Planning your MMM can be more complicated than it looks:
Choose a date from your Math Murder Mystery (MMM).
- Two weeks before the mayhem:
- Vague advertisements to pique curiosity
- Body outline (masking tape)
- Email teaser
- Compose storyline
- Choose victims and culprits (we suggest professors as ideal candidates, but be sure to ask permission before killing anyone off!)
- We had two victims, one a professor and one a fictitious student (appropriately named Polly Gone). Our murderers were both good-natured professors.
- One week before the tragedy:
- Encourage professors to announce the event in classes
- Email majors, minors, faculty, and other math-lovers
- Make necessary arrangements for location
- Reserve classrooms, if necessary (be sure to include set-up time as well as the event time).
- Feel free to use ours, or supplement them with your own.
- Contact any “surprise/special” guests
- We invited our much-loved chief of campus police to commence the event by announcing the murders and entreating the participants to help save the day!
- One hour before the bodies are found:
- Place puzzles/clues in envelopes labeled with group names
- Place envelopes in appropriate classrooms or other locations, hiding them if desired (we took great delight in hiding a clue behind a soda machine).
- Prepare the “headquarters”: a central location listing the possible suspects; this will also be the rendezvous point once teams have completed their puzzles…or if teams need some assistance, they can come here.
- The mystery revealed!!!
- Have someone announce the tragedy.
- Divide participants into groups, each of which will search for a different aspect of the crime, Clue-style: who, where, and with what weapon. We suggest the following group names: abelian, sub, cyclic, Klein-4, simple, and normal.
- On your mark, get set, go!
- Have coordinators remain at the headquarters except for periodic monitoring of struggling groups.
- In the participants’ absence, set up snacks. Yum…
- Once all teams have completed their puzzles and returned to headquarters, allow each group to report on their findings so that everyone can finally piece together the mystery.
- Bask in your success!
- The puzzles themselves:
- We assigned four puzzles to each group, ensuring that we had varied levels of difficulty represented in each group’s set. Our approach was to give each group one easy puzzle, two medium puzzles, and one difficult puzzle.
- The solutions to the puzzles often provided the location of the next puzzle (usually a room) or of one of the clues. Sometimes, after completing a puzzle, the team could open a clue envelope which told them (sometimes cryptically) where to go next.
- We suggest using puzzles that emphasize problem-solving skills and logical thinking rather than advanced mathematical knowledge/techniques. This was helpful in encouraging (rather than discouraging) general participation and excitement about math!
- Easy puzzles
- Medium puzzles
- Hard puzzles (Note: for several of the hard puzzles, we included a hint that teams could consult after 5 minutes of unsuccessful deliberation.)
A Few Final Notes:
1. Our MMM unfolded like the game Clue. Each murder had 3 groups assigned to it. One group figured out the culprit, another the weapon, and another the place. Good potential weapons include: calculus book, compass, calculator, and poisoned fried chicken (this final weapon refers to one Davidson professor’s idiosyncrasies!)
We also chose to have 2 murders so that we had a total of 6 groups. Decide how many victims you want to have based on how many people you expect to attend.
2. Here’s a sample story line that one group received (this group was trying to figure out who killed Polly Gone):
Their first clue (given at headquarters) was a letter for Lou T. Nant, a local police officer who had seen the culprit and wanted to lead the team along a trail of clues. Only, fearing the media would interfere and corrupt evidence, he was going to use math puzzles to lead the team along the trail.
Along with the letter was their first puzzle. The answer took them to another room where there was another puzzle and a plate full of cookie crumbs (a clue which vaguely hinted at a few professors). After a few more puzzles and clues, the final puzzle directed them to a room where there was a crumpled up confession note discarded on the ground.
**Note: not all puzzle sets need a coherent story line…it’s okay to have the answer to one puzzle simply convert into the room number with the next puzzle. Just be sure to sprinkle clues along the way so people stay intrigued.