The Annual Mystery Hunt Post 2012


Another year, another Mystery Hunt.  Our team, Too Big To Fail, didn’t win this year, but we did finish second, finding the “coin” (a piece of paper) Sunday at about 3 AM.  (But Manic Sages had already been there five hours earlier.)  The theme this year was based around the movie The Producers and after each of the six rounds, we had to write a bad musical which would annoy a specific critic.

For the first five musicals, we were still busy solving puzzles so the musicals were written by an undergrad and I never saw or cared much about them.  But one of the rules was that after you solved the two metas for each musical (which told you what you had to include to make the musical bad), you had to make an appointment a minimum of 45 minutes afterwards to perform the musical… meaning that after the last meta was solved, we had 45 minutes and no other puzzles to solve.  As a result, our last musical, The Ogre of La Mancha, was epic and featured a 40+ person chorus, Dan Katz as Andre the Giant, Amittai Axelrod as Hamish the Big Fat Ass (donkey), Anand Sarwate as the Jolly Green Giant, and yours truly as the Hooge Moogende.  (It’s Dutch, damn it!)  While Amittai and I were nominally the script writers, shots of bourbon and sleep deprivation should probably get a credit here as well.  We were awarded “Best Musical” at the “Tony Awards” (hunt wrap-up) probably for the chorus of singing windmills singing a parody of “I Don Quixote,” masterfully penned by Dan Katz, as our finale.  (I can’t find the lyrics or script right now and I fear it’s not as funny as I thought it was Saturday night.)  Johnston took some widelux photos, and as soon as he develops them, I’ll post them here.

During the final runaround, we had to perform one final bad musical, Jesus Christ Super Star Wars featuring the “hit” song “I Don’t Know How to Love Him Because He’s My Brother.” Despite the fact that we knew this was going to happen, we didn’t actually plan ahead. Luckily the organizing team had provided us with some Star Wars costumes (and I threw my hair into some lame Princess Leia buns). We then us ad libbed our way through something that made no sense (but with brilliant casting of Feldmeier as Jesus). Laura took pictures and I got the big (blurry) musical moment (fed to me mid-show by Dan/Luke Skywalker).

Jesus Christ, Super Star Wars

Mark Feldmeier as Jesus, Dan Katz as Luke Skywalker, Erin Rhode as Princess Leia, Zoz as Darth Maul

I Don't Know How to Love Him Because He's My Brother

Princess Leia sings "I Don't Know How to Love Him Because He's My Brother"

Oh, and there were puzzles, of course. There were a number I liked, but I’m not sure I could come up with a definitive list of favorites, particularly because I still haven’t looked through all the puzzles I missed during the hunt. However, here’s my unordered attempt (outside of the first one).

  • Evil Influence – This is my favorite puzzle: a cryptic/masyu combo puzzle that Jason Juang and I smoked through quickly.  I’m a big fan of well constructed grids and this is one of my favorites.  (See also this year’s Paper Trail below.)
  • Star Search – The first puzzle I sat down with Friday afternoon, that I solved with lalopez, Mike, and a few others with some big help from Jason Juang’s anagram code.  It’s a word search, but as you would expect, there’s a twist.  This puzzle breaks my streak of having the first puzzle I grab be the puzzle that no one can figure out how to solve for the remainder of the hunt.  This one only took us about an hour to crack.
  • Paper Trail – A really beautiful diagramless… again with a twist, which involved using Friday’s Washington Post crossword puzzle in a rather ingenious fashion.  But there is something slightly scary when you get “FRIDAY ????ST” and you think that it might legitimately be cluing Rebecca Black as the artist of Friday.  *shudder*
  • Odd Voided – A straight forward word puzzle that I solved with Anand (and Liz?? I can’t remember who else was there).  It was one of those puzzles where I figured out what to do pretty quickly, which is always satisfying.
  • Keeping Records – To be fair, I only solved half of this one with Roger and then went to sleep.  I woke up and it still wasn’t solved, but sometime thereafter Jamie picked it up and figured out the cipher we were stuck on.  This is definitely a puzzle for people who like to test their cryptography skills.
  • Stage Lines – Senile Gats is probably another possibility for this puzzle’s name because it’s all about reversals.  Galen, Anand, and I had some fun groaning through the odd answers… CROSS ARC/CRASS ORC may have been the strangest.
  • The Signs They Are A-Changin’ – It’s pretty well known on my team that I love cross sums and cross sum variants.  This one was hard… I would gather the best four logic puzzle solvers on our team (Dan, Jackie, Jason, and myself) were working on this and it was slow going, but oh so satisfying when we finally got it.
  • Picture an Acorn – I didn’t see this puzzle during the hunt, but I heard it was pretty funny… and having read through the solution, I agree.

My nomination for this year’s WTF puzzle is The 25th Annual Putnam County Debate Tournament.  Oh, a mnemonic system developed by medieval scholars for logical syllogisms.  I can’t believe we didn’t see that!


13 responses »

  1. Glad you enjoyed “Evil Influence”. It was a pain in the tuchus to construct, and I’m still unhappy with the sheer number of three-letter-words, but it was the best I could do with my limited crossword constructing skills. I’m pretty happy with how the Masyu turned out though…turns out that minimizing both Os *and* non-O turns is pretty darn hard. I managed to get it down to 25 of each, but that was like my sixth draft.

    • Scott: I also really liked Evil Influence. Plus, all the usual cryptic suspects on our team were asleep (it was 6am) and Rhode was tied up with something else so I got to hog a lot of the puzzle for myself 😀 The Masyu did turn out really well! The bit at the end where the ends of the loop have to run all the way around the outside of the grid was nice.

      The other puzzle that I can remember as having stood out for me was Yo Dawg, though I only heard bits and pieces of it and didn’t get to look at it until after the hunt. (I still haven’t really gone through most of the puzzles that I missed, though.)

  2. Re: 25th Annual–Seriously, wasn’t it Obvious that the actual content of the walls of text had completely no bearing on the puzzle? (WTF.)

    I’d nominate Raw Bar ( for WTF puzzle as well. Oh, of course, CowParade! I can’t believe we didn’t realize that’s the one thing those eight cities have in common!

    Oh, also, I hate Getting There Is Half The Fun so much. I got baited into switching to it (over Stage Lines) because of the cryptic clues, but IT WAS A TRAP

    • Testsolvers whipped through the cryptogram portion of Raw Bar pretty quickly (tool assisted, I believe) and then worried about the connection. I doubt it’s possible to get the connection without getting the cryptogram…now watch someone prove me wrong!

      • Ah, but it didn’t occur to anybody that it might be a cryptogram, and I don’t think there was any hint that it might be (especially because duplicated letters were omitted…!). That the ingredients are listed out of alphabetical order is probably the only indication.

        Someone on our team did determine that if you let each raw ingredient have a dollar value, and the price of the special rolls be the sum of the raw ingredient values, the 9-variable system has a unique solution, so they were working with that for a while.

    • I agree with Raw Bar being this year’s WTF puzzle. Not only for the whole CowParade thing but also for being an (unclued) cryptogram that removed duplicate letters which would lead to .decoded words like PAND.

  3. Of the puzzles I test-solved for the Hunt, “Putnam County” was actually one of my favorites. But of course I would probably feel differently if I hadn’t found the wikipedia page about syllogisms (which discussed the mnemonic system) in the course of researching various theories, before which I was totally stuck.

  4. As the author of Putnam County, I offer you my apologies. I wanted more people to solve it, because the most entertaining part comes after the aha, as you extract the (truly awful) syllogisms from each argument.

    But in its defense, the mnemonic aha is actually clued in multiple ways in the puzzle. You can get there by spotting the syllogisms embedded in each argument (they’re clearest in the ion engine, aqueduct, and helicopter rides paragraphs). Once you’re thinking about syllogisms, the system is exhaustively, almost painfully detailed on the Wikipedia page. The vowel patterns in the names provide another route to get there. Googling “syllogism vowels” or even something like “debate AEIO” gives plenty of results that explain the system. (Starting with “Barbara,” the canonical example, is a small additional hint.)

    Basically, this wasn’t a puzzle about knowing the mnemonic system; it was a puzzle about learning about and then applying the mnemonic system.

    • We were set on them being logical fallacies, not syllogisms, and the notion of looking at that wikipedia page never occurred to us. I would be curious how many teams forward solved that puzzle…

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