March Madness (solution)

by Kai Huang with software by C. Scott Ananian, Greg Clark, and Alex Power

Part 1: Second Round to Final Four

This part of the puzzle involves team nicknames. The reason we expect you to eventually look at team nicknames is that, besides the given school names, team nicknames are the only other common way to refer to NCAA basketball teams. In fact, they are often used together, e.g. “Arizona Wildcats”. (Note: Team nicknames are sometimes different from mascot names. Mascot names are not commonly used to refer to NCAA basketball teams, and are not used in this puzzle.)

Once you write out the team nicknames, you may notice that each regional’s nicknames clue a set. Furthermore, these sets can all be ordered (sometimes there are multiple possible orderings). The ordering is used to determine the winner of each game in the regional. The 5 given game results for each regional confirm which ordering of the set is being used, and which end of the ordering is the “winning” end.

Note that these are not “total” orderings, meaning that if an arbitrary two teams from a regional were to play a game, we would not always be able to determine the game’s winner. However, if you fill out the given bracket, you’ll find that all games that actually occur have determinable winners.

Resistor Colors

The most obvious regional is probably the top-right regional, where each nickname clues a color. The colors are ordered by their multiplier value in the electronic color code, e.g. for resistors. The higher value wins. Here are the team nicknames in sorted order (regional champion at the top).

SchoolTeam nicknameResistor
Loyola (Maryland)Greyhoundsgrey8
EvansvillePurple Acespurple7
DePaulBlue Demonsblue6
Middle TennesseeBlue Raidersblue6
DartmouthBig Greengreen5
North TexasMean Greengreen5
TulaneGreen Wavegreen5
Georgia TechYellow Jacketsyellow4
AlabamaCrimson Tidered2
CornellBig Redred2
RutgersScarlet Knightsred2
ArmyBlack Knightsblack0
MinnesotaGolden Gophersgold-1
TulsaGolden Hurricanegold-1


In the bottom-left regional, each nickname clues a group of people or an animal in history. The groups are ordered by their time period in history. The earlier period wins. Here are the team nicknames in sorted order (regional champion at the top).

SchoolTeam nicknameTime period
IPFWMastodons34 million to 11000 B.C.E.
UALRTrojans1300-1190 B.C.E.
San Jose StateSpartans650-371 B.C.E.
Cleveland StateVikings770-1070
Portland StateVikings770-1070
San Dieogo StateAztecs1300-1600
George WashingtonColonials1600-1776
La SalleExplorers1643-1687
Long Beach State49ers1849 or 1949
Notre DameFighting Irish1861-1865
ManhattanJasperslate 1800s
OklahomaSoonersMarch 2, 1889
DukeBlue Devils1914-1918
Austin PeayGovernors1923-1927

Chinese Zodiac

In the top-left regional, each nickname clues an animal from the Chinese zodiac. The animals are ordered by their canonical order from traditional tales. The earlier animal wins. Here are the team nicknames in sorted order (regional champion at the top).

SchoolTeam nicknameChinese zodiac animal
Idaho StateBengalsTiger
South Dakota StateJackrabbitsRabbit/hare
Florida A&MRattlersSnake
Santa ClaraBroncosHorse
Rhode IslandRamsRam/goat/sheep
Coastal CarolinaChanticleersRooster/chicken
DelawareFightin' Blue HensRooster/chicken
Jacksonville StateGamecocksRooster/chicken
AlbanyGreat DanesDog
Southern IllinoisSalukisDog

NBA Teams

In the bottom-right regional, each nickname clues an NBA team. The NBA teams are ordered alphabetically by the name of the city/region the team is in. The earlier letter wins. Here are the team nicknames in sorted order (regional champion at the top).

SchoolTeam nicknameNBA team
Saint Joseph'sHawksAtlanta Hawks
Montana StateBobcatsCharlotte Bobcats
BuffaloBullsChicago Bulls
South FloridaBullsChicago Bulls
VirginiaCavaliersCleveland Cavaliers
UT ArlingtonMavericksDallas Mavericks
ToledoRocketsHouston Rockets
MontanaGrizzliesMemphis Grizzlies
OaklandGolden GrizzliesMemphis Grizzlies
Ohio StateBuckeyesMilwaukee Bucks
Arkansas StateRed WolvesMinnesota Timberwolves
Stony BrookSeawolvesMinnesota Timberwolves
Alabama StateHornetsNew Orleans Hornets
Sacramento StateHornetsNew Orleans Hornets
MarshallThundering HerdOlahoma City Thunder
Southern UtahThunderbirdsOlahoma City Thunder
UABBlazersPortland Trailblazers

Completed Bracket

Below is the correct completed bracket. We use team nicknames instead of school names in this solution bracket because that’s what’s really going on. (Click for a larger version.)

solution bracket

Once you submit a correct completed bracket, you’re given part 2 of the puzzle.

Part 2: Final Four to Champion

This part of the puzzle is a mini logic puzzle. You should deduce the scores of all three Final Four games using the given divinations. The scores are:

The 3rd divination states that all scores are in the range 65-90, hinting at ASCII. Convert the deduced scores to ASCII and then read the 6 resulting letters in left-to-right-then-top-to-bottom order to get the answer LEADER.

Betsy Johnson
Betsy Johnson