Chic Spotlight: The Puzzle Crawl

Chic Spotlight: The Puzzle Crawl

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Big kids can have fun, too! Click here to read more about a local puzzle-fueled bar crawl that you can now do from home, too!

Cincy Chic: What is The Puzzle Crawl?
John Bromels, Supreme Galactic Overlord at Puzzle Crawl, Ltd.:The Puzzle Crawl is a one-of-a-kind bar crawl with pencil puzzles (like crosswords, wordfinds, and mazes) that occurs every month in Cincinnati. Players visit the first bar on the route and solve a themed puzzle that reveals the location of the next bar. They visit 4-5 bars over the course of the evening, solving a puzzle at each one. Players can also embark on “side quests” along the crawl route for extra points. At the final bar, we tally the scores and award a prize package, usually valued at $200 – $400, to the winning team, and a few mystery prizes to other lucky players. The theme changes each month. Past themes have included movies, pirates, and comic book superheroes. We also offer private Crawls and puzzling experiences for birthday parties, corporate retreats, bachelor/bachelorette parties, and more! Puzzle Crawl received a “Best of the City” award from Cincinnati Magazine in 2018.

Cincy Chic: What’s the inspiration behind it?
Bromels: Solving puzzles and mysteries has gotten popular in recent years, with escape rooms and mystery-in-a-box delivery companies popping up across the country.

We enjoy escape rooms a lot, but one drawback is that because of the time limit, everyone has to spend all their time focused on escaping the room: there’s no time to socialize and just hang out with your friends because you’re “on the clock.” Some of our friends who aren’t hardcore puzzle solvers have confessed to us that they just stand around feeling like a fifth wheel in an escape room because they don’t know what to do. Plus, there are no drinks!

So, we wanted to create a puzzling experience that would be fun for puzzlers and non-puzzlers alike, and that allows people time to enjoy each other’s company and have a few drinks while also playing an entertaining game. We often say that the Puzzle Crawl is “for nerds who like to drink and drunks who like to think.”

Cincy Chic: Who’s behind it?
Bromels: The Puzzle Crawl’s two masterminds are Supreme Galactic Overlord John Bromels and Puzzler-in-Chief Jeremy Dubin. We met while both working at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company (CSC) in 2005, but we’ve been puzzle enthusiasts for much longer. We should have seen this coming: when John got married in 2007, he created an original crossword puzzle for his wedding…and Jeremy was the only one who solved it! Our creativity doesn’t just extend to the Puzzle Crawl: Jeremy is the Director of Creative Education at CSC, while John was the winner of the 2020 Red Bull Mind Gamers Creativity Challenge. John’s were also the brains behind Professor Lorenzo’s Carnival of Mysteries at the People’s Liberty Globe Gallery at Findlay Market in Spring 2019, for which Jeremy provided numerous puzzles.

Because great minds think alike, John and Jeremy each had the idea for a progressive puzzling experience independently of one another in early 2017. When they happened to mention their ideas to one another, the Puzzle Crawl was born! We did our first public Crawl in September of 2017, and we’ve offered a monthly Crawl almost every month since, until COVID-19 put a stop to our shenanigans.

Cincy Chic: How are you doing Puzzle Crawls now due to COVID-19?
Bromels: Unfortunately, our usual format – bar crawls – doesn’t work so well without the bars. We tried asking folks to just crawl along the pavement while solving a wordfind, but surprisingly got no takers. So instead, we’re working on providing online content. We launched our first “Virtual Bar Crawl” on our website,, in May, and expect to have more online “Crawls” available soon.

Cincy Chic: Do you know when you’ll resume in-person events?
Bromels: We take the health and safety of our players seriously, so we’re not going to start up again until we can be confident it’s safe to do so. With conditions constantly changing, we have no idea when that will be.

Cincy Chic: What makes this a fun event for “big kids?” 
Bromels: The biggest thing that makes it fun is that the competitive aspect is only a part of the evening’s activities. Teams’ scores are only based on the time they spend solving puzzles (which have a par time of 10-15 minutes each). When you’re not solving puzzles, you’re off the clock: you can sit and enjoy time with your friends instead of feeling like you have to guzzle down your drink and race out the door. Plus, the evening always includes a storyline and additional “off the clock” material, so even if you don’t solve a single puzzle, you should still be able to have a fun time.

A lot of players have told us they like having the opportunity to sample bars they otherwise wouldn’t have visited. We vary the bars and neighborhoods we use so it’s a different experience each time. And for those “big kids” who are just here for the drinks, many of the bars create specialty themed cocktails for our players, offering another chance to try something new.

Cincy Chic: Where can readers go to learn more, sign up, and follow along?
Bromels: Readers can visit our website at to find out about upcoming events and to play our online puzzles, including our Virtual Bar Crawl. You can also find us on Facebook. We’re also on Instagram. Trust us, we were as surprised as you are to find out that domain name wasn’t taken!