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 July's S.o.t.H. to let you know what the writing team was doing. (And to remind me, as I write this, what we were doing.)
Good evening, and welcome to the post-Boulder State of the Hunt.
Boulder. 20+ Left Outers convened in Boulder days before NPL Con and had a super productive meet-up. Highlights included putting the finishing touches on the end-to-end Hunt narrative; testing scrum
[Teamwork Time]puzzles; … some ideas for how to mobilize more of Left Out; and making some first-time introductions between several individuals on Left Out.
Puzzles. …We’re making gradual progress but we’ve a long ways to go. …
Upcoming. The next few months have big milestones. In September we’re aiming for a Big Test Solve (#big-test-solve) that will test our (many!) features across Hunt. Between now and then we need to maintain a pretty steep puzzle creation rate, which includes both authoring and test solving. Finally, many of you are working in smaller groups (events, fabrication, art, server software) and we’re hitting our prime time for productivity. As always, if you could use a hand with anything, please say so -- there are many Left Outers who are eager to help out.
In decided to plan a "Big Test Solve" in September (a couple of months away). We'd done an OK job at testing individual puzzles. This event would be a test of a few rounds of puzzles. Thus, in addition to making sure individual puzzles were OK, we could see if the overall structure was working.
I don't think we were just trying to test better. I think this event was meant to force a deadline. We were writing puzzles, but at the rate we were going, we wouldn't have enough puzzles done by the end of the year. Some folks are motivated by deadlines. So we set a deadline.
The National Puzzlers' League (NPL) has an annual convention. Since many Left Out folks are in the NPL, folks organized a couple of days of Hunt-writing activities beforehand. This would be a chance for Left Outers from around the country to gather in one spot.
So I went to Boulder for the Left Out things even though I wasn't attending NPLCon. I already wrote up a Boulder travelog, but I didn't say anything spoilery about Mystery Hunt prep. I guess I can do that now.
Upon arrival, I was theoretically hosting a mini Puzzle Writer's Workshop in my hotel room. In practice, the only folks who showed up for the workshop were editor-in-chief Yar and myself. That's not terrible—this meant that Yar had nothing distracting him from assigning a puzzle answer to the puzzle that would eventually become "Charming." More good news: Yar had shown Spaghetti Western to Brent Holman. Brent had come up with more ideas. And with Brent's contribution, we had enough. I could move forward with the puzzle with this set of ideas.
There was a team dinner in a back room at Backcountry Pizza. Left Out has a dinner tradition that aims to aid mingling: every so often, everyone moves one seat to the left. Thus, one sits across the table from a few folks over the course of the meal. However, you sit next to the same people all evening, since they're moving the same direction you are.
I was sitting next to our fearless leader, Corey. Thus, I got to eavesdrop as he asked folks: if you haven't been participating much in Mystery Hunt prep, what would change that?
There wasn't going to be some one-size-fits-all answer that would get all of these folks to buckle down.
The next day in Boulder, we didn't have team meetings until the afternoon. It was Wednesday, when new comic books come out. So I used my free time to walk to a comic shop and back. Boulder's at a high elevation and I got pretty light-headed during this walk. This might seem like a strange thing to mention when talking about puzzlehunt stuff, but it's my excuse:
I was still pretty woozy for the first part of this day's meetings. I mostly tried to sit with my head very still.
We tested some things that needed big groups: an early verson of the hunt server, a couple of Teamwork Time puzzles. And folks talked about what they'd been doing, where we still needed to make progress…but I didn't follow it so well.
Back home from Boulder, I teamed up with Shelly Manber, Harry Potter enthusiast, to work on the puzzle that eventually became Charming.
I took tbe Spaghetti Western ideas that Yar and Brent had come up with and put them together into a draft puzzle. Asher and Todd testsolved and had suggestions about how to make it tougher. I gulped nervously (I remembered: Our hunt will have so many puzzles, we must keep them short), but tried the suggestions. It was still July. There was still plenty of time to test variants.
Doug continued to work on setting up the Hunt's webserver. In my role as Production Czar (a.k.a. Web Nerd with free time), I had converted a few puzzles to HTML. Every so often, I'd convert another one and try to get the webserver to display it. Sometimes it worked on the first try, sometimes it didn't. When it didn't, Doug and I would figure out what needed to change.
Also, there were some folks who preferred to write their puzzles in HTML instead of in Word or Illustrator or what-have-you. So when Doug and I said "Oh, we need to do this differently," then someone would have to tell the HTML-loving puzzle nerds. Every so often, I'd tweak an instruction or a tool or a sample.
Rich and Kiki Bragg hosted a testsolving day. Though the Bragg house is in California, some Cantabrigians nevertheless used the occasion to testsolve my mini-runaround puzzles. They solved them! The mini-runarounds weren't totally broken! Mike Springer reported he'd had trouble using the web page GPS activity at the end of the Whirlwind puzzle, but I wasn't too worried: phone geolocation isn't great; it wasn't surprising that Mike's phone had been a little off.
(I wish I'd gotten more details out of Mike. His phone wasn't just a little off. But I didn't figure that out until later.)
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