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The Cruciatus Curse

Each year, we begin the planning process for the Microsoft Intern Puzzleday in the same way, with an evening of training in puzzle design. This is primarily aimed at the folks who've never helped put on such an event before, but it's a good refresher for everyone. The best part, though, comes after our training lead, Kenny Young, works through his PowerPoint slides. At that point, we break up the group into smaller sections of 5-8 people each, and each section does some slightly directed brainstorming on puzzle ideas. Not only does this help the newbies get a sense of how the process works, and provides a safe environment for tossing out ideas, but we often get three or four puzzles from this that survive all the way to the final event.

I said "slightly directed" brainstorming, and that describes it pretty well. Each section gets a brief visit from Kenny, who imparts a little germ of an idea to kick things off. My first year, the theme of the event was to be Hogwarts, the school for wizards from the Harry Potter books. Kenny came to our section and looked a little sheepish.

"Um, this is going to be pretty sketchy, even moreso than usual; I'm sorry about that, but I'm also sure you'll be able to do something with it."

Oh goodie, I thought; this should be good.

"OK, Hogwarts is in England, right? Well, I've noticed that the British seem to have a lot of interesting pairs of things. For example, Marks & Spencer, the department store in London. Or bangers and mash, which is apparently something you can eat. Got it?"

We all stared at him.

"Well, that's it. Go for it!" And then he left, presumably to go torture the next section, too.

As I said, the brainstorming is only "slightly" directed.

As a kind of temporizing maneuver, we first spent some time trying to come up with a bunch more such "pairs". After a while of that, the ideas started flowing for how to make use of them. Over the course of the next half hour or so, we played around with a lot of ideas, but just one of them had any staying power, and Cruciatus Curse was the result. The actual detailed puzzle design work was a collaboration between me and Stacey Eck, but we probably wouldn't have gotten that far without all of the ideas flowing around that initial brainstorming session.

The answer to Cruciatus Curse, like all of the puzzles in Puzzleday, is a single word or short phrase.

Well, that's it. Go for it!

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