Frequently Asked Questions

General Information

  1. How is Microsoft involved?
    College Puzzle Challenge is organized and run by alumni now employed by Microsoft. This is a fun way for us to stay connected with our alma maters while sharing the fun of puzzles with technology-minded students.

    Microsoft recruiting sponsors the event and provides the budget needed to run the challenge. Thanks to Microsoft Recruiting’s support, we can provide prizes, food, and, best of all, puzzles. The team running the event will be Microsoft employees, and they’ll be happy to answer questions about Microsoft or pass your résumé to a recruiter.
  2. I have a question not covered in this FAQ. Is there someone I can contact?
    Please also review the rules of the event. If you still have a question that is not answered, you may contact us via email at


  1. How is the number of teams at each school decided?
    The overall event has a limit of participants based on the supplies we must deliver (such as food and puzzles). At each school, we are also limited due to physical space. Beyond that, we optimize for schools that sign up the most teams first.
  2. How does registration work?
    Teams must register for the event and will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis per school. Only full teams with four members will fill spots. Incomplete teams with less than four members are not eligible to participate. As soon as a team has four members, its spot is confirmed unless it is put on the waitlist.

    Waitlisted teams will receive an email update as additional spots open up or become available.
  3. I cannot find enough people for a full team, what can I do?
    Try registering as a Free Agent! As a Free Agent, your name will be made available for other teams needing additional players. An incomplete team may invite a Free Agent to join up and fill their open spot(s). If there are any incomplete teams remaining at the beginning of the event, your CPC ground team may try to fill the vacancies in incomplete teams with registered Free Agents.

    Sign up as a Free Agent from your Contestant Home Page.
  4. College Puzzle Challenge is not at my school. Can I participate? How can I get my school to participate?
    The costs of College Puzzle Challenge are covered by Microsoft recruiting. As with anything that costs money, we try to make our budget stretch as far as we can. We wish we could include every school, but it’s just not possible. If you believe your school would have strong participation, make sure to talk to the Microsoft recruiter when on campus.

    If a nearby school has team positions available shortly before the event, we will allow teams from other schools to take those spots, provided the team asks and gets approval from


  1. What equipment do we need?
    While all you need is your brain and a lot of imagination, we recommend you bring the following items to help solve puzzles:
  2. Can we have more than one computer?
    Yes, you may use any computer you can access.
  3. Can I get help from outside sources?
    Participants may use any source on the internet and any printed materials you bring or can acquire from the school library during the event. You can use friends or strangers as reference sources but not to help you solve puzzles. Please note that collaboration between teams will result in disqualification of those involved.
  4. What about food?
    Food will be provided. Both meals and snacks will be available to all teams during the day. Participants will also be allowed to leave in the middle if they wish, but there will be no organized breaks for food and the event will run continuously.

The Event

  1. What is the format of the contest?
    Teams will receive several packets of puzzles distributed throughout the event. The answers to these puzzles will form clues to a final Meta-Puzzle – a special puzzle that combines the results from all of the others. The Meta-Puzzle may or may not be explicitly designated as such, and, like the other puzzles, the manner of its deciphering may or may not be openly stated.
  2. What are the puzzles like?
    The formats of the puzzles are extremely varied. Some may have explicit instructions, while for others, figuring out what to do with what you’re given is part of the puzzle. In all cases, the implicit instruction is "figure out the final answer," which will always be numeric, a single word, or a short phrase. The content and topic is also extremely varied; many are essentially word puzzles and some may involve basic computer concepts such as cryptography or encoding, binary/hexadecimal numbers, and logic. To help prepare you for the event, we have provided the puzzle archive and a page with puzzle-solving tools.
  3. Do we have to solve all the puzzles in order to solve to Meta-Puzzle?
    Not necessarily; the Meta-Puzzle is designed so that not all the input solutions are absolutely required to solve it. However, the more inputs available, the easier it becomes. You should expect to have to solve most of the puzzles in order to have a good shot at solving the Meta-Puzzle.
  4. How are answers submitted?
    Answers will be submitted via this website. After you log into the site, you will be able to access the submission form. The time when your submission is received is used for any tie-breakers. A full solution to a puzzle is not required unless specifically asked for by Puzzle Central.
  5. How many times can we submit an answer? Is there a penalty for submitting more than once or submitting an incorrect answer?
    There is no set limit as to the number of times an answer may be submitted for a particular puzzle. There is also no score penalty for submitting more than once. If too many incorrect answers are received for a puzzle, the submission system may require a timeout before another answer can be submitted for the same puzzle. As such, brute-force guessing is strongly discouraged.
  6. What is the best way to win?
    The best way to win is to solve the most puzzles before any other team, and then solve the Meta-Puzzle. The best way to do that is teamwork. Work individually on the easier puzzles so everyone on your team is productive. Work together on harder puzzles so you can solve them more quickly, with more creativity. If you get stuck, move on to another puzzle. Make sure you keep track of which puzzles you’ve already solved and their solutions.
  7. If a puzzle is too hard, where can I get help?
    We want you to have fun, and some puzzles are made to be difficult. One way to keep from getting stressed is just switch to another puzzle or make sure you’ve asked your team for their input.

    You are welcome to ask Puzzle Central questions about the puzzle. Occasionally, Puzzle Central will release hints for puzzles so keep a lookout for new hints. Ordinarily, the organizers on the school campuses cannot provide assistance; however, Puzzle Central may ask them to provide assistance for specific puzzles. It never hurts to ask, but don’t be too surprised if the answer is “we can’t help you yet.”

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