A few months ago, we all saw a video like the kind you see in a spy movie, complete with a shadowy figure, disguised voice, and threats of world destruction (OK, just the safety of our grades). We weren’t really sure what we were looking at, but it turned out to be the creative kick-off for the year-long puzzle-based activity called The Lovett Trail.
When I interviewed Dr. Douglas, who developed the project, he told me that his inspiration behind it was Ready Player One, a summer reading choice book two years ago. It is about a future dystopian world where everyone spends their lives in virtual reality and competes in a high-stakes contest for a cash prize.
The Lovett Trail was patterned after this idea. Dr. Douglas figured they could create a year-long event “that was difficult enough so it wouldn’t be super easy...but it would still make the students think.” His main goal was to “bring some fun” to the student body at a time when they might need a diversion.
Dr. Douglas is a big fan of solving puzzles himself. He enjoys challenging himself by going to escape rooms, which he considers “a great way to pass time”.
Now, he creates puzzles of his own for students to solve, and he even recruits other Lovett teachers to submit puzzles from a variety of different subjects. Dr. Douglas himself has created 41 puzzles. Out of all of the puzzles, his and other people’s, there were four puzzles related to the subjects that he teaches which are World History and Economics; however, the puzzles come from all over the place.
There are two parts to the trail. The first part is a collection of brain teachers similar to escape room puzzles. The second part is a series of mini puzzles. Dr. Douglas told me that “all of the ideas are taken from things that we teach at Lovett.” For example, one of the puzzles asks about how one wire transfers data to another computer because all they can do is move electricity. The puzzle asks the students to think through that to figure it out. The idea is that they are trying to expose people to a few of the many concepts out there.
When I briefly explored the trail one day, I found an interesting feature that allows you to “walk” around the school similar to street view on google maps. From there, you can click on different areas in the school and it will take you to different places. I also tried to solve the “Words With Friends” puzzle, but I couldn’t figure out how to finish it. I got a good start, but it was a lot harder to figure out than I had expected.
With all of our work, school is generally a drag, so Dr. Douglas is trying to get students excited about learning. “You can actually teach a lot (to students) that is interesting.”
There is so much downtime for the students, especially this year, between the 15-minute break between classes, chapel in advisory, and lunch when it is raining, so the Lovett trail gives students the opportunity to use this time to get in a bit of brain-teasing fun. So far, Dr. Douglas has gotten positive feedback on this experience. “As far as I can tell, they really liked it.” and
Since Dr. Douglas first launched the Trail, he has learned that he needs to make the barriers to enter really low. This means that whenever he made the puzzles easily accessible, a lot of people participated. A little while after it was launched, he made the puzzles fully virtual, not because of COVID-19, but because it is easier for students to participate. The barrier to go around the school to find the hidden puzzles and QR codes isn’t there anymore, so more students are participating.
There are about 90 students doing the puzzles as of right now, and there is a wide range of scores among these participants. Six students have a score of 1000, which is really impressive. There is not a max score because there is not a set number of points you get for each puzzle. The number of points depends on how far you get on the puzzle, or how well you did.
When I asked Katie Stubbs, a student working through the trail, what her favorite puzzle has been so far, she said it “would have to be the third main trail puzzle, Unlocking the Door.” She thinks that it was “super interesting but also so hard because (she) spent so long trying to add up the numbers and find a solution or finding a common multiple or factor that just wasn't there.”
When solving puzzles like these, she sometimes needs to look at it “from a different angle.” Once Katie did this, she solved the puzzle immediately.
For Katie, the hardest puzzles were puzzles 8 and 9, Computer Lockdown and Finding the File. She said that she “spent a really long time researching those because (she is) not at all a history buff,” and those had a lot to do with history, so “those were particularly challenging” for Katie.
As of now, Katie is still stuck on question 9 and she said she is “definitely going to have to think hard about this one!”
When it comes down to it, the trail is more about solving problems than getting the answer. Dr. Douglas told me that some students find it frustrating if they can’t solve the puzzles and will even come to him for hints.
When I asked him if he ever gave out the answer, his answer was “no.”