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Tue, Jan. 22nd, 2013, 07:11 pm
My Mystery Hunt writeup

Short version: Long but gratifying hunt; had a great time.

Friday: Kickoff in Rockwell Cage, instead of Lobby Seven. Sad to break with tradition, and harder to mingle, but much better to see and hear what's going on. First round was fun; looking back I'd call it an "overture". There were six puzzles; I glommed on to the AlphaSleuth first, since I enjoy those, and we made fairly quick work of it. Then I joined Tahnan who was almost done with a second puzzle, and we quickly sussed out the final clue for that one from the work that he had already done. Soon our team had the zeroth meta down, and the "real" hunt was revealed; at that point it was 3pm and a good time for me to leave for Shabbat.

Saturday night: My team still hadn't cracked the first real meta. There were an enormous number of puzzles, and they were all extremely hard and/or long. None had flavortext to speak of. This was clearly a hunt written by and for a large team; pity that we're not a large team. I looked at the Ocean meta with some others and got nowhere. I and two others took the Dear Abby puzzle which clearly was all about Shakespeare characters; three hours later we were done. I contributed a little bit here and there to other puzzles, but it felt like a slog. We figured we were simply doing really badly, which was bad for morale; it turns out that ALL the teams were that far behind. At one point we opened a puzzle that turned out to contain 263 mp3 files, and we just said "hell no" and walked away from it.

Around 5am I tried to get some sleep but couldn't, so I made the excellent decision to go home and sleep in my own bed.

Sunday: Got back around 10:30 rested, showered, fed, and caffeinated. Our team was still stuck on the Ocean meta, and one of my teammates said "I wish this started off with 'BANK BREAKS...' and then he figured out what other letters would make a nice message, "... but I can't see how to extract that." And the light bulb went on, and I saw the extraction mechanism. We called it in, and were correct. Finally!

So then the person working on the Feynman meta asked me for my thoughts on it, and after he explained what he'd gotten, I asked "Have you tried extracting in time order?" My physics degree finally paid off! We followed the boson interactions in increasing time and spelled out the answer phrase.

So then the person working on the Maxwell Smart meta asked me to take a look, and I asked "What are you doing with the inserted words that each begin with a different letter of the alphabet?" -- which he hadn't noticed, and which was the key to extracting that

So within about an hour I had helped crack three supermetas. Which turned out in the end to be all the supermetas our team would get, but still enough to tie for third place. So yeah, I had a good hunt. :-)

Spent the rest of Sunday contributing to some other team solves. My favorite has to be Analogy Farm, which had a dozen of us sitting around calling out crazy ideas to each other.

Finally at 10pm I decided I needed a real night's sleep, since our team had decided that 8am Monday we were going to start cleaning up our room, and I rejoined my family at Arisia.

When I returned on Monday at 8am, coffee cup in hand, I was asked to look at the Blue Ox minimeta from the Rubik round. I was told that "Ox" was probably a clue, and even though we used it to determine that the hex values of the colors was important, one of our team also wanted to use it to mean "play tic-tac-toe." A little while later, I noticed that each nybble had only two non-zero values, and I copied those out as four tic-tac-toe boards. It was obvious from that point that each of the four games was forced, and that gave an ordering and extraction mechanism that worked. So that was my fourth meta. Around 10:30am I had to leave.

So, overall reactions:

1. IIF is an AWESOME team to be a part of. Even when the puzzles were unyielding, we had fun and we worked well together.

2. While the hunt was long, it was a case of "too much of a good thing." I didn't hit any puzzles that were broken or fundamentally unfair. And for me, since I miss 26 hours of Hunt for Shabbat, having a longer rather than a shorter Hunt is actually a good thing. My most disappointing Hunt was the one that ended around 11:30 on Saturday night, since I only got about six hours of puzzling done that year. This year, I was able to participate in about 2/3 of Hunt!

3. While the puzzles were of high quality overall, most of them were too long and too complex. And there wasn't any flavortext, so you really had nothing to give you a nudge if you were stuck, nor a confirmation that you were on the right track.

4. Manic Sages did a REALLY GOOD job of keeping the teams in the loop as they pruned their Hunt on the fly. I wish they'd told us on Saturday that everyone was running long, but other than that, kudos to them for being flexible (and inventing new events.)

5. I do miss having the occasional quick puzzle in the middle of the hunt. Not every puzzle has to be a three-hour masterpiece to be fun and enjoyable. Overall, I didn't get to solve enough "normal" puzzles.

Congratulations to the team who used the entire text of Atlas Shrugged as their team name; thanks to Manic Sages for a fun weekend; thanks to IIF for being awesome; and let's do this again next year!

Wed, Jan. 23rd, 2013 02:11 am (UTC)

Thanks for your write-up; I hope someday to get even close to your puzzling skills!

Wed, Jan. 23rd, 2013 04:08 am (UTC)

Honestly, I hadn't noticed how much my approach to Hunt puzzles boiled down to "Okay, we've collected all this data, what do we do with it? Maybe the flavortext will suggest something." until we got all these puzzles with tons of data and no flavortext. :)

Wed, Jan. 23rd, 2013 07:13 am (UTC)

The puzzle containing 263 MP3 files actually happens to be really fun... :/

Wed, Jan. 23rd, 2013 09:35 am (UTC)

I don't doubt that. Most of these puzzles were fun... just too big.

Wed, Jan. 23rd, 2013 05:01 pm (UTC)

Yeah. In hindsight, I think we should've killed a round, thrown away 30 or so puzzles, sprinkle flavourtext on the rest, and rearrange the hunt so that it's more front-loaded with "big" puzzles; something teams can do en masse and have a great time.

Thanks for your write up -- it's very insightful.

Thu, Jan. 24th, 2013 03:34 am (UTC)

That wouldn't have helped. Your metas required (just about) every puzzle feeding in to them to be solved. That was always going to make your hunt run long. And you did basically throw away an entire round, and the hunt still ended on Monday.

Flavortext is very hard to add in retrospect. The real problem was that most of the puzzles had one to two ahas too many (and when you have three or four ahas in a puzzle, writing helpful flavortext is basically impossible.) If more care had been paid on clue phrases and restricting puzzles to a one or at most two ahas and reasonable amount of scutwork, then you wouldn't have needed to throw away quite so much.

I worked on the 263-MP3 puzzle, and I'm sorry to say I didn't enjoyit much. There was a lot of fiddly identification, and *then* all the clues had to be reordered for the diagramless. If the clues had been presented in the order they appear in the diagramless crossword (or some other confirmatory step, maybe presented in alphabetical order by title), the puzzle might have been enjoyable -- you could use hints from the crossword to pull you through troublesome bits of identification. But as it is, it was too much work for too little gratiification. We figured out the ahas, we just didn't want to do all the work. It wasn't fun. We ended up buying the answer instead.

There *was* a fun puzzle in there -- the "diagramless crossmusic" concept is very nice -- but the puzzle as presented was rather characteristic of the rest of this hunt.

Thu, Jan. 24th, 2013 05:12 am (UTC)

Incidentally, lest I be seeming too negative, this is the fun puzzle I think was lurking inside:

First, the new title really did the puzzle a disservice. The fun part of the puzzle was the "diagramless crossword" aha, and the title "Diagramless Crossmusic" completely gives the aha away. After that all that's left is some tedious identification and making the thing work. (This is also what I mean about how writing flavortext, and changing flavortext, is hard to do well.)

I would have left the original title, hinted the aha in some other way (possibly by having exactly 17x17 clues, with black spaces == silence?), but then made extraction as straightforward and un-tedious as possible once you get the initial aha. The aha is the puzzle, and the fun part. Keep that, streamline the rest. Ditch the second aha (how to extract the answer from the completed grid) as well, if possible. Then you'd have an enjoyable puzzle with a rewarding aha that hunters would actually solve and appreciate.

Wed, Jan. 23rd, 2013 11:19 pm (UTC)

Thanks for the report - glad you had a good Hunt on the whole!