Longer MH2K9 post to follow later in the day, but for now, thanks to the Bombers for a fabulous hunt. We did surprisingly well — second place with the final runaround reverse engineered such that it probably would have taken us less than a half hour to finish had we only thought to play checkers with the last meta.
In other news, today we have a new president. I came into work only to find an e-mail from Friday (which I never saw because of the Mystery Hunt) telling me that no one had to come in until 1 pm today because of the inauguration. As I was already here, I went over to the hospital cafeteria to watch Obama’s speech. It seems that all the people attempting to stream the coverage over the Internet has slowed down the network dramatically today — IS even sent an e-mail to that effect, requesting that people please try to find a television instead.
I heard stories of doctors delaying their patients’ appointments while they joined them in lobbies to listen to the new president. It sounded like the patients didn’t really mind. I watched a black cafeteria work cry and then applaud wildly. Everything’s moving a little bit slower today — everyone seems aware of a massive attitude shift in our country. We’ve gone from an administration that hides behind lies and fear tactics to an administration which maintains its own blog in order to make We The People feel more involved with our government.
Perhaps the “change” that’s come won’t be the magical band-aid that some people expect it to be, but after years of failed policies and lies and incoherent speeches, I can’t help but think that we are a far better nation than we were yesterday.
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 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.
The MIT Mystery Hunt was this weekend, and as such, I spent my entire weekend on campus, most of it in 56-154. While it was a good clean hunt (no hinting required) and I got to see friends from out of town, this may have been the least amount of fun I have had during the actual hunt itself, due in large part to the fact that we had grossly overestimated our team’s ability. Well over half of our team members were first or second time hunters, an artifact of running the hunt for a year — freshman and most sophomores had never hunted before and the juniors had only hunted once and that was two years ago. A common complaint amongst those of us with lots of experience was that we were being stretched too thin — too many people wanted our help on too many puzzles at once. And as a result, I think we did a poor job of teaching the newer hunters good techniques. Had I realized before the hunt that we would have been so non-competitive, I might have focused more of my energy on being somewhat social and having fun, rather than spending all of Sunday angry about having to start the cross-sum over.
That being said, Setec wrote a good hunt and there were a number of puzzles that I really enjoyed working on.
- Take Me Out – A baseball puzzle that I would have solved faster had I not thought that the 19th letter of the alphabet was R. But the end result was jcbarret, Amittai, and I playing out a baseball game with pieces of paper in order to calculate RBIs. This was quite possibly my favorite moment of the hunt.
- Track 12 – This was mostly cposs, me, and someone I can’t remember. We managed to identify nearly all of the songs without using google and I very quickly noted that they were on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 songs of all time. And any puzzle that uses the song “Imagine” gets my vote.
- Heavenly Hash – Just a nice clean word puzzle. I saw the method quickly and breezed through most of it, although lizd took over the last step, as I failed to notice the alphabetical order of the words.
- Concerto Delle Oche Volanti – Anand, frosh-liz, and I solved this one. I may have liked it primarily because I was the one who broke into it, and that’s always a good feeling.
- The Red Meta – Again, I liked this one because I solved it on my own five minutes after I woke up on Saturday (very early) morning. That doesn’t usually happen with metas.
Despite the stress (note to self: remember to eat during the hunt), I am looking forward to next year with the great hope that Phys Plant doesn’t fall into the same traps that we ran into.
While in the process of applying to graduate schools, I read a lot of papers (okay, mostly abstracts) relating to natural language processing. Including this one, which suggests that using search engines is a good way to determine how popular a given phrase is — the more hits, the more popular. With the amount of material out on the Internet these days, that seems more than reasonable, and I have in fact used that technique. But, unsurprisingly, it turns out not to be entirely failsafe.
When brainstorming names for our MIT Mystery Hunt team this year, someone suggested “Forgive Me Father, It Has Been Two Years Since My Last Mystery Hunt.” However, someone (possibly even Matt) suggested to me that that was the incorrect phrase and that Catholics say “Bless me, Father.” And so we did a quick comparison with Google, and determined that “forgive me father” was more popular, and thus correct. And then our team opted to not select my favorite suggestion, “Guillotined Priapism,” and “Forgive me, Father” became our name. But Matt McGann actually looked at Google’s results and it turns out that Catholic’s do say “Bless me”.
So… Bless us, Father, for we have sinned. We’re still going to be called “Forgive me, Father” anyway.