I finally have recovered from my annual return-to-MIT-for-the-Mystery-Hunt excursion. (Well, in a literal sense that’s not quite true… I still have laryngitis, but it’s more likely that I caught it pre-hunt from a fellow Glee Clubber. If members of my team find themselves losing their voices in the next few days, I apologize profusely.)
The hunt was a little strange for me this year as certain hunt regulars opted to hunt remotely for various reasons instead of being there in person. But it only took about five minutes to get over being the eldest putz alum (with the exception of Benoc, who by all accounts including his own, seems to live on 2W these days and is therefore more familiar to the undergrads than Harvey). After all I still had Amittai to mock me endlessly upon learning my AIM screenname. (It’s Dutch, okay?)
Quality-wise, this was probably the worst hunt since, well, the hunt we wrote. The theme was dull and unimaginative (a murder mystery) and the structure was needlessly complicated and somewhat broken. (It turns out that because of the way they released puzzles, solving one of the layers of metas (grouping the suspects) gave you absolutely nothing.) I was also shocked to hear that one of the puzzles (Underpants Gnomes) was missing an entire page of clues and Dr. Awkward didn’t feel the need to issue an errata to rectify this, even after they noticed it. I can say from experience that if your puzzles are broken, you need to own up to it as soon as you recognize that. Other puzzles weren’t broken per se but involved so many “A ha!” moments that they were essentially unsolvable — I still don’t know how Knots and Crosses works, even though I listened to the author explain it at the wrap up.
I also have a gripe about the webpage format of the puzzles — if I’m looking at puzzle and want to tell, say, a remote solver to look at it, I should be immediately able to determine what round the puzzle is in based on the header of the page. At the very least, I should be able to look at the round page and tell the name of the puzzles without having to mouse-over each link. This is a really easy thing to implement and it makes a huge difference.
But despite the fact that many were severely flawed, I did have a number of favorites. The puzzles themselves haven’t been archived, so I’ll have to go back and add links later.

  • Nationwide Hunt — This puzzle had six very straightforward clues which were ungoogleable (except for one) and required you to be in a different city, such as “The fourth word is located in SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA. Looking out from the front steps of the City Hall, there is a row of flagpoles on the right that extends forward. On the fourth flagpole, there is a plaque. Take the second word on the plaque.” I contributed to this puzzle by calling Breath and sending him to San Francisco’s City Hall to get that word. But the highlight on our team was one of our undergrads getting a hold of a directory listing for an apartment building in New York and cold calling strangers until one of them agreed to help us.
  • Cursed — This was a cross-sum (aka Kakuro) where you looked for factors instead of sums. As an added bonus, it was in Hexadecimal (as clued by the title). Galen refused to let me go work on the cryptic puzzle until I finished solving the grid.
  • The World’s Tallest Cryptic — The aforementioned cryptic, this puzzle is an absolute work of art. I am only disappointed that a) Anand and I goofed level 1 and didn’t notice right away and b) I was so exhausted that I had to pass out before said error was noticed and we could appropriately solve it. But seriously, this is the most amazing crossword-type puzzle I have ever almost-solved. I cannot imagine what went into constructing it.
  • Cross-Examination — Another cryptic. Not as nice as the infinitely repeating one, but still fun.
  • Propaganda — I have mixed feelings about including this as a “favorite” as it was nearly identical to Land That I Love from the 2006 Spies Hunt, but instead of getting the “facts” from America: The Book, they were taken from the Caltech hacked version of the MIT Tech. Still, I hadn’t been aware that it existed before, so it was fun to read through it as I searched for “answers.”

I also heard that Subservient Chicken Loves the 80s was fantastic, but I never got a chance to look at it as Benoc decompiled the Flash animation thereby making it ridiculously easy to solve.
I do give Palindrome credit for attempting to have a lot of MIT-type puzzles even though they have a lack of MIT-types on their team. However, I’d just like to note that having a bunch of puzzles that have pictures of MIT’s campus is not what defines “MIT-type puzzles” for me. I miss the ones that require knowledge of MIT culture (hence citing Propaganda as one of my favorites). I also miss the music puzzles — not the “Identify these songs” puzzles, but ones where you need some actual musical knowledge. My pitch pipe was woefully underused (except for the Scavenger hunt).


7 responses »

  1. We didn’t even really use your pitchpipe during the scavenger hunt. We tried to use it to screech, but it didn’t really work. That whole scavenger hunt was pretty damn lame, anyway, and it was graded by someone completely lacking a sense of humor.
    Subservient Chicken was a fantastic puzzle.
    It was also pretty easy even before we decompiled the Flash file, but it was well written, hilarious, and a perfect Hunt puzzle.
    National Treasure Hunt was similarly awesome. Brilliant idea.
    I don’t recall really enjoying any other puzzle I worked on, honestly. Damn near every one had at least one “a-ha” step too many. (Advice from SETEC: 1 a-ha per puzzle. if the bitchwork is hard, then the final step should be easy. if the final step is hard, then the bitchwork should be easy). Furthermore, several puzzles had intricate levels of completely-not-the-path-to-the-answer (the one with the Threadless t-shirts comes to mind…).
    We figured out that the Black Book metas were going to be useless, so I’m glad we didn’t spend much time on them. However, if they were going to punt a round of metas because the Hunt was going too slowly, they should at least have announced that teams shouldn’t waste resources on them…
    This was indeed the worst hunt since the one we wrote, which was actually the worst hunt since the last one *they* wrote.
    From stumbling upon a number of the Palindrome people’s livejournals, they seem generally pleased & excited with how this hunt turned out, with minor exceptions.
    Ours was horribly broken in many many ways, but we admitted it, and at least the teams had random silly things to play with.
    This one… ugh. Broken, and so horrifically lame!
    There should be a rule against having another murder-mystery theme.
    In fantastic news, it sounds like Palindrome wants to never win again, and the Bombers will write a great hunt for 2009.

  2. “In fantastic news, it sounds like Palindrome wants to never win again, and the Bombers will write a great hunt for 2009.”
    We’ll do our best. Thanks for the vote of confidence.

  3. A lot of what you’ve said echoes my own feelings, and I agree with the things you (and “a”) said that I didn’t. (Seriously, there was an entire page missing from Underpants Gnomes and they didn’t correct it? The hell?)
    Especially a’s observation that y’all (and, I’d like to think, we) owned up to the mistakes we made, whereas Palindrome does seem pleased to an extent that makes it sound like denial. It didn’t suck, but own up to what went wrong.

  4. first off: i’m not-so-anonymous. rhode mentioned me by name in the post.
    i think i’m extra-cranky about this past Hunt because it’s seemed to me that Palindrome’s done a bit of whinging over the years about how terrible/annoying/unfair our hunt was, and about students-vs-NPL crap, and how things ‘traditionally’ were, then they produced _this_.
    if it’s any consolation, lance:
    yes, you guys did a good job (better and nicer than us) of realizing what was broken, and then issuing errata / hinting in person about how to cope with it.
    at the end of our hunt, we were kind of embarrassed, and glad that someone put it out of its misery. we take satisfaction from the fun look-and-feel and structural parts of the hunt that pop up in subsequent hunts– and from having been the prettiest 🙂
    with the exception of the assemble-the-snowball meta, which seems intricate to the point of being fairly obtuse — and note that we never even saw this during the hunt– last year’s hunt was the most outright fun i’ve had in a hunt since Setec’s Monopoly. i need a new mailing list idea, though, as we can’t reuse “dick-konundrum@m.i.t.”
    oh, and you know what you should do?
    have a theme for the kickoff, and then 12 hours in reveal the SECRET THEME, and then 24 hours in, it turns out that the SECRET THEME is a decoy, and that the hunt is really about the UBERSEKKRIT THEME, which _on the surface_ is identical to the original one– BUT THAT’S WHAT THEY WANT YOU TO THINK!!!!
    that would be awesome.

  5. also–
    one of Palindrome’s biggest challenges seems to have been getting a Hunt server _hosted online_.
    another challenge seems to have been getting “the software” to send mail from “different accounts”.
    i… i….
    what the fuck?
    i’m sure these are all wonderful, kind, caring human beings… but for fuck’s sake. these sorts of things are not supposed to be a stumbling block.
    also from Eric Berlin’s blog:
    “The Hunt also generates thousands of dollars in expenses. Did we have funding from the school? ”
    eh? thousands of dollars? they sure as fuck weren’t handing out booze to students [unlike us!], so i don’t know where the hell the money went. i don’t remember how much we spent on the hunt, but i don’t think we got more than $1000 in funding, did we?
    now, i’m really glad that eric berlin stepped in, because it looks like he Saved The Hunt, but seriously, folks.
    the gem is at the end:
    “Nonetheless, the reviews I’ve read so far have been more good than bad.”
    i’m sure that’s true, but that doesn’t make it accurate.

  6. Amittai–I wasn’t so much preserving your anonymity as I was referring to you by the name you used, for ease of reference. (The quotes were there because saying “the things you (and a) said” just looked silly.)
    Regarding the latter (“also–“) comment, I’m willing to cut them a fair amount of slack because of the sheer volume of disorganization Eric had to cope with. But regarding the former: yeah, I’m more or less with you there on the crankiness.

  7. Next tim I’ll get my ass out there and solve more puzzles. But yeah, the theme was pretty bad. About as bad as the Hunt of Horror theme. Don’t they have accomplished *ahem* writers on their team?

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