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 The puzzles themselves haven’t been archived, so I’ll have to go back and add links later.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).