MITMH 2020: 2019 May

Careful: I'm pretty blasé about spoilers for this year-old hunt. If you haven't already solved the puzzles you wanted to solve, maybe don't keep reading.

Every so often, fearless leader Corey sent out a "State of the Hunt" email. Here are some excerpts from such May emails to let you know what the writing team was doing. (And to remind me, as I write this, what we were doing.)

In mid-May:

About puzzles: our final count is 10 lands and one sidequest. We have one land whose meta is not completely finalized (it’s been through testing multiple times, but we tweaked the flavortext and just want a clean solve for it. Feeder answers for it are finalized). For other puzzles, we have 13 standalone puzzles ready for testing (a handful more coming down the pipe in a couple of days), so people should get on it!

About story: Todd is forming a story-editing team. Contact Todd for details.

Calls to action: playtest! And, if you have graphic / art skills, please contact Natalie, Todd, or myself.

…and last update in May:

We’re about one-third of the way into our Hunt writing year. We’ve made *fantastic* progress: we have a solid and versatile theme, we have 10 robust meta puzzles, and we’re now settling into the rhythm of writing and test solving puzzles. This is where we wanted to be at end of May - good work, team!

Especially with the Hunt meta structure now in place, we’ve turned a corner -- we’re now in the very parallel part of our writing year, where *everyone* can author, co-author, test-solve, and otherwise help with creating the many, many (many!) puzzles we need for our Hunt. I know many of you have already dived in -- thank you! -- and for all others: we’re ready for you! There’s ample opportunity to author, co-author, and test-solve puzzles.

The next three months will be critical in our writing effort because we need to enter September with much of our Hunt in or past testing. And this includes not only puzzles but events, skits, costume design, art -- that’s a lot of inspiration and perspiration. The July retreat, our Boston meet-up in August, and the several writing and test-solving meet-ups planned over the summer will all be important steps. I hope everyone can attend at least one if not more of these events.

We’re on track for writing our Hunt and I’m excited to see us continue to make progress!

At the end of April, when a bunch of metapuzzles landed, Yar went on a spree of assigning answers to puzzles. This was mostly-good news: We'd been working on puzzle ideas and hoping that we'd be able to fit those puzzle ideas into the hunt. So when Yar matched up an answer with a puzzle idea, this was normally good news.

There was an exception, though: Yar assigned the answer JOE MCCARTHY to "Hindsight H." which you might recall is a puzzle idea I had set up as an emergency fallback in case one of my location-puzzles' locations was under construction at game time. I didn't want an answer assigned to that puzzle. I wanted to leave it open for last-minute emergencies.

Furthermore, the "Hindsight H." puzzle was pretty generic. JOE MCCARTHY was one of America's most tragic villains. Surely we could come up with a more thematic puzzle for him.

So that's what I did: I figured the puzzle should solve to the message RED SCARE SENATOR, to point at McCarthy. I thought of a bunch of RED-thingy phrases: Red Bull, red carpet, redcetera. I found pictures to clue these things. As a visual gimmick, I altered the colors of these pictures, keeping the red but reducing the blue and green. Then I set up a criss-cross (created with Crossword Compiler).

Solvers would have to identify the pictures; doing so would be tricky until they figured out everything was RED-something. They'd write the somethings in the criss-cross grid. Some letters in the grid were circled. Those would spell out SCARE SENATOR. Solvers would need to continue the gimmick, expanding this phrase to RED SCARE SENATOR. From that, they could get JOE MCCARTHY.

I showed a draft design to Yar, hoping he'd like it enough to use instead of "Hindsight H." The good news: He liked the design. The bad news: He really liked the design for a different answer: the Monkey puzzle had to solve to REDDY. This rather-red design would be very thematic.

So I re-worked that design for REDDY and back-burnered my worries about Hindsight H.

Across the team, you could tell things were ramping up. Folks were writing puzzles. Folks were testing puzzles.

Once a puzzle idea had two clean test-solves, we moved it out of testing to the next stage of the "pipeline". The first time it happened to a puzzle I was editing, I had to ask what the next stage was. (That next step was fact-check… though we rearranged the steps of our pipeline some months later.)

We had several metapuzzles mostly-figured-out, with some still half-baked. This month, the mostly-figured-out metapuzzles came together. Yar realized that we would need many, many "feeder" puzzles for these metapuzzles. He encouraged us to consider puzzles that we might normally think were "too easy for Mystery Hunt."—if all our puzzles were four-hour beasts, no team would finish. I guess that's also why the half-baked metapuzzle ideas didn't get fully-baked: the hunt we had "outlined" was already plenty long.

We had five people signed up to be editors (including me) plus Yar, our editor-in-chief. I figured I should thus assign myself as editor to every fifth puzzle idea that showed up in puzzletron. I don't know what system other editors used. Perhaps half of the puzzle-ideas in puzzletron had editors; the rest seemed to fall through the cracks.

I worked on computer tools for folks doing production work.

Production folks would make the "guts" of a web page; our puzzle server would "wrap" those guts in a template web page with stuff that was the same between puzzles. E.g., all the Enchanted Forest puzzles had a yellow-green background picture; that was in the template. But only the Rumpelstiltskin's Cottage puzzle had pictures of strange letterforms inspired the Periodic Abstraction artwork in the Dreyfuss building elevator lobby; that was in the production.

So I made a tool to "wrap" production files in a template. That way, production-folks could find out quickly if their production-stuff clashed with the template-stuff. E.g., if my letterform-pictures were hard to see on a yellow-green background, I wanted to know right away.

And I made a tool to zip up sets of production files. I knew that some folks wanted to use production-like web files to present their draft puzzles for testing. For our production files, we kept puzzle-files and solution-files in the same directory "folder." But when uploading those files to puzzletron for testing, puzzletron wanted separate zips for puzzle-files and solution-files.

I jumped into tool-writing with some false assumptions.

Puzzletron was OK-but-not-great for revision control. As production folks improved the production files, they could upload new versions…but not everyone had permission to leave notes keeping track of what was new in different versions. Most of the production folks were already familiar with the git revision-control tool. I wish we'd set up a git server and used it.

I "knew" that Python 2 was obsolete and that everyone used Python 3… except that wasn't true. I wrote these tools in Python 3 thinking everyone could use them without needing to install a programming language because surely Macs all shipped with Python 3, the current version of Python, installed surely they wouldn't ship with an obsolete version, surely… In practice, maybe half(?) of production-folks had Python 3 already installed. I wish I'd asked first.

As Doug (Tech Czar) tinkered with the server, I tinkered with production-stuff to adapt.

A group of us playtested the Safari metapuzzle. I was in the group, but I'm not so great at metapuzzles, and I wasn't much help. However, I did figure out that the Safari metapuzzle was fun.

Seeking inspiration, I visited the Walt Disney Family Museum. This museum has a big model of Disneyland, which was pretty cool. While there, I also listened to Disney's testimony to HUAC.

This gave me an idea for a puzzle to clue JOE MCCARTHY. (You recall that Yar had assigned the answer JOE MCCARTHY to my "Hindsight H." puzzle, but I was trying to keep that puzzle unassigned as an emergency backup.) If Disneyland had a Hall of Presidents, then Puzzleworld could have a Hall of Animatronic Inquisitors. Surprisingly, my attempts to find a list of historical inquisitors on the web didn't turn up much. But I did find mention of a radio play, Reuben Ship's "The Investigator" which had some inquisitor characters. This gave me a rare excuse to visit the San Francisco Public Library's Special Collections room so I could read their copy of "The Investigator." And thus I had a nice list of inquisitors—and some of them even had wordplay-friendly names. Ideas for minipuzzles percolated through my brain, and this soon developed into the Courthouse puzzle.

Yar liked that idea fine. He didn't try to assign yet another answer to "Hindsight H." I don't know if he forgot about it; I don't know if he wanted to assign another answer but was tired of my attempts to wriggle free. But he left the puzzle unassigned. And thus I rested easier knowing I had an emergency backup puzzle… that we didn't use, so I guess I needn't have wriggled so hard, oh well.

Jun [>]

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