FLEB is a passionate puzzler and a popular YouTuber. To his YouTube audience, he regularly presents various interesting puzzles he has collected over the years. FLEB is a former TOP10 finisher in the US Puzzle Championships and also a regular participant in the MIT Mystery Hunt. Recently, he released his first puzzle video game – RYB. You can see FLEB’s favorite puzzles on his official YouTube channel.
Q. Hi FLEB! Is this your real name? If not, where does it come from and what does it mean?
A. Hi, my real name is Paul Hlebowitsh. At MIT, people oftentimes call each other by their Kereberos (computer system) usernames. Mine was “phleb”, which when pronounced sound like FLEB! That’s where that comes from.
Q. When and how did you get into puzzles?
A. When I was young, I would often check out books on brainteasers and puzzles. I was a big fan of the “Encyclopedia Brown” books and there was a series of “Clue” books that were similar. When I was in high school, I was lucky enough to know some people who were involved with the MIT Mystery Hunt and I was able to solve it remotely through the internet with their team!
Q. Talking about the MIT Mystery Hunts, what is the name of your team? How did you choose your teammates?
A. The small puzzle team I hunt with is mostly friends of mine from college, who also got into puzzles. We use a bunch of different names, but the most recent one was “The Sweatiest Tryhards”.
The big Mystery Hunt team that I’m a part of is called “Death and Mayhem”, which started way before I joined it. It’s the merger of two teams “Death From Above” and “Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem”. I joined “Death From Above” around 2008, but it was around for a long time before that. I’m not sure where the name comes from!
Q. How many puzzles do you have in your collection?
A. Oh gosh, I’m not sure. Probably close to a thousand, but I haven’t counted. I know I own around a hundred Hanayama puzzles alone!
Q. That’s a lot, we definitely need to catch up here! Do you remember the first puzzle you ever got?
A. My first puzzle was a Rubik’s cube, which my parents bought me for my birthday when I was young. It’s a good one to start with!
Q. Which is your favorite mechanical puzzle?
A. For my wedding, a bunch of my puzzle designer friends built me a custom 4’x2’x2′ puzzlebox, which is simultaneously the biggest puzzle I’ve ever had to solve, along with the most complicated. It includes a working telephone which plays messages after you’ve solved individual puzzles!
Q. Sounds very inventive. And what about your favorite brain teaser, or game?
A. For brainteasers, I think I’m going to cheat this question a little bit and choose a collection. I think “What is the Name of this Book?” has the best brainteasers out of any book I’ve seen. They’re all in the “liars and truth-tellers” types of brainteaser, but he slowly guides you to answering ones about people who answer randomly and in a language you don’t understand.
When it comes down to games, I really like “The Talos Principle”. I think that’s the best puzzle game I’ve ever played. Then I think it’d be “The Witness”, “Linelight”, “The Room”, and “Hexcells” in some order.
Q. You are a TOP 10 finisher in the US Puzzle Championship, which is a great achievement. What does your preparation for puzzle championships look like? Do you have any tips for others who are getting into competitive puzzle solving?
A. Mostly it involves creating and solving puzzles. If you want to get into competitive logic puzzle solving, one of the most important aspects is learning how to create logic puzzles! Creating puzzle is a great way to understand new logic puzzle types.
Q. How did you decide to start making youtube videos? Did you expect to make your channel so popular?
A. I wanted to share my joy of puzzles with others! I didn’t expect it would be so popular at all!
Q. What are your future plans for it?
A. I’d love to cover more aspects of puzzles in the future, such as puzzle history and design, but I’d also like to cover some brainteasers and more puzzlehunt puzzles.
Q. We are looking forward to this. What other hobbies do you have, apart from solving puzzles and playing board games?
A. I really like Rocket League! I’m terrible at it, but it’s fun. In the fall, I also love college football. Almost every Saturday during the fall I watch a game or two!
Q. As a last question, what would you recommend to our readers, which want to improve their overall analytic and problem solving skills?
A. Puzzles are a great way to get entertainment!
Q. We completely agree with that. Thank you for the interview, FLEB.
A. Happy puzzling Puzzle Prime!