Andrew Greene (530nm330hz) wrote,
Andrew Greene

One Mystery Hunt thought for now

Hunt was awesome -- the best in my memory. Delightful theme, but more importantly the puzzles had been really well edited and testsolved and factchecked, and it showed.

At wrapup, the editorial director explained their overall philosophy, which included "Make the Hunt more enjoyable by smaller teams." She then added "I'm not sure how well that worked out."

It worked out amazingly well.

My team never got swamped by so many puzzles that we had to abandon ones that were giving us trouble. And in combination with the high quality of the puzzles and the policy of keeping HQ open until 6pm Sunday, this meant that we saw the endgame for the first time since I've started hunting, and we had a "complete" rate of over 90%. This makes us feel really good about the Hunt experience and about ourselves.

At the post-wrapup gathering, someone from a large team commented to me that he didn't like the fairly linear release mechanism, because it meant that on a large team like his, there were often periods when there weren't enough puzzles to go around.

This is a very important statement that he made. Let me repeat it:

Some people on a large team were sometimes bored when there weren't enough puzzles to go around.

For years, many people have debated how to handle the growing team size gap. Partly this becomes an issue of fairness: A team like mine, with 30-40 solvers, simply cannot be truly competitive with teams that are three times our size.

There's also an "arms race" between writing teams and solving teams. If a megateam can solve the entire hunt in 24 hours, does the writing team have to ramp up the scale or difficulty to compensate? And what does that do to the smaller teams' ability to see a sizable fraction of the Hunt, let alone the endgame? I think that was one cause (among others) of the problems with the scale and difficulty of the 2013 Hunt.

Those who feel that this is a problem have struggled with what measures could overcome it: various forms of sliding scales to make it more "costly" (in terms of points or time) for a large team, or imposing a team size limit, have been suggested. But those are bad ideas: they are unfair, they are hard to enforce (or, in some cases, to define), and the size gap is so large that it would be impossible to design a penalty that can overcome it.

As one of my favorite fictional characters said when all lines of attack on the enemy military force seemed futile: "It's not hopeless. My friends, we are going to hit them in the payroll!"

Now, solvers don't join teams for a paycheck; our reward is enjoyment.

If the hunt structure and release mechanism impose inherent limitations on how many puzzles a team can have open at once, that means parallel solving of scores of puzzles just can't happen. And that will simply change the natural dynamic so that being on a large team will be somewhat less fun than being on a smaller one.

It's not a penalty. It's not a tax or an imposed limit. If a solver feels that they will still have more fun on a large team, nothing interferes with that freedom.

But just as in recent years the Hunt community has been making the philosophical shift from "When the race is won, the race is done" to "HQ will stay open until 6pm so that all teams can continue to enjoy the game", I believe it would be good for the future of the Hunt for running teams to consider what [Alice Shrugged] accomplished this year. [Alice] took a damaged franchise and made it exciting, invigorating, and thoroughly enjoyable by adopting the design philosophy that they did.

I think targeting Hunt at smaller teams was a wonderful thing to try. I'd applaud it even if it hadn't worked. But from where I sit, looking at solving stats and being awed by the low team-dropout rate as Hunt progressed, and reflecting on the high satisfaction among my teammates, this approach worked great.

Best. Hunt. Ever.

Please, may I have another?
Tags: mit mystery hunt, puzzles
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