What’s an enigmatologist, anyway?

The field of enigmatology is so rare that in the past 40 years there has been precisely one working enigmatologist.

That person is Will Shortz, the editor of the New York Times crossword puzzle and NPR’s puzzlemaster. Shortz invented and received a degree in enigmatology when he was studying at Indiana State in 1974. In the puzzling community, Shortz is a superstar – he travels the world, officiating international puzzle competitions, seeking new challenges, and enjoying an almost absurd level of celebrity.

It’s natural that others would want to follow in his footsteps.

Enter Stacy Costa, a University of Toronto semiotics undergraduate, and the world’s second enigmatologist. Stacy creates puzzles for media and corporate clients, and will be teaching a course starting in Fall 2014 for the University of Toronto’s Continuing Ed department about puzzles and the brain. She took time out from this busy schedule to design the Virtual Scavenger Hunt.

We were lucky to find someone skilled in the art and science of puzzle making. It’s no simple thing to devise a puzzle that’s challenging enough to be interesting, but also sufficiently accessible that anyone can play.

The game Stacy created for Research Matters is elegant, tricky, and satisfying to solve. First, there are the daily clues, the daily answers and the daily prizes. A pleasant diversion for anyone with a few minutes to spare. But all of these clues lock together – each day a tiny bit more of the grand prize solution is revealed.

Stacy did what any good communicator does – she turned an idea into a story. There’s a narrative that builds over the course of the contest culminating in the big reveal (and of course the awarding of prizes).

Stacy embodies the values of Research Matters – her research combines the big-picture ambition that is unique to university research, yet her subject area is one that infiltrates the breakfasts, commutes and lazy Sundays for millions of people around the world.

On a more personal note: Stacy came to us via Marcel Danesi, a U of T prof who also creates and studies puzzles. Marcel and Stacy often collaborate on puzzles for the Toronto Star and other publications. They are both passionate about their work, and threw themselves full-tilt into the creation of the Virtual Scavenger Hunt. We are grateful to both of them as much for their enthusiasm as for their expertise.

Want to see what enigmatology is all about? Visit the Virtual Scavenger Hunt page and sign up now – you won’t regret it, and you just might win.

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