Thursday, January 18, 2007

Mystery Hunt 2007

Many others have already pitched in their comments about this year's Mystery Hunt (including Aaron and Noah from my own team). (My earlier post on, "this is what the Mystery Hunt is" can be found here.) The big list-o-puzzles can be found here, and a general description of how the Hunt worked is over here. They do a good job explaining the plot and how the Hunt was structured, so I'm not going to repeat it here.

The team I was on, Metaphysical Plant, consisted of about 35 people at MIT and about 15 in Berkeley doing "remote solving," also known as, "we don't know what to work on, so we'll solve a meta." Having a room dedicated to a Skype connection with Berkeley was also fun, and I think it worked well.

There were very few puzzles this year that I was excited about once while solving them. (Though I wasn't working on it and I'm pretty sure we backsolved it anyhow, I was still highly amused when the Blather puzzle started throwing monkey poo all over the room. My code will start doing this now.)

The puzzles!, in no particular order, except the ones I liked probably come first:

  • Nur einzelne Zahlen erlaubt!: I enjoyed this puzzle because it was simple and clean, and the solver gets to play with sudokus without "doing a sudoku." I was also really excited once I realized that the phrases that came out were real Japanese words and not just gobbly goop, and I like how they fit into the title. Oh, and for once I got to help a group become un-stuck on something!
  • Ducks Playing Poker: I can't not mention the "duck konundrum." I mentioned before that puzzles rarely come with "instructions." The duck konundrum is an infamous reversal of this rule. You want instructions? We got instructions. Our team has had a bit of practice with this particular version of puzzle (this is D4), so when we were told to encourage our duck to move one space to the left, we had to call HQ and ask how encourageable our duck was. You never know. I was very happy that this konundrum had no bugs in it (unlike previous ones we've been forced to debug), but the answer was somewhat anticlimatic. I definitely prefered the way D2 worked; it involved trying to find a certain footnote in the author's thesis, which was way cool.
  • Course Load: This puzzle was also a lot of fun, though much of it may have had to do that with the fact that it came late in hunt and we had a large group working on it after the small group gave up. We wrote the triplets of course numbers on the board and started trying to figure out what to do with them. We tried figuring out how many units each one was worth (a few were "units arranged"), we tried averaging them (they didn't all sum to something divisible by 3), we tried various kinds of "take the nth letter..." and none of these worked. We finally asked Berkeley for a random suggestion; how about adding them? You'd think that averaging them would lead to adding them first, but no, no no. It was very exciting once it started actually working. The actual fake course titles were also kind of amusing.
  • Negative Ad Campaign: Speaking of funny, this one was really funny. I didn't actually work on it (it came in the middle of Friday night when I was already a sleepy puddle of sleepiness), but the slogans are all hilarious, and it was still being discussed the following day. For example, what's the opposite of Subway's slogan "Eat Fresh"? Vomit Rancid! Hehehe.
  • The Meta-meta Dodecahedron: Very cool. This was a lot of fun to work on, especially in a big group. We eventually started just trying random-things-you-can-do-to-words-to-get-other-words, and it worked! My only complaint (which a lot of others have had) is that there was no way to solve it without one of the metas. Such as the Round VIII meta, as a random example.
  • The Round VIII Meta: Alright, so only like everyone has commented on this already. Yes, it was broken or underclued or whatever, and yes, it did hold up the hunt, and yes, if it had been easier the hunt would have ended earlier and perhaps differently. Blahblahblah. My main complaint is that it was basically all we were working on the last few hours of Hunt, and so we were all in a rather annoyed mood at the end. It had quit being fun. (We were still having fun, and Berkeley had busted out the alcohol and the Wii, and we weren't dying to win, so it was all good, but still.)
  • Manipulating the Masses: Okay, let's talk about giving useless annoying information. Why would you arrange icons like that if the arrangement wasn't important? And providing 9 icons that are ... completely irrelevant? And the random anagrams? Who's ever going to think of anagraming random phrases into names?? We spent a lot of time on this puzzle, but we eventually realized it wasn't going to happen. Luckily, the meta for this round allowed for backsolving,* so when someone asked the room which puzzle we were least likely to actually solve, we all agreed it was this one, so the backsolved answer was called in for this puzzle. It was correct; we were glad.

Overall, I liked that we knew fairly early in the game what the overall structure of the hunt was going to be: this many rounds, with this many puzzles per round, and so on. The early runaround and everyone-finds-the-coin thing was kind of lame. We wanted to do a similar thing last year, but decided not to because, well, there just isn't any way to do it without it being lame. I didn't even know there was a runaround until I noticed we had solved it. Not revealing the structure of the Hunt until after kickoff meant that kickoff was a bit lame as well, but it did mean that it was fun trying to figure out what the real theme was going to be. The events were mostly either kind of lame or totally evil. The Lust event was more on the lame side, but it was short and amusing, and since it was at midnight, lameness was perfectly OK. The Gluttony event was just pure evil, but oh, so amusing. In general, though, it is just plain difficult to write a good non-lame event puzzle. (Sorry; I don't think descriptions for the event puzzles are up yet.)

All in all, though, I had a really fun time. I'm usually better at criticizing than praising; no puzzles had substantial bugs in them, which is certainly something that couldn't be said for some previous Hunts. I'm really glad I Hunted with Metaphysical Plant—it's always good to stay up all night with old friends, and I'm all ready for next year.

Well, that, and you know the scene from A Beautiful Mind when John Nash (Russell Crowe's character) is standing in his office with newspapers and magazines taped up everywhere and all these patterns are jumping out at him? That's my life this week, that, right there. Everything is a puzzle.

* Backsolving a puzzle means that you have solved a meta puzzle and know what format the answers for that round must be in. In this case, the answers were constrained to the extent that we knew exactly which answers they were, just not which puzzles they belonged to.

No comments: