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!