Puzzle Hunts: The Miskatonic University Game

August 13-19 2019, I traveled to the Boston area. There were a couple of things going on:

Here follow some incoherent notes about those days. If you want to skip the extra-sketchy notes about Cambridge not-regarding Miskatonic, jump to the Thursday section.

Cambridge-Area Shenanigans

Tuesday evening: Flew in. Went to [SPOILER REDACTED] to gather environmental information for the [SPOILER REDACTED] puzzle. Hotel. Sleep.

Wednesday: updated the [SPOILER REDACTED] puzzle with fixed information gathered the night before. Printed it out. Coffee with Tom Manshreck, who works out of Google Cambridge these days. Met with Yar about prepping puzzles for Big Test Solve. We visited Ben's office, got to see water jet cutter, laser welder, and stranger things. On way out of Ben's office, suddenly Mike Springer ran up to say "hi" and then ran off to catch bus. Back to MIT campus so Todd, Nina, and Yar could playtest recently-updated [SPOILER REDACTED] puzzle. At dinner, Jan Chong joined us with good [SPOILER REDACTED] news.

Thursday: Updated the [SPOILER REDACTED] puzzle with feedback gathered the day before. Printed out. Stribs, Melinda, and Corey playtested. Back to hotel to transcribe notes so I wouldn't forget it during Miskatonic. Headed to Tufts University to meet Miskatonic teammates Miskatonic Thursday happens at this time.

Friday: Slept in to recover from late Thursday solving. Really appreciated 1½ unstructured unscheduled hours. Then back to it: Lunch with Team Left Out at Mamaleh's. Testsolved a puzzle. Caught a ride to Boda Borg Miskatonic Friday happens at this time.

OK, now onto the part folks really wanted to read about: The Miskatonic University Game:


I played with team Mystic Golems, a combination of teams Mystic Fish and Golden Golems. We were:

I met up with Yossi and Shosh at Tufts University. (The Miskatonic University Game was, appropriately or inappropriately, at the end of their tour of universities Shosh was thinking of applying to.) Yossi drove us way the heck up north to the Gloucester Fraternity Club, where a hallful of puzzle nerds was gathering.

Nick Parisi almost had a chance to talk to me about a Mystery Hunt puzzle before before the rest of the Mystic Golems arrived.

There was pizza and conversation. Then GC Sarah Leadbeater started the briefing:

GC Mark walked us through the web app that would check our answers, dole out hints, and tell us where to to go.

Then it was time to drive to our Thursday night puzzling site: Hammond Castle. Here, GC had a bunch of location-specific puzzles. This wasn't going to be some conference-room game with driving mixed in; we were in for puzzles meant to be solved at someplace in particular.

Hammond Castle didn't have great internet access. GC had anticipated this and had been prepared: they'd brought in some wifi routers so teams could get connected from anywhere on the grounds (not just in the gift shop). Unfortunately, it seemed that the Castle's internet connection to the outside world consisted of a piece of wet yarn. If the Castlefolk had warned GC, GC could have worked around this—using ClueKeeper, with its offline abilities, to run this part of the hunt; designing puzzles that didn't need Google… As it was, folks adapted quickly.

Here, my favorite puzzle had jokey clues for some track and field sporting events. After Bruce and I solved that one, I tried to catch up with folks who were working on the two puzzles we still had left; but I never really did catch up. Still, there was going up/downstairs to check on internets and such.

Eventually, partly thanks to some lovely hints, we finished up at the castle. We headed back to Boston, where there were air-conditioned buildings.


Late Friday afternoon, I caught a ride from Cambridge to Boda Borg in Malden with rival team The Koi (a team with a lot of overlap with Five Blind Boys). (I'd originally planned to spend more time in Cambridge and meet my team later, but when it came down to it, I prefered riding with folks I didn't get to see often vs riding a train on my own.) Plenty of gameists were Borging this evening. While the rest of my team Boda'd, I loitered in the lobby, occasionally accosted by other Miskatonic players.

The other Golems emerged from Boda Borg. We went out for dinner. We went to a supermarket to stock up on essential snacks. (Things I want to remember: Sproing-y plastic bakery containers are bad: they will sproing open in the van, forcing you to decide whether you will eat biscuits that have landed on the floor of a rental van. Dunkin' Donuts makes bottles of cold brew coffee without cream; I got three, wish I'd got more.)

We drove through the night to a rental house in Lowell. Rural Massachusetts is scary at night. There are dense trees, which I'm not used to, having grown up in drought-parched California. You can't see through the patches of trees; you don't know what's lurking in there. Anyhow, we slept.


Yossi drove us to Newburyport where all the teams were crammed into a Masonic lodge. Soon, puzzling commenced. I enjoyed an Operation game with joke-y clues. Nat Parisi seized the opportunity of our rare being-in-the-same-place-ness to give me an excellent pin for testing some MSPH puzzles she'd written.

A walking-tour letter-scavenger-hunt of Newburyport led to a historic area where we picked up our next puzzle. We solved this at Mandarava, a restaurant with a really big table, excellent for laying out strands of yarn connecting many many pieces of construction paper, which is exactly what we wanted to do at the time. Then there was a meta and we were ready for some short-hop drives to other areas.

By a pond, we made a strong start on one puzzle, but then devolved into a mess of scribbles—appropriate for a C'thulhu-themed game; but then GC Sarah Leadbeater came over and gave us a hint, rescuing us from insanity. Yossi drove us a bit to some shadowboxes

As I rode to the next puzzle, I got some slack messages from Shelly. Shelly was on Team Left Out, writing MIT Mystery Hunt puzzles; but she wasn't playing in the Miskatonic Game. She wanted someone, probably me, to look over part of a puzzle to figure out whether it was reasonable. I groaned, wrote back "Is it urgent?"—but then I thought about it. All of Team Left Out's senior folks were all playing in Miskatonic. Who else was Shelly going to ask? How many folks had she already failed to roust on Slack? And thus, while my teammates solved some puzzle that looked like a "crazy wall," I sat, watched a video, and carefully noted down [SPOILER REDACTED] [SPOILER REDACTED] and let Shelly know how it turned out.

There were more puzzles. One of my favorites, I didn't get pictures of: These were Witch Trial trading cards; but the first secret message hidden in them told you to pull the cards apart; there were skinnier cards inside. There were also some maritime-flag-country-animal jigsaw puzzles, which we solved over dinner at a salad spot.

I mentioned earlier that Massachusetts is spooky. To reach one puzzle, Yossi drove us down a one-lane road through trees in the dark. The puzzle was in the parking lot of a rifle range, and every so often, the sound of gunfire would emerge from the range. It was pretty creepy.

Rather than having us drive from site to site all night through dark and a thunderstorm(!), GC had set up a few hours' worth of puzzles in a building with lights, shelter, restrooms, and such. As we sprawled in a hallway solving this beer pong puzzle, we listened to the storm outside. We were darned glad to be inside and dry.

Have I already pointed out that GC did a great job of taking care of us? From the beginning—when they announced that the game's theme was H.P. Lovecraft's Mythos universe, they acknowledged that Lovecraft was awful and said they'd skirt the awful bits for the game. They had water for us at puzzle stops. They were friendly. They encouraged us to take hints… You could tell that they'd put themselves through the wringer of this kind of event and knew the right things to do to take care of teams (and make sure teams took care of themselves).


Thus we solved puzzles inside for a few hours. There was a physical gears puzzle, which reminded someone of Hunt for Justice, and the fact that they remembered that hunt made me happy. My favorite puzzle in the building was a yellow and green squiggly mosaic with googly eyes. Despite it being such a good puzzle, it inspired my worst/best joke of the hunt (spoiler, rot-13'd): "Ebfr Tneqra? Zber yvxr Tebff Tneqra, nzvevgr?"

Night turned into morning. There were more puzzles. At one point, GC Sarah needed a writing implement, and I handed over a pencil, a triumph in the handing-out-writing-implements-at-puzzle-events category of accomplishments. Then there was an automatic Ouija board, on which mysterious forces freed sleepy humans from the effort of moving the planchette. And finally a meta—a padded room set up inside a U-Haul trailer

Our next stop: a meeting with a double-crossing cultist who enrolled us in a group of brave humans working to thwart Cthulhu's return; and then breakfast (with some simple puzzles to ease us out of the stupid hours and back to wakefulness)

And then it was into central Boston. We parked the van and walked from spot to spot, picking up puzzles to solve. Here, my favorite puzzle was a grid to fill in with fish-related phrases (which seemed really funny but maybe it helped to have gone without sleep for 24 hours).

This led to the last meta… which we got into a little ways when GC said it was time to pack up all the puzzles and head to the finale. And so we walked across Boston Common to where a field had been set up for a big game of Cthulhu Says. I listened to the rules, figured I was sleepily unsteady enough to injure folks around me and myself by stumbling over C'thulhu's instructions… Yeah, no. Instead, I sprawled by the sidelines and let more enthusiastic folks leap about in the sun.

And then we were rewarded with a meta-meta puzzle. I was only blearily awake, but did chip in with one contribution: I wheel-of-fortuned the word FHTAGN from some letters, thus reassuring my teammates that their extraction method was working. And then we were done and didn't have to think hard anymore, which was good, because my brain was pretty much mush.

There was a banquet? I didn't really retain any memories of that; I was too far gone. I'm pretty sure Sarah talked about impressive things GC had done; but it all went in one ear and out the other. Yossi took a nice photo.

In the airport the next day, I bumped into Dale Nil of Coed Astronomy. I joked about how many hours of laser-cutter time had gone into this hunt. Dale told me about Cricut (pronounced "cricket") devices. He said that if you try to laser-cut a sheet of "refrigerator magnet" material, it gives off bad fumes. But a Cricut can cut that stuff mechanically so you don't die. (You might remember that C.A.'s No More Secrets game had a magnetic cube covered with "refrigerator magnet" squares? Yeah, all those squares were cut out by hand, back in those primitive days before automated magnet slicing.)


comment? | | home |