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 June emails to let you know what the writing team was doing. (And to remind me, as I write this, what we were doing.)
Tonight, the czars held their inaugural weekly meeting. …
We had a productive puzzle creation week: 7 puzzles cleared for testing, with a bunch more on the way thanks to the creation session on Saturday. That was really great—just some uninterrupted time where people were forced to think about Hunt worked wonders.
Dan shared the results of the happiness survey; thank you for your feedback! Lots of great suggestions there and we’re already following up on them
Martin set up
#testsolveand suggested some strategies for finding groups to test solve puzzles together.
From Nina: We have a preliminary budget. Main takeaways:
- We are looking great financially, but still plan to spend roughly inline with recent years
- If you are spending any money for hunt related items (puzzle prototypes, development, snacks for puzzle writing/testing get-togethers, etc), please run it by Nina first and save all receipts
- The doc has breakdowns of where we plan to spend money. Please take a look and make sure we've captured all the cool stuff you want to do for Hunt!
The playtesting party on Friday was a big success. People seemed to have a lot of fun, and we tested a couple of puzzles that were only possible with co-located teams. Looking forward to more of these in the future! (generally, all of our in-person meetups so far have been successful :))
Good evening, and welcome to “200 days left” State of the Hunt.
Puzzles (from Yar): We're at 35 puzzles in or past testing, with a bunch that are about ready to be cleared. That hits our timeline target but not my personal target of 40. We had a puzzle workshop at Jesse's today; again, even though there were only a couple of us there, it was really amazing to see how much progress we could make with some focused time and attention. One thing I want to say is that I'm totally jazzed about the high watermark of quality puzzles that have come through so far in this Hunt. There are 5 or 6 that I think are just bonkers good.
Story (from Todd): We met late this evening; they’ll share an update mid-week.
Events (from Gaby): Events are chugging along. Expect to see some event concepts this week to give feedback on! After that, the writing will begin in earnest. If you’re interested in helping with events at any level, now is a great time to contact me by sending a slack dm!
Hunt server (from Doug): No visible change yet; just starting to work on integrating placeholder graphics to build map pages to illustrate how lands will work.
Kick-off venue (from Corey): a lot of discussion and we have a good first-choice candidate. We’re going to press this week to finalize it.
Thanks, and see you on the Slack!
Meanwhile, my own puzzles hit a snag in the pipeline. I now had two mini-walkaround puzzles ready for folks to testsolve. To feel confident that a puzzle was in good shape, we wanted two "clean" testsolves. Team Left Out is mostly on the Left Coast—not so many folks could traipse over to MIT campus to for-real testsolve. How would we test these puzzles without "using up" all of our Cantabrigians?
Someone (editor-in-chief Yar? testing czar Martin? I dunno who, but I got the news from Yar) figured out a workable system: I'd make two versions of the puzzle. One version would be for folks on-site; one version would be for folks on their couches. Couch-testers would use site photos to "gather data" for testing.
We had plenty of couch-testers. So we'd start by getting a "clean" testsolve from a set of couch-testers. If couch-testers noticed any mistakes, I would have a chance to fix the mistakes early. Only after a clean couch-solve would we ask Boston-area folks to testsolve the puzzle for real.
(Since I was getting an early start, I might have another source of on-site testers: people in town in August for the Miskatonic Game. But hopefully it wouldn't come to that.)
This system worked pretty well. Fortunately, I'd kept the mini-runarounds pretty straightforward. (I'd done this partly because I'd predicted we wouldn't get many chances to test them; and because I was far away, and wouldn't have a good way to gather data for a major revision.)
There were Puzzle Writer Workshops in which SF Bay Area folks gathered to sketch out puzzle ideas. In June, Jan and Yar hosted such a workshop. (Actually, Jan didn't get to stick around for the whole workshop. She had to travel for work. I tsked in sympathy—she was still at Twitter.) (Double-actually, this workshop wasn't just SF Bay Area folks: Will Blatt was in town. Phil Dasler was in town.)
Yar assigned solutions to the mini-runarounds I'd been working on.
Jesse worked on the puzzle that eventually became Snowy Flow.
Brent worked on Teacups.
A bunch of folks brainstormed a "bumper cars" puzzle…uhm, I don't know what that turned into. (Did this become Mining Carts?)
When I found out there was a Western-themed land, I thought about how to make a puzzle based on Ennio Morricone's western movie soundtracks. That idea fell apart, but it it brought me to the idea for the Spaghetti Western puzzle, a puzzle in tribute to Eric Berlin's blog.
Occasionally on the blog, there's a game called Spaghetti. Berlin chooses a few words and phrases at random. Then he asks: suppose these words and phrases were an MIT-style metapuzzle. How does the puzzle work and what is the answer?
Folks who read his blog answer in the comments. Well, some folks do. Some folks can look at some random words, find something in common and figure out how to twist it to get a secret message. I can't do that. I just read these blog posts in awe, marveling at the feats of stronger puzzlers.
I tinkered with this idea for a while, but didn't make much progress. I had an idea for a tribute to something wonderful, but I didn't have the puzzling chops to develop it.
Niantic released their phone game Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. I played it, and realized that one could use the game's "spell symbols" as letterforms to spell out a secret message. I liked found letterforms and knew plenty of other puzzle nerds liked them too.
On the other hand, I knew very little about the Harry Potter stories. No doubt plenty of cool trivia lurked in them, but I didn't remember any of it. I knew the team had some Harry Potter enthusiasts. No doubt it would make sense to team up with one.
You might wonder why "Kick-off venue" got a mention in the state-of-the-hunt emails. Though the hunt was still six months out, someone else had reserved Kresge Auditorium (MIT's biggest auditorium) for that day. Thus, we did some scrambling to find an alternate hall for the kickoff event—and another hall for the "spillover" crowd that wouldn't fit in the alternate hall.
Scramble, scramble, scramble.
I asked editor-in-chief Yar if he had ideas for a metapuzzle expert who might be up for collaborating on Spaghetti Western. He did—himself. Yar designed a version of the puzzle much better than what I'd come up with so far and encouraged me to add onto it. I couldn't figure out how to do that— but I could come up with a new set of Spaghetti phrases such that both Yar and I could contribute some pieces—a few from me, many from Yar.
We wanted yet more pieces, though. Too bad I wasn't more help.
There was another Puzzle Writer's Workshop. Jesse Morris hosted this one at his apartment near Rincon Hill. I let folks bounce puzzle ideas off of me for a while before I left to celebrate my dad's birthday.
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