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Shariq Ahmed
Shariq Ahmed

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Tips for Getting Full Score in Harvard CS50 Puzzle Competition

There were times when I used to spend all day working on puzzles. Life was amazing back then because it made me feel different emotions. Some puzzles made me want to pull my hair out, while others made me feel like the smartest person in the world.

And I’ve been longing to experience those emotions again for a very long time. Fortunately, I was able to, all thanks to the Harvard C50 Puzzle Competition 2024.

My team scored 9/9. And no, it wasn’t just sheer luck. We literally worked day in and day out on every puzzle. Now, I might not consider it a big achievement, but there were a few techniques that helped my team score well.

Tip #1: Teammates of Different Nationalities > Teammates of the Same Nationality

This is the perfect opportunity for you to engage with people from different backgrounds and countries. So, go out there and introduce yourself. There are many platforms where you can connect with people. I chose the CS50 Discord server. I introduced myself and talked about my skills. Not just technical ones. And it’s even better if you form your team with people from different countries because sometimes there are cultural references in puzzles.

Tip #2: Think Logically

Consider every hint logically. Hints can be found everywhere — in the question, picture, and sometimes even in the topic. Of course, it won’t be easy to find because it’s a damn puzzle. But if you think logically, you’ll find something from those hints. We also printed out every puzzle on A4 size paper to err on the side of caution. Because sometimes because of our dashed-off ideas, we can get confused.

Tip #3: Use Google, Not AI

I had a slight inkling of this. You won’t get much help from using AI. Gemini straightaway refused to give any answers. ChatGPT-3.5 and ChatGPT-4 gave incorrect answers. So, I focused on what I already had — my brain. I racked my brain, took multiple breaks, and discussed with my teammates — I did everything I could to come up with answers. I was successful, eventually. And yes, Google won’t give you all the answers. It will help you find the final answer. For instance, there was one puzzle where we were getting ROACH BAR FILM. After searching on Google, we found one film ‘Snow Piercer’ where a roach bar was used in one scene. So, we put ‘Snowpiercer’ in the answer block.

Tip #4: Review Past Puzzles

No puzzle will be similar to past puzzles. Not even a single picture. Hammer this into your mind. However, there might be some concepts that can come in handy. So, try to understand and solve past puzzles. Again, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. You can enter the competition without solving any past puzzles.

Tip #5: Work Smart

Try to focus on one section at a time. Don’t spread yourself too thin. See whether there are some patterns. If, even after an hour, you aren’t finding anything, take a break. Don’t give up. Yes, every hint will make you feel overwhelmed. But believe me, it will become easy once you identify the patterns.

Speaking of patterns, every puzzle will have a different one. If Morse code is used in the first puzzle, then in the second puzzle, a different technique should be used.

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