Andrew Greene (530nm330hz) wrote,
Andrew Greene

MIT Mystery Hunt 2016 Writeup

This year's Mystery Hunt was a lot of fun. The theme had something to do with a dog show meets Inception, but my focus is generally on the individual puzzles, especially since I always have to miss 27 of the first 30 hours.

Unfortunately, the software that Team Luck (this year's running team) was planning to use to manage puzzle releases and answer collection must have hit a snag just before the Hunt started. Fortunately, they had (or quickly came up with) a reasonable backup plan, in which we used Google Forms to submit our answers and where they released entire rounds at a time using "decorated" URLs that pointed to static pages containing the puzzles. So we couldn't see any personalized stats during the hunt, but we could still solve puzzles and have fun.

I am very interested in hearing this portion of the post-game analyses. Extra kudos to Luck for not letting the failure of a key piece of technology ruin the Hunt. This is a case study in how to do Hunt disaster recovery right. (Among the good decisions they made, once they decided to fall back to this plan, they did not try to switch horses in midstream and get the regular release system back in use.)

In fact, for me personally at least, the fact that rounds ended up being released all at once worked out great. Too often, I'm involved in finishing up a puzzle when one or two new puzzles are released, and when I finish what I've been working on the only work available is to join a group that's halfway through a puzzle, and while we're doing that one or two new puzzles are released.... so for many years, the only time I actually get to work a puzzle from beginning to end or to choose puzzles that are in or near the areas I most enjoy are at the very start of Hunt and really late Saturday night when many people have gone home. But this year's cycle was that we'd finish the puzzles we were working on, then look at some of the long-running still-not-solveds until the next round was released.... and then we could all look at the batch of new puzzles together and call out which ones each of us wanted to work on, and form groups based on those preferences. So I got to do THREE CRYPTICS this year, which was AWESOME.

As always, solving with IIF was a joy. The team size is small enough to feel heimish, and the people are menschen. There were some pretty good belly laughs throughout the weekend.

For the most part, the puzzles that I got to work on were nice pieces of construction. There are a couple whose final extraction eluded us, which is disappointing. The "Pam Ewing" meta is my kick-myself puzzle for this year. I stared at it for hours, I literally gasped when I saw what letters bracketed the list that was forming, and then I was so fixated on "this has to be a lexical meta because these words have NOTHING in common" that I failed to realize the import of my gasp-worthy moment, even after we got the six-letter answer that should have screamed "here's how the meta works." I'm glad my teammates eventually saw it, but grrrrr.

I look forward to looking over the hundred-plus puzzles that I didn't get to see during Hunt, because I'm sure there are some good times waiting in there as well.

Congratulations to Team Luck for running a great Hunt (especially in the face of technical difficulties), and to Setec Astronomy for returning from "retirement" in such a blow-out way. I'm already counting the days to next year's Hunt!
Tags: mystery hunt

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