Menlo News September 22, 2021

Puzzle Day Offers Challenge, Fun, Problem-Solving

On Saturday, Sept. 18, over fifty Menlo students gathered in the Creative Arts and Design Center (CADC) to solve a series of challenging paper and pencil puzzles.
Menlo students gathered in the CADC for a fun day of solving challenging puzzles. Photo by Cyrus Lowe.

Computer Science teachers Zachary Blickensderfer and Douglas Kiang hosted the event in order to promote the idea that computer science is a process of collaborative puzzle solving. For beginning computer science students, Puzzle Day was a fun opportunity to make new friends and to form groups that will support each other throughout their time in the Upper School. For more experienced puzzlers, Puzzle Day provided a dose of friendly competition and a chance to test their problem-solving skills against other teams. 

Math Department Chair Danielle Jensen, along with Kiang and Blickensderfer, kicked the evening off by welcoming students into the CADC. The teaching team then handed out paper puzzle packets with ten lengthy puzzles created by a puzzle team at Facebook. Students worked in small groups to divide up the puzzles, many of which involved several steps and Internet research, then submitted their answers online for scoring. Students also enjoyed snacks, pizza, games, and a photo booth.

The puzzles were difficult, but two of the Facebook “puzzle masters” were on hand to provide hints and offer suggestions and encouragement. Aaron Lowe ’25 shares, “I was super frustrated with it at the start; however, once everything started to make sense in my head, it got fun.” Many students found that working in groups helped them find solutions. 

Rather than focusing on winning, Liliana Dhaliwal ’25 says that she tried to “have fun and solve the puzzles for the satisfaction of getting them right.” She shares, “I definitely met that goal and surprised myself with my abilities, so overall, I think I had the best possible time for me.”

“The best thing for me was seeing students in different teams,” Kiang observed. “Some of them didn’t even know each other’s names before they started working and solving puzzles together.” Kiang and Blickensderfer hope to host another Puzzle Day again next year, with an all-new set of puzzles.