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.

Tagged: Culture, Health, Technology, Annoucements, Blog, Stories

Share: Print

Leave Comments

Blog Posts

Teens with cellphones at anti-cyberbullying rally.

Understanding cyberbullies

Sharon Oosthoek | September 1, 2015

Roughly one in four children and adolescents say they have been bullied on social media, according to a recent Canadian report. This statistic worries parents and educators alike: not only does cyberbullying put victims at greater risk of depression and academic difficulties, it has been linked to some high-profile suicides. Despite the media attention, remarkably little is known about how social media affects teens' motivations for posting mean messages or embarrassing photos, says Wilfrid Laurier University psychologist Danielle Law. "How we deal with cyberbullying depends on what motivated them to post harmful things," she says. "It's extremely important to look at intent." Law's study of more than 700 youths between the ages of 10 and 18 in British Columbia showed that those posting mean messages or embarrassing photos were more likely to do so because they were reacting to a perceived provocation and not because they were deliberately malicious. In other words, they interpreted another adolescent's comments on social media as threatening and felt the need to defend themselves. "They think, 'Oh, this person is being mean to me,' so they send a mean message back," says Law. "But in reality that person meant no harm and the statement was misinterpreted." It's easy to misinterpret things online because of the lack of non-verbal cues and tone of voice. This explains why previous research, including Law's work, shows adolescents' assumptions about others' behaviour can be wrong. Which is why experts suggest the best way to deal with reactive cyberbullying is to help young people communicate with one another more clearly. That is, thinking about how their message might be perceived by others before posting it and also thinking about how to respond to a perceived provocation before replying. This is especially important in the world of social media where conflicts can escalate more quickly than in face-to-face situations. "In real life, a victim may not fight back because they are smaller or more timid," says Law. "But online, anyone can post pictures and say mean things. This is why we tell people not to respond aggressively because they in turn become a bully and it escalates." A different kind of bully Her study also uncovered a small group of adolescents whose cyberbullying entailed creating hostile websites dedicated to demeaning their target. This group was deliberately malicious and more motivated by what Law calls "proactive reasons" designed to gain power or obtain specific goals. Strategies for dealing with this type of malicious cyberbully include working toward understanding the underlying reasons behind their behaviour. "What is currently happening is that we employ 'band-aid' solutions like detention, suspension, or reprimand by police – when really what we need is system that cares for the bully and helps them overcome the issues that have led them down this path," says Law. The ultimate goal of these strategies is of course to prevent cyberbullying, and Law's research was among the first to show what works and what doesn't. Controlling children's and teens' use of technology through strict rules or monitoring software is not effective, she discovered. Rather, open lines of communication between parents and adolescents are most closely linked to reduced cyberbullying. "Families with a strong sense of cohesion and ability to talk to each other openly and create boundaries together, rather than top-down approach, are most highly correlated with responsible use online," she says.
immigration canada document

Welcoming newcomers

Robyn Dugas | August 25, 2015

Most research into Canadian immigration focuses on its three largest cities: Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Yet mid-sized cities such as Ottawa are just as dependent on newcomers to maintain populations, boost local economies and offset labour shortages. “Canada’s approach to managing the admission of newcomers is undergoing a fundamental change," says Western University social psychologist Stelian Medianu. "In particular, the new system that is taking shape will lead to greater involvement by employers and by colleges and universities.” But in places such as Ottawa, these organizations may lack the infrastructure and tools to help integrate immigrants. The answer, says Medianu, is interagency collaboration. Settlement agencies have the expertise — so why not bring that expertise to employers, universities and colleges as they help immigrants transition to Canadian society? Connecting with the experts Medianu’s research is just one part of the Pathways to Prosperity Partnership, a nation-wide alliance of university, government and community partners researching the integration of immigrants and minorities in Canada. He is working with an umbrella group representing Ottawa's settlement organizations called Local Agencies Serving Immigrants (LASI) Coalition. With the coalition's help, Medianu is identifying the needs of each stakeholder group: employers, educational institutions, immigrants and international students. He is also researching the most successful initiatives around the world to determine which ones could be put to use in the Ottawa region. His work is part of a year-long Mitacs Accelerate internship. Mitacs is a national non-profit organization that supports research partnerships between universities and partner organizations. Medianu is identifying how each LASI-affiliated settlement group is uniquely suited to furthering immigrant integration. "Each settlement agency has its own capacity and expertise," he says.  "Together they can create suites of services that better match the needs of employers, educational institutions and newcomers.” With that information at hand, Medianu has been  mapping potential partnerships between these settlement groups and the companies and institutions that could benefit from their expertise. At the end of the project, he’ll provide LASI with recommendations and research results that will help its member organizations build fruitful partnerships in the community and, ultimately, provide a streamlined settlement experience for new Canadians in mid-sized cities.

Tracking turtles

Sharon Oosthoek | August 24, 2015

James Paterson spent the spring of 2009 and 2010 hiding behind trees and crouching in the underbrush of Algonquin Park. Thus camouflaged, he allowed himself an occasional peek as he waited patiently for turtles to lay their eggs in the woods. But as soon as they left, he would dash out with a screen to cover the nests and protect the eggs from predators. read more »
Refugee children in settlement camp.

When exile drags on

Araina Bond | August 19, 2015

When James Milner visited Kenya's Dadaab refugee camps in November 2001, they had been in place for almost a decade.  The camps are now nearly 25 years old and their occupants — mostly Somalis fleeing civil war and drought — number 350,000, making the camps the largest refugee settlement in the world. read more »
Research Matters team

Stories from the road

Katie Woodstock | August 17, 2015

Katie Woodstock is part of our Research Matters team touring the province this summer to spread the word about research breakthroughs at Ontario’s 21 publicly funded universities. This month’s theme of migration and long-distance travel is a good fit for the experience that Sarah, Alex, Badri and I have had this summer as we travel across the province to talk with people about why university research matters. So far, we’ve covered 10 cities and more than 10, 000 kilometres to promote game-changing discoveries, including insulin, Technicolor, and the Yukon Gold potato. It has been amazing to see the pride people feel in knowing just how many important innovations have come from this province. But these game-changers are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to discoveries from Ontario universities. While we have been teaching people about the huge diversity and significance of Ontario university research, we have been learning the same lesson ourselves. One of the highlights of the summer has been the opportunity to speak with a huge variety of researchers about their work. We met a team in Gravenhurst that looks at whether turtles living near roads are more stressed, a researcher in London who looks at how music affects our memories and a researcher from Leamington who investigates the anti-cancer properties of dandelion roots. I have seen the wide impact that university research has had in this province, which is one of the many things making our long-distance journey this summer so worth it. Interested in chatting with us? Come to one of our upcoming events and test your knowledge with our fun trivia game. We hope to see you there!
More Blogs »