Solution to Bracketeering
by Andy Hauge
This puzzle is about experimenting with a tournament bracket to figure out how the bracket determines its winners. When we open the puzzle, we see that the bracket is almost entirely populated, that there's exactly one blank, and that each match-up has scores attached to it. While we could try to analyze the existing matchups to gain an understanding of the bracket, we can get more information by trying different options in the empty space.
There's a lot of experimentation we could try at this point; here's some examples of what we might attempt, and the results of the examples:
- BARK beats "Codenim" with a score of "10!" versus a score of "12!", then loses to "Do" with a score of "10!" to a score of "3!".
- BABA beats "Codenim", "Do", and "Stone Rage" with a score of "5" versus a score of "0", beats "Thee & Thy" with a score of "5" versus a score of "4", and then loses to "Windex Ooze" with a score of "0" versus a score of "5".
- BOX beats every competitor with a score of "11" versus a score of "0", and then loses to Windex Ooze with a score of 0–5, again.
As we experiment with different words and try other possibilities, we're able to work out that there's a collection of multiple rules that are being applied. Different rules have somewhat different scoring systems, and each "division" of the bracket illustrates a different rule.
Game Night Division
The names of the entries in this division parody famous boardgames, and all of their scores are double-digit numbers. In addition, we note that each score ends in an exclamation point, noting that there's something unusual about this category. The scores in this division are Scrabble scores, and unlike the other divisions, the lower-scoring competitor advances to the next round.
Double Time Division
The names of the entries in this division are pairs of some sort, make-believe or real. In this division, the successful words have a single vowel pair and no other vowels. Each word gets a score based on the vowel in the pair: A = 5, E = 4, I = 3, O = 2, U = 1. The higher-scoring competitor advances to the next round.
The names of the entries in this division are different animals of varying degrees of realness (mostly not real). In this division, the successful words contain the name of an animal of the Chinese Zodiac, and score based on the canonical order of the Zodiac, starting with the Rat (the 2021 Mystery Hunt took place during the last portion of the Year of the Rat).
- Rat: 12 points
- Ox: 11 points
- Tiger: 10 points
- Rabbit: 9 points
- Dragon: 8 points
- Snake: 7 points
- Horse: 6 points
- Goat: 5 points
- Monkey: 4 points
- Rooster: 3 points
- Dog: 2 points
- Pig: 1 point
The names of the entries in this division parody popular Dungeons & Dragons monsters such as the Owlbear, the Green Dragon, and the Gelatinous Cube. In this division, the successful words contain the name of an abbreviation of one of the 6 core attributes in D&D, and score based on the canonical ordering from the most recent edition of D&D.
- Strength (STR): 6 points
- Dexterity (DEX): 5 points
- Constitution (CON): 4 points
- Intelligence (INT): 3 points
- Wisdom (WIS): 2 points
- Charisma (CHA): 1 point
When we experiment, we discover that these four rules form a stack; when two words compete, start at the top of the stack until you find a rule where one word beats the other, and then use that rule (and the scores associated with it). Dungeon Division (D&D attributes) is the first rule considered, then Jungle Division (Zodiac animals), then Double Time Division (single pair of vowels), and finally Game Night Division (lowest Scrabble score). If both words go through all four rules with no clear winner, both are disqualified from the competition and receive a score of "N/A".
This means that two words which are tied on the Dungeon rule need to move on to the Jungle rule, and if they're still tied, they need to move on to the Double Time rule, and if they're still tied, they need to move on to the Game Night rule. So what would happen if you tried to find words that had the highest possible score in all four rules (or, in the case of Scrabble, the lowest possible score)? As it turns out, there's exactly one word that fits that criteria, a word that will always win no matter the bracket. That word is STRATA.
Note that the Losers' Bracket is simply populated with the losers from the main bracket and is there to provide solvers with additional information on matchup outcomes. Unlike the other brackets, it has no theme and is not associated with any rule.