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 The puzzles themselves haven’t been archived, so I’ll have to go back and add links later.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).
I received an e-mail today from the author of The Time Travelers Convention: The Musical. It seems that using the power of Second Life (thanks, Breath and now Benoc), they’ve made a music video of one of the songs.
Dude, Amal and I don’t look like that!
I have so few words for this: The Time Travelers Convention: A Musical
An e-mail from the author confirms that our little party was the inspiration. The show goes up in New York on October 1 for anyone who will be in that area. I’m not sure I’ll ever again be involved in something that inspires a full blown musical, so I’ve asked for a copy of the script. Judging by the summary on the webpage, I have a feeling the fictional convention plays out a little differently than the real one did.
My brief synopsis of Martine and Dave’s wedding, in which I had the pleasure of being maid of honor, annotated with pictures taken by Quinn. For those who were not at the wedding, yet were around during EC Rush 2001 (which isn’t actually that many people), it turns out that EC wine is totally drinkable if it is run through a coffee filter first. (Thanks to Josh for that.) Also, iPhones are fun, and balloons are loud. Finally, there’s nothing better than getting together with a bunch of old friends, especially if it’s to celebrate two of your best friends finally tying the knot.
And then there’s me in my natural habitat.
It seems that some folks from Fleming House at Caltech, the original home of the cannon recently appropriated by MIT, have gone to Cambridge to retrieve their lost firearm. (MIT kept the brass rat.) Rumor has it that they left a few telltale signs on the Green Building, with the message “Stay Tuned.”
So… I guess we’ll stay tuned.
It seems that MIT has finally gotten back at Caltech for last year’s CPW antics, by stealing the Caltech Cannon and placing it in front of the Green Building, along with a giant brass rat — and just in time for CPW 2006, which I believe starts today. I have no idea how you move a cannon from Pasadena, CA to Cambridge, MA but everyone seems pretty certain that this is the real deal.
More photos are here, here, and here.
(Thanks to Usman for the heads up.)
Edit: Slightly more absurd pictures
Edit 2: College Cannon Coeds… and to think I used to live with most of these people.
Well, I finally got a chance tonight to see my old 6.046 study partner, Ankur Mehta, embarass himself as one of the geeks in Beauty and the Geek 2. Considering that this is the same guy who I once tricked into eating a vomit jellybean, I’m not all that surprised that of all the geeks I know, he’s the one who wound up on reality television. He didn’t actually get that much face time tonight — I, for one, thought his air guitar performance deserved more than the fifteen seconds it got. We didn’t even get a chance to see how bad his singing was!
Ankur really showed his geeky side during the toga party when he whipped out the blue plastic sword during his runway walk — although once again, he only got a few seconds of airtime. His partner held up her end of the stereotype too. When asked what she would do to end pollution, she responded, “Not eating a lot of gaseous foods and not farting a lot.” That’s almost as bad as my response to “What would you do to end world hunger?” in the 2003 Miss Ugly pageant. (I said, “Eat.”)
But let’s be honest, if Ankur wasn’t on this show, I probably wouldn’t have even heard of it, much less watch it. In fact, even with him on it, I kind of want the last hour of my life back.
Oh, and just for good measure, it’s all S. A.’s fault…
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I just returned from Boston/Cambridge/Somerville for the annual MIT Mystery Hunt, this year run by Phys Plant (aka Random Hall), which was won by the Midnight Bombers What Bomb at Midnight (aka The Dan’s team). This year, we hunted as “Big Jimmy’s Secret Sex Fantasy,” a fitting tribute to our beloved nightwatchman who died shortly after last year’s hunt. I was anticipating a long hunt, possibly with a lot of snags in it, so I was surprised when it was actually too short. The hunt ended at about midnight Saturday/Sunday… my ideal length is to have the hunt go into Sunday afternoon. As Anand said to me, we were still having fun and we were neither frustrated nor worn out. A few teams even kept hunting for a few hours — I kind of wish we had done that. Unlike last year, we didn’t set unreasonable goals or try to follow unreasonable rules, and as result we both had more fun and solved more puzzles. However, I did puke for the fourth year in a row.
The hunt started with formal dress in Lobby 7. (And yes, Jeff, that was my only formal dress.) There we were told that we were recent graduates of S.P.I.E.S. and how wonderful and — Oh no! The Evil Dr. Moriarty has a plan (described through his power point presentation) and we’re going to have to find spies around the world to help foil him! Well, it wouldn’t be mystery hunt if there wasn’t something to do. The layout of the hunt was very elegant with maps indicating the rounds and puzzles (somewhat reminiscent of our hunt, but computer graphics instead of hand drawn Feldmeier originals). At each new city, solving the meta allowed us to meet spies at various locations around campus, such as Ethan Hunt (Mission Impossible), James Bond, Dana Scully, and… the Swedish Chef? I didn’t quite understand why he was a spy, but his skit was amusing. (“You take-a de flip-flip!”)
And now for my favorite puzzles of the weekend (solutions not yet available):
- 783658 — A combination diagramless crossword and sudoku puzzle using phone spell.
- Mysterious Cry; Quiet Habit — A picture cryptic that I solved with Zoz et al at 3 AM. The clue for TABASCO was particularly clever (can you find it?).
- Second Time’s the Charm — Fairly straightforward for a Mystery Hunt crossword, but still fun.
- Blue Steel — I was asleep when we solved this, but from what I heard it was awesome. Headquarters gave us a 3-inch floppy and Quinn and Josh deduced that a) there was no reason for them to give us data on a floppy when everything else is on the web and b) there were allusions to Zoolander, which implied that maybe we should tear the disk open. So we did, without bothering to solve the puzzle on the disk (though we did back it up). Sure enough, on the inside of the disk was a piece of paper with “The Answer is…” written on it.
- Grid With a Hole in the Middle — What can I say… I like (good) cryptics.
- Hollow Man — The opening part of this puzzle was kind of weak (make links to Kevin Bacon and then index into the names), but the second part (MAKE A SPY MOVIE FOR HQ) was a lot of fun. (That’s me ducking out of the way after I hand Big Jimmy to Matt.)
- Land That I Love — The actual puzzle is kind of uninspiring, but the “A ha!” step more than makes up for it. And there’s something about a puzzle that legitimately causes you to think that the answer is “FUCK.” (It was actually “PAT BUCHANAN.”)
- The Cock Conundrum or the Greatest Joke Ever Told — This had the potential to be really fun, but we ran out of time. (We really need to get more people who can identify cute boys. Laura Lopez, where are you?)
- Sacred and Profane — I had a love-hate relationship with this puzzle, because we didn’t actually solve it. But I was told later that we did everything we were supposed to, but we were two letters off and failed to see the word… and we triple and quadruple checked our work too.
The Dan was recently requesting topics for “Top Five” lists, and I suggested that he list his favorite mystery hunt puzzles of all time. He counter requested that others post their lists, so in anticipation of the 2006 hunt, I made my own list, including one from each of the five hunts I’ve done. (As a warning, these are mostly sentimental favorites — just because I had a memorable solving experience with these puzzles doesn’t mean that others will.)
5. Hum a Few Bars (2002; Brian Tivol) — My first two hunts both involved me spending far too much time on a song puzzle. Kay Sullivan and I took this puzzle to a practice room and made a recording of all the tunes. We went through soap opera themes, Beatles songs, nursery rhymes, and played them all repeatedly for everyone in the room before that wonderful moment when I looked at jrandall and sang “Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes!” After that, it took about fifteen minutes to get to the solution.
4. We Have Enough Twists, Thank You (2001; Andy Latto and Cally Perry) — It’s not that this was a particularly brilliant puzzle, but it was the one that really hooked me into mystery hunt (and caused my first hunt all-nighter, as I refused to sleep until it was solved). I broke into by looking up where a more famous Highway 101 than the one near my parents’ house might be. “San Jose? *hums*Do you know the way to…*hums* Oh! They’re all questions from songs!” It was a really satisfying moment for me. This puzzle also introduced me to the song “How Can You Believe Me When I Say I Love You When You Know I’ve Been A Liar All My Life?” which became a cult favorite on putz. The great irony is that I never actually solved this puzzle — Zoz backsolved the answer, just as we were getting close.
3. Sneakers (2003; Jennie Hango and Rebecca Christianson) — My favorite runaround ever (and the only one I’ve ever actually done). Galen, cposs, jjhu, and I wandered all around main campus while listening intently to the audio track, trying to avoid the VILE agent who seemed to be following us. Of course, we made it more fun because we sent Galen out onto the roof at the end, before we realized that we were supposed to index into the NO TRESPASSING sign. He found a pair of frozen socks out there, so we called that in before discovering that the actual answer was (coincidently) ARGYLE.
2. Quagmire (2004; Mark Feldmeier) — I test solved this one with jrandall in front of Mark during the final push before the hunt started. After spending over an hour solving the maze, we quickly recognized the hands. When I realized what they spelled, I looked at Mark in complete and utter disbelief. It’s the best puzzle answer ever.
1. Take Me Out (2005; Greg Pliska and Chris Morse) — Is it that surprising that my favorite from last year is a baseball puzzle? This was also the cause of one of my favorite hunt memories: playing “baseball” with amittai and jcbarret using scraps of paper, complete with color commentary. The Microsoft Puzzle Challenge included a very similar puzzle, which I also listed as one of my favorites from that competition.
I was verifying the link to Breath’s website on that last entry and started going through his pictures, stumbling upon the windsailing ones. It was a year to the day after 9/11 and hurricane Gustav was making it’s way towards the coast, causing incredibly strong winds on the dot. We took a few sheets, some rope, some athena chairs, and a garbage bin and spent the afternoon “windsailing.” At one point, a CP walked by and we thought for sure she was going to lecture us about our reckless behavior. Instead, she just shook her head and said, “Was that really all you could come up with?”
Some of the pictures are amazing; I had forgotten how intense the wind was that day. Due to a combination of Breath’s infectious giggle and the sheer humor of it, this movie makes me laugh out loud. I’ve just been watching Harvey flail his arms in the air before smacking into the light post over and over for the past five minutes. (It also reminds me of when the truck backed into that same lightpost, shattering the lantern while Breath and I watched from his window… or maybe it was my window at that point. I don’t really remember.)
And for completely narcissistic reasons, I’m a big fan of this picture as well.