The Problem Site

About The Problem Site

The more time you spend at The Problem Site, the more likely you are to think What IS this site, anyway? There is an extraordinary conglomeration of math puzzles, word games, brainteasers, strategy games, web quizzes, and informational pages on this site, and it’s easy to think, What sort of lame-brained web designer would put together such a hodge-podge of resources?

Please, allow me to explain how this site came about. Trust me, there is both a rhyme and a reason to the site. Let me give you the site’s history in phases.

Phase One: Problem Of The Week

In 2001, I started a problem of the week page as a feature of the Virtu Software website. The page was designed as a way of helping students from the state of Maine prepare for the Maine Association of Math Leagues‘s math competitions. The ‘POW’ page gained popularity not just in Maine but across the United States, and around the world. By the time the site had been active for four months, we were getting visitors from Greece, Iran, Scotland, Finland, Australia, Argentina, New Zealand, Germany, France, and many more countries.

Before long I was getting requests to host multiple Problem Of The Week pages, keep score throughout the year, and various other features. The more I thought about it, the more I thought that this was an idea that was worth creating as a stand-alone site separate from the software site. This was the genesis of The Problem Site.

Yes, that’s right; The Problem Site started as nothing more than a place where some mathematicians could post math problems, and visitors could try to solve them.

That’s ironic, considering that now the Problem Pages are just a tiny fraction of what the site contains.

Phase Two: Introducing A Few Games

Around that time I got interested in the possibility of creating some basic web based games. These games would be games which would require visitors to solve problems, thus maintaining the “Problem Site” theme. At the time, I knew very little about things like javascript, java, or flash; I just knew how to write ASP pages. So all the games from this phase were very simple, and every game action resulted in the entire page being refreshed (which is a lousy way of programming a game, but it was all I knew at the time!)

Games from this early era include: Hangman (which has since been replaced by a newer version), Zero Gravity Connect Four (also known as “Null Gee”), My Secret NumberMy Secret Number II, and One To Ten.

Phase Three: A Hiatus

For the next couple years there wasn’t much happening at The Problem Site; I was busy working on other projects, and gave very little thought to this little site sitting in its tiny little corner of the internet.

The hiatus ended when one day, out of the blue, I decided to look at the site statistics for The Problem Site. These statistics showed me something I was not expecting. The Problem Site had more traffic than the rest of my sites combined! To this day, this is still true (although Tile Puzzler, which is only a few months old, is rapidly rising in popularity!)

When I realized that people were actually playing the games, I decided to add some more…

Phase Four: JavaScript Games

Yes, that’s right. I still hadn’t learned how to program Flash; in my mind Flash was just for cutesy little animations that I didn’t want to be bothered with. But I thought Javascript! I can create better games using javascript!

So I did. For starters, I rewrote “Hangman” so it no longer refreshed the entire page every time a letter was clicked. Oddly enough, there are still quite a few people who prefer the old version, but most have switched to the new one. Other games followed rather rapidly.

Phase Five: An Odd Choice

Right around this time I decided to create a series of pages explaining various methods that people use to encode secret messages. These included shifted alphabet codes, binary code, matrix codes, and more.

The question I faced was: Where in the world am I going to put these informational pages I just created? The truth was, they didn’t really fit into any of my existing sites. On the other hand, I didn’t really want to create a whole new site just for these pages. So my decision was, even though the pages weren’t exactly on theme with the rest of the site, I would post them at The Problem SiteBesides, I told myself, since The Problem Site is so popular, they’ll get more attention this way.

It turns out I was quite right about that; the Codes and Secret Messages portion of this site is very popular. Particularly, theBinary Code Explanation gets a great deal of traffic from university students whose professors have linked that page in their online syllabus.

That odd decision to add “informational” pages to a site which was intended to be a problem solving site opened the door for a couple more additions to the site: the Programming Tips and Search It Out pages.

Phase Six: Changing Focus

By now I had four different “Problem Pages”, and about fifteen games, plus a set of informational pages about codes. I realized that, without really intending to, I had changed the focus of the site. Now it was no longer a site for math problems, with a few puzzles thrown in, it was a site which had a good selection of math and word games…and, by the way, there happened to be some pages with math problems as well.

Since the focus of the site had changed, I decided to let the structure of the site reflect that; no longer were the problem pages featured prominently and exclusively on the home page; the problem pages were moved into a separate “Problems” directory, and the home page was redesigned to give a “taste” of everything on the site.

Phase Seven: Finally! Flash!

Yes, that’s right. At long last, I began learning to program Flash, and discovered it was perfect for the games I wanted to create. My very first Flash games can be found here: Quote Puzzler. But it wasn’t long before I was creating Flash games for this site as well, beginning with Adders, which was a response to requests for a more “quick moving” game.

The Flash games didn’t stop there though; there were several more games added, including the most recent addition:Entrapment. And, I finally realized, I had the tools I needed to create something I’d always wanted to create – an online version of my Pentomino software.

Thus, I took another hiatus from The Problem Site in order to create Tile Puzzler.

Phase Eight: What’s Next?

I have no idea what is next. The Problem Site has become a “catch-all” – whenever I create an informational resource (like the Codes And Secret Messages pages) or a game that won’t fit anywhere else, it ends up here. So perhaps it’ll be another game. Perhaps another Treasure Hunt, or another Problem Page.