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US Puzzle Championship - Solving Tips


  • Make sure you are familiar with the rules, especially those for procedures, scoring and permissible solving tools.
  • Be sure to try the Practice Test, to familiarize yourself with the USPC procedures, and to discover and resolve any technical problems before the USPC. The Practice test includes a solving guide: Better Know the USPC, a collection of 2011 blog posts and puzzles by Thomas Snyder, a 5-time winner of the USPC.
  • Download the Preview Instructions and encrypted test the day before the USPC. Read the puzzle instructions carefully in advance.
  • The 2012 USPC file will be about 20 printed pages, generally one page per puzzle. Make sure your printer has plenty of paper, and ink/toner.
  • Establish a clean, spacious, and quiet work area. This should be near your computer so that you can enter answers as you go along. Have all your solving tools handy.
  • Your puzzle solving time is precious, so make sure you will have no distractions during the test -- this will be the fastest 2 1/2 hours you've ever spent!


  • After decrypting the test file, print the page you want to solve first, then the rest of the test. The puzzles are designed to be solved on paper, so not printing them will likely not save you any time.
  • The point values are a good indicator of the time required to solve the puzzles. More points usually implies a more difficult puzzle, but might mean there is just a lot of work. Puzzles are ordered roughly from easiest to hardest. Of course, your experience may be different.
  • Don't guess -- most puzzles no longer have penalties for incorrect answers, but answer keys are designed so that it is very unlikely that guessing will do anything more than waste the scorekeeper's time.
  • Be very careful when entering your answers on the Answer Page. Don't go too fast -- everyone has to do the same thing. There is nothing worse than spending the valuable time to solve a problem correctly, then losing points because of an incorrectly entered answer.
  • You should enter and Submit your answers on the Answer Page as you go along to avoid any last minute time crunch.
  • From the Answer Page, you can open the Timer Window. This shows the server time, and counts down to the competitive deadline. It is provided for your convenience -- you are still responsible for submitting your answer before the test deadline.
  • Relax and have fun. You wouldn't be doing this on a Saturday if you didn't like puzzles -- enjoy yourself!


Answer Entry

Each puzzle will include Answer formatting instructions. This describes what you should enter on the Answer Page. Precise formatting, such as separating values by commas or spaces, is desired but not critical -- if it's clear enough for you to double-check your entry, we'll be able to figure it out too. However, please use the following guidelines:

  • Separate values by commas, not spaces.
  • When multiple single-character values from a grid are requested, combine values from a single row into one "word."
  • When no other order is specified, first give all the values for the first row of the puzzle, followed by the second row, third row, etc.
  • Some Answers will request coordinates for objects inside a grid. In such cases, sequential letters and/or numbers will be provided outside the grid. Use these indices to identify the location of the requested objects with a letter followed by a number. When solving the puzzle, you should ignore the coordinates.
  • When in doubt about an answer format, error on the side of over-specification and clarity.