problem because of the 15-day rule; there's already a penalty for submitting a bad answer. So how can this possibly be a sensible rule in addition?

    - It's written to ensure that teams working together don't claim all of the prizes. I'm confused. In chat, Ken suggested at one point forming small teams. In his rules, he mentions that they might well exist:

    n the event that a “team” is formed to solve any/all of the puzzles and that “team” is the first to solve all twelve (12) puzzles or any of the other prizes then the prize will still be awarded only to the individual who’s name is registered for that particular book. We will only issue the prize to that one specific individual.
    And, when asking Ken directly, he said that for all of the smaller prizes, he's happy to award multiple prizes to a team if everybody participates. So this doesn't make any sense either.

    - Because telling a solver that their answer is wrong would give them a hint.

    If you can believe it, this was the answer Ken finally fell back on and wouldn't budge from. It's a hint??? First off, there is a 15-day waiting period if you submit a wrong answer - that suggests that there's already a penalty in place for frivolous submissions, and should prevent them. But to then not check the answer renders the 15-day waiting period irrelevant.

    Rather, the ONLY thing this does is to give Ken an excuse to tell somebody much later that their answer is wrong, claiming a typo, without the ability for that person to fix it in a timely manner. It acts AGAINST the first solvers getting the money, which is a complaint Ken had about ATT and something he claimed would be fixed here. And really, does anybody believe that telling a solver their submission is incorrect without anything further constitutes a hint?

    Well, actually, shirleylock does, in chat. So maybe I'm just wrong about this. I'll open it up -- who thinks that it constitutes a hint to tell us that our submission is incorrect with no further details, and make us wait 15 days to submit another answer to the same puzzle, and therefore that Ken creates a better competition by not doing so?

    Anyway, let's move on.

    You submit answer for puzzle number 11.

    You will be sent a check when we have confirmed your answer and after there has been a grand prize winner that has been confirmed. In the event that a grand prize winner is not confirmed, they you will receive your prize after the time limit for the game has terminated.

    You submit your answers for the grand prize (all 12 puzzles and coordinates of the keys.)

    You will be given your prize after we have confirmed all of your answers and all of the other prizes for all other puzzles have been confirmed (ie. all prizes for puzzles 2 through 11 have been awarded). If there are still prizes that are outstanding, then we will wait to award the grand prize. In the event that all prizes are not claimed by the end of the game, we will award the grand prize winner within 75 days after of the time limit expiration of the game.
    So, here's the serious money. This is the only place that Ken's exposure really rises after the initial puzzles; after all, his exposure on puzzle 6 is only $16,000, and he can as we've just seen choose to delay that. And what happens?

    First off, if tomorrow, I send correct answers to all 12 puzzles and the location of the keys, what does Ken do with it? First off, under his rules, he might choose not to look at the answers to some of them because not enough people have submitted yet. But I'll assume that he does look at them, and you are correct. You still don't get your home. And, Ken still doesn't have to tell anybody that you won. What happens instead is that you have to wait either six years for the contest to end or for people to solve all of the previous questions, and then you get your prize. And, because you're getting $2/copy, you have a strong incentive to cooperate with Ken and not tell anybody that you won. In fact, you will not get your home until Ken has awarded all of the prizes for all other puzzles, including 10 and 11! gets better. Because Ken doesn't have to award prizes for 10 or 11 either, because he doesn't have to send the check until the grand prize winner is confirmed. And since you're not the grand prize winner until you dig up the keys...

    Basically, Ken's created a setup where he doesn't really have to do anything. If you're the first solver of all 12 puzzles, he might even just choose to tell you that you're really #2, and #1 is waiting to dig up the keys until he gets permission (which won't happen until enough other people solve puzzles, and buy Ken's book). And since it's blind, nobody really knows, do they? Did anybody else who solved #6 get to find out what their place was in line? I sure didn't...

    Can you think of another well-run contest in which it was not disclosed at least how many people had gotten how far? Isn't this one of those things that any contest which is above board should do? I understand a few delays are acceptable, but to declare that it will never happen? I honestly can't think of a good reason for this.

    I did ask these questions, by the way. Ken's response was that he couldn't tell me, but there was a good reason for it and I should trust him.

    But, here's the kicker. On Ken's website, it explains that one puzzle was created using research from a book, and that when the time comes, he'll point us to the book in question. Let us suppose for the moment that you cannot solve the puzzle without the book. In that case, unless Ken sells hundreds of thousands of copies and makes a profit, we never find out which book. In which case, there is never a grand prize winner, and Ken has six full years to even award any prizes to the last few puzzles!

    I'll bet that the puzzle in question is #11 instead of #12 too; that minimizes his exposure unless enough copies are sold.


    So, these were my thoughts very quickly, and from my early discussions with Ken. Why didn't I call scam at that point? Very simply, because I felt the puzzles were elegantly written, and fun to do. So based on these conversations, I felt there was a chance it was a scam, but I'd go ahead and work on them. However, the idea of a scam was always in the back of my mind. Just that, I felt that a scam probably would have written less elegant puzzles.

    And then suddenly, as people solve these puzzles quicker than Ken thought (anybody who solved #8 should see something in their solution to confirm this), here come the restrictive rules that let Ken try to further delay awarding anything. It looks like #6 is going to fall? Fine, Ken will just add hurdles. First off, teams are no longer allowed. I should be disqualified from the competition, under Ken's rules, for sharing answers. As part of my work with a partner, we did compare answers in order to be certain we had no typos. This did involve us both putting answers together and sharing them. To claim otherwise would be dishonest, and so I explained this to Ken.

    He said that it was legal, but of course it's contrary to his rules, so that interpretation could change at any time. This was why I made the decision to send him back my checks and ask him to give them to the Jimmy Fund instead; if I've broken the rules, I don't want Ken's money.

    But now, the rest of these new rules? First off, the verification puzzle.

    It has taken me the better part of a week to get very close to a solution on #9, before I stopped working on it. I'd have to solve a similar puzzle at Ken's discretion in order to claim my prize? I'm sorry, but I can't take off work for a week and do so.

    And to think, 10, 11, and 12 will probably take me longer!

    But okay, let me take Ken at face value again and assume that he's figured out a way to write shorter verification puzzles with similar tricks, or something like that.

    If he has now found a way of forcing solvers to verify their answers, why does he still need these rules on 6-11 which avoid checking work? If he's now got protection in another way against people sharing answers and not doing the work themselves, or against computerized solvers, why won't he check answers to #6?

    Heck, if Ken told me that my answers to 6,7, and 8 were correct, but wanted me to do a verification puzzle, I'd make a decision about whether it was worth my time, but I wouldn't have said this was a scam.

    But to do things this way? What other choice do I have than to believe that Ken will keep putting up more and more hurdles to prevent financial exposure too early?

    Basically, my conclusion now has to be this. There is a decent chance that Ken wants to award all of his prizes, but only after he has guaranteed sales. If we were to jump into this contest after 100,000 copies had been sold, I believe it might then be a reasonable thing to do, because Ken intends to give away prizes.

    However, Ken has set up rules such that the first people to work on his contest will not be able to get the compensation they have earned. He has dangled out the possibility of prizes that, in all likelihood, will not be awarded to member of tweleve; he'd much rather keep them around later to advertise. It's an attractive pyramid scheme, down to even the shape of the prize pool.

    Further, he has taken what are thusfar elegant puzzles and written restrictive rules that make them a pain to work on.

    So, my conclusion is this. I'm in this because the puzzles are fun, but I expect no further money out of Ken. If people want to buy this book because they can return $75 for $30, then at this point they're getting in early enough in the pyramid scheme that it's a good idea. The first few people to get in such a scheme get seed money, and we're in at that stage.

    But don't expect to get a house, or even hundreds of dollars. You'll win $45 if you get in early enough, but nothing more. And for me? I'd rather give my $75 to the Jimmy Fund, which is a wonderful organization dedicated to fighting cancer.

    As for the rest of the puzzles, I think they're interesting enough that I might work on them, but I want to be able to use all of the tools at my disposal. Given that I'm not going to get any money regardless, I don't see a good reason not to use computerized tools. If there is a group of people that wants to disqualify themselves and work with me, I'll probably be doing this in a couple of weeks (I'm a grad student, and right now I'm working 15-20 hour days trying to get a paper out). The puzzles do seem elegant and worth cracking, but I just don't see a good reason to slow ourselves down trying to jump through moving hoops. If we're not going to get through anyway, it's silly, isn't it?

    Well, them's my reasons, and I think I've been fair about my background as well. I'd be happy to get into a discussion here, but please understand that it's taken me half a week to even be able to write this post, so I'm going to be slow to reply. If anybody's PM is not answered by this, let me know and I'll try to get to it, but I apologize in advance for my (likely) slow reply.


  2. #2
    lizardlips's Avatar
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    I think I agree with all the facts as you present them. However, I also think those were all really pretty clear up front. Someone who can solve these puzzles should have seen these facts as obvious, once they took the time to think about it.

    I asked about many of these things in chat long ago, and Ken confirmed them then. (about maintaining the excitement over the 6 years). I did hesitate to buy the book, and in the end did, although I felt there was no rush.

    While new "rules" have been written, they are really just elaborations on enforcing what was stated initially.

    But I'm glad to see that there is no hidden "scam" fact here. I don't really think these terms, revealed up front, make this a scam or pyramid any more than a lottery ticket with the prize based on the number of tickets sold. Here's the guaranteed minimum of the house to the first to solve them all. The contest is what it is.

    And I see no reason/motive that Ken wouldn't confirm who's first correctly. Especially when you can confirm when/what you submitted.

    It will make me VERY cautious about any puzzles I may submit past #6, in terms of checking, checking, checking. If I find an error myself later, I can always buy another book and submit again.

    I do respect your integrity in revealing that you solved using computer tools. If you finish the puzzles, I would ask that hold those solutions really tight, and not spoil for others (and for Ken). This has been my concern as the real weakness in this contest; Ken has assured me that he thinks one or more of the last puzzles will help this out.

    Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts in detail; it is much fairer than just saying "scam." And I also think Ken has been fair in communicating these facts, and clarifying if one asks.

    Hang in there as a graduate student; trust me, getting that research out the door gets harder when you're over 40 with a family!


    (who hasn't actually taken the time to submit any answers yet, and who knows if I ever will since I like my house just fine, lol)

  3. #3
    netsirk's Avatar
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    Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts! In reading what all has been going on and what you have said...I will not be buying this book. Seems far more complicated than it looks from the outside.

    Good Luck with your paper!!

    Ken - would you be so kind as to reply to his comments? So we hear both sides!
    Like Contests???
    Then check this out!

  4. #4
    shirleylock's Avatar
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    Default Re: My take on this hunt -- one man's opinion

    Quote Originally Posted by CharlesLS
    First off, my background, so you can decide how much credibility you think I have.
    I already know how much credibility you have, Charles..... none. For instance, you used my name inappropriately in your took something and twisted it just enough to make it say what you wanted it to say.

    Furthermore, for those of us who have had the honor of meeting you in chat, we've listened to you berate A Treasure's Trove and now WinMyWestPalmBeachHouse. It seems there aren't many "hunts" good enough for a baby astrophysicist such as yourself.

    I'd be upset with you Charles, but you've really become quite hilarious to watch. You stated, "From the outset, I have been convinced that the rules were written intentionally so as to guarantee Ken a profit."

    Oh, my!!! You mean to tell me that the author worked on these puzzles and did it in part to make a profit?! I had no idea!!! What a crime!!! The nerve of him to work on a book, provide some entertainment and expect to earn a profit! I'm so glad you informed me...I wouldn't have been able to figure that out on my own. (*the acerbic button was broken, Charles.... I had to resort to sarcasm.)

    I'll tell you what, Charles....since the author's intention is in part to make a buck, and that seems to bother you, why don't you do us all the honor, and author your own book of puzzles....offer cash prizes and a house, but in all of your nobility, do it without expecting to break even or turn a profit.

    Furthermore, you knew the rules of this game before you started. That didn't prevent you from purchasing the book. I don't care for the additional verification rule in some ways.... but I'm not scared about it either. That's because if I get that far, it will be done legitimately, rather than with "all the tools at my disposal". It's a shame that some have already provided the author with enough evidence of cheating that he has felt the need to employ a verification puzzle. Again, the nerve of him? To have solid evidence of cheating, consult his attorneys on how to handle it and proceed as needed. I mean really...who does he think he is...protecting those who have solved the puzzles legitimately?!

    While you do have some legitimate points, Charles, for those of us who have "met" you in chat, we already know about your "credibility" - or lack thereof. It is entertaining to watch you in action, though.

    Hope to see you in chat, soon!

    Save the Earth. It's the only planet with chocolate.

  5. #5
    calvin's Avatar
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    First of all, thank you so much for explaining in great detail your concerns with the contest design.

    However, while your objections are understandable, I just can't agree that this is in any way a "scam". I think the lottery comparison is a pretty good one...of course a profit is expected, and the author would have to be some sort of bizarre puzzle-loving philanthropist to design a contest otherwise. Ultimately this seems to be a contest that people are finding fun and challenging, where obtaining a reward greater than your initial investment is quite possible, and where the higher prizes have an apparently well-intended but not flawlessly designed format that's still in the works. Perfect? Maybe not, but still a contest design that I'd much prefer to the alternative of not participating in it.

    I've got mixed feelings about your "typo" scenarios. First, I'll admit ignorance since I don't have the book yet and don't know what an answer submission fully entails. But real life is not particularly accommodating for accidental typos either; if you apply to a top-ranked school or job and overlook a couple typos in your essays, you'll probably be rejected even if you're a more qualified applicant. I see it as one more way that these contests reward those who are obsessive compulsive and detail-oriented (which we probably all are!).

    There may be a fine line between clarifying / revising existing rules and changing them entirely to accommodate a fear of making less money than anticipated. Maybe I'll feel more wronged later if/when I progress through the puzzles.

    Thanks for sharing your concerns. I think it will help a lot to know in advance what potholes to expect, even if I do not currently agree that this contest is, in its present state, a scam in any way.

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    Nice to see that Ken will donate CharlesLS' returned checks to a worthwhile charity. Add that to the other charitable donations he is making from the sale of each book puts Ken up a notch in my estimation.

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    Thank you for your post Charles,

    I was kicking around the idea as to whether or not I should get this book or not and you have definitely made up my mind. While the rules are very clear about the the prizes and the deadline (6 Years) Wow that is a long time don't even know if I will be on this earth then), It seems very complex and not worth the time.

    It does take money to make money, and the author has IMO secured himself enough through his rules to make a lot. But hey nothing wrong with that, the rules are there (If you want to pour through them all lol) I don't think it is a Scam perse, but it isn't worth all the hassle 15 days until you get a reply to your answer really? I want to know the first week at least if I solved a puzzle but that is me. I commend you for donating your money to the Jimmy fund, that is a very noble thing to do. And the first few prizes aren't much, yeah they may cover the price of the book but common most people are buying this book for the BIG prizes.

    But everyone has their own opinions and there are many many gullable people out there. But as I said thank you for your long thought out post.


  8. #8
    Molnar's Avatar
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    Well, Shirleylock, once you get beyond the righteous indignation and ad hominem attacks, your post doesn't really say much besides these summarized points:

    1) 'Ken has the right to make money' --- which I call the 'Ken is the victim here' defense. This defense attempts to dismiss the entire line of argument based on an opening statement. Basically, the reader is asked to believe that this contest is not a scam because the contest administrator has the right to make money. Since a scam and the right to make money are independent of each other, this argument makes no sense. Ironically, it makes as much sense as asking the reader to believe that the contest *is* a scam because the administrator has the right to make money.
    2) 'You knew up front so you don't have to participate if you don't want to' --- which I like to call the 'If you don't like it, leave!' defense or the 'redneck' defense. This isn't a defense at all; it's a fallacious type of attack that is commonly used when there is no defense.

    So while these two ideas are true, they summarily dismiss most of Charles' post without any valid counterpoints to the idea that this contest could be a scam. To so readily dismiss ideas based on one's dislike of the source or one's emotional investment to a cause is a dangerous practice. However, if this is your standard practice, I have a great investment opportunity that I just know will interest you ...


    To the general audience:

    I gleaned more from the post. Charles has provided some examples of ways that this contest is consistent with a scam. From my own observations of the contest framework and all of Ken's statements and actions to date, I have not seen anything that is inconsistent with a scam. So does that make this contest a scam? No. But it also doesn't make the contest legitimate.

    It is my take that Charles feels that this contest is at least as likely to be fraudulent as it is to be legitimate, and given the large amount of time and effort required to solve all the puzzles, he feels that the potential gain is not worth the potential loss. If you don't have a feeling for what that might be like, go talk to Kook (and that contest only ran for 1/3 of the time that this contest is scheduled to run). Or, if you're just in it to solve the puzzles, that's fine too; but then the legitimacy of the contest shouldn't matter to you at all, beyond any moral issues. Just as contestants are free to tell others to join the contest, they are also free to express to others why they should not join the contest. One can only hope that if any misinformation is presented (by either side) that it is dispelled. That being said, no one to my mind has dispelled the concerns brought forward by Charles (and it may be that that is not possible).

    Whether or not you share Charles' opinion of this contest, I think that it is important that such concerns be aired and discussed publicly. Fraudulent contests taint the community, and make it all the more difficult for future contests to be accepted. I will not presume to tell you how to act in regards to this particular contest --- that is truly something each person who is legally capable of making that decision needs to do for himself. I do, however, think that one should at least know what 'flags' to look for in any given contest that would hint that something devious is afoot. I think that that would be a useful discussion topic.

    If you haven't done so already, try this exercise. Devise yourself a scam, whether the framework is similar to this contest, some other contest that you participate in, or something new. Think about the framework for your scam/contest, how you would promote it, how you would interact with potential or ongoing contestants, and how to ensure that you maximize your 'profit'. Now compare your results to some actual contests; if this gedanken experiment doesn't generate any useful diagnostics for you, it will at least get you thinking about how to protect yourself.

    To spare those whose emotional happiness is linked to nice things being said about this contest, I will put two complaints I have about the contest into a spoiler. Since you have been warned, in the event that my whining is deleterious to your health, you have no legal recourse; I reserve the right to the last slice of every pizza you order, and I reserve the right to change these rules at any time as circumstances warrant (such as if I get hungry for cookies instead of pizza). Finally, I reserve the right to increase the amount of rule mockery at any time, without notice. :P


  9. #9
    calvin's Avatar
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    While I slightly prefer your smug first-year law student style of writing to Shirleylock's emotional vendetta, I feel that both are using your egoic identifications to miss the actual point.

    I just don't see how any of you could be using the terms 'fraudulent' or 'scam' and believe that you are using these words correctly. These are harsh accusations. Without being a semantic stickler, someone really needs to be saying one thing while doing another to be labelled 'fraudulent'. Ken's rules are easy to find, easy to read. If he doesn't stick to them (doesn't mail out checks as promised, tells prospective buyers that certain prize categories are still available when they aren't, changes the rules so that prizes are ultimately withheld, etc.), then yes, that would be fraudulent. As of now, nothing remotely 'fraudulent' has happened.

    Nobody can argue with you if you don't like the rules which are explicitly stated and written in layman's terms, but it just isn't unkosher to run a contest the way he is. It's not a 'scam'. If you paid $30 for a book of puzzles, and when it arrived it was a box of confetti and his website disappeared...that's a scam. On the spectrum of 'best interests of the reader' versus 'best interests of the author' you may disagree with the setpoints he has chosen, but he has chosen it openly and not particularly at either extreme.

    Additionally, this is an interesting and unique situation because unlike most cases where people don't read the fine print, he knows that all of us diehard puzzle solvers are certifiable fine-print lunatics who scour and interpret every last detail of a contest book.

    That being said, have to admit that I actually agree with several of your general criticisms, particulary the ones that question the effectiveness of chaperoned confirmation solves. My contention is that it seems slanderous (and not without consequence) to call any of this fraudulent or a scam.

    When those terms are used, they need to be right.

  10. #10
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    All of this makes me glad the forum has moved.
    Scam or no scam, make back the money spent and move on. I don't see anything wrong with that.
    There are no secrets that time does not reveal.
    -Jean Racine (1639–1699), French playwright

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