Puzzle Creation for Vendors

Vendor Puzzles in Cyber Fire

Cyber Fire has been running continuously since 2009, with a suite of roughly 300 home-grown puzzles. Puzzles are arranged by category, with each category attempting to teach a set of related skills, in a gentle progression that tries to teach new skills as people play.

In 2011, we began inviting vendors to contribute puzzles that demonstrate the value of whatever it is they are selling, in exchange for hosting events that we are not allowed to pay for. Vendor Puzzles are your opportunity to show off your product or service with the technical workers who would be using it.


  • Rough draft (description of puzzles): 6 weeks before event
  • Initial working draft: 4 weeks before event
  • Final submission: 3 weeks before event

Deadlines are firm: we work on a tight timeline!

Development Server

We require puzzles to be in a very specific format, with progression of points, attribution, strictly codified answers, and more.

The best way to ensure your puzzles are going to work in our system is to use the development server we created. This will try to render your puzzles and show you how they'll appear to contestants. It will also break if your puzzle metadata is incorrectly-created, so you can fix them before you send them to us.

Unfortunately, we don't have funding to correct vendor-submitted puzzles, so if you send us puzzles that don't work with our server, we can't fix them for you. Making sure your puzzles work with the development server is a near-guarantee that we won't reject your puzzles for being incompatible.

Writing Good Puzzles

The development server example categories have a good overview of writing good puzzles: please go through them.

Your puzzles should point out what your company does that is unique, without requiring your product. Rather, craft puzzles that illustrate how much time and effort people would save if they were using it instead of the "old way".

Frobozz Magic Checksum Company

As an example, let's consider the Frobozz Magic Checksum Company, who sells a product that reports on the MD5 checksum of every file in a file system.

First Puzzle: find a file by checksum

A good first puzzle for the Frobozz product would be to provide participants with a hard drive image, and ask them to track down the file with checksum d3b07384d113edec49eaa6238ad5ff00. This can be done by hand, but all the participant has to do with the Frobozz product is upload the image, and enter the checksum, and they're done. The answer is the full path to the file, which is conveniently provided by the product.

Second Puzzle: Count matches from a list

The second puzzle provides a list of checksums, and asks the player to find all files on the previous image that match any of the checksums. Easy with the Frobozz product, just drop the list into a text box and click "Go".

The answer requested is the 42nd match of the sorted list of matching files. Just click the "path" column to sort, and go down the the 42nd entry, and paste it in.

Third Puzzle: Track changes over time

The file system has checkpointing capabilities (like btrfs). Players are now asked to look up a file by checksum, and paste in checksum of the the 5th checkpoint revision of that file. This is just a few clicks in the Frobozz system, but it could be an hour of work or more by hand.