MITMH 2020: Cambridge

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.

I traveled to Boston on Tuesday the 14th. I caught the train to Cambridge, checked in at the Kendall Square Marriott. It was miserably cold. Only fools and stubborn people leave San Francisco to visit Boston in January.

Wednesday the 15th

The Rumpelstiltskin's Cottage puzzle needed many printouts—each team would pick up a printout at an on-campus location. I hadn't wanted to lug around several pounds of printouts in my luggage. I placed a printing order at FedEx and picked it up early so I could catch printing errors early… but, unsurprisingly, there weren't any printing errors.

I sat down with a couple of other team bigwigs to edit puzzle text to reflect the curfew. E.g., adding a "DON'T DO THIS AT NIGHT" preamble to each campus runaround.

Except we didn't make much progress (updated just one puzzle) before Todd's phone got a message from fearless leader Corey: The MIT administration had experienced a large change of heart; Most of the hunt's curfew restrictions had been lifted. He was calling an emergency surprise meeting in his room. We headed to Corey's hotel room.

[photo: Corey sits in a chair looking as if a great weight has been lifted from his shoulders]
Corey had good news.

It took some minutes for the arrived-at-Cambridge folks to gather in Corey's room. Then he gave us the details. E.g., to get an on-campus classroom "HQ", a team needed to have at least one MIT student; BUT if that student was elsewhere, the team didn't need to clear out of the room. Teams could wander the halls 24 hours a day if everyone was wearing conference badges. Oh yeah, we needed conference badges.

If I understand it correctly, those badges would be a big help to MIT security. If any hooligans could wander the halls saying "We're with Hunt, don't mess with us," that wasn't great, safety-wise. But if us Hunt-runners provided all players with badges, then MIT security could distinguish between Hunters and hooligans.

So we hastily printed up some generic badges at Office Depot. No doubt our design-minded folks would have loved to come up with something more thematic—but this was super last-minute.

The new lack-of-curfew meant I didn't need to edit all of our on-campus puzzles to add curfew warnings. I did have to remove the curfew warning that I'd already added to one puzzle. So if you're wondering why only the Rumpelstiltskin's Cottage puzzle has a "make extra-sure you have your badges" reminder, it's because I had to edit that puzzle anyhow to take out the now-obsolete curfew warning.

Other Left Out folks had more to do, schedules to change, set-up-and-tear-down plans to alter. I had it pretty easy.

That evening, I once again tried out the "pinger" map for my Whirlwind runaround puzzle. That is, I watched a little web app I'd written show my location on a map. This time, instead of just testing a basic run-through, I tried wandering a bit. And thus I found out that I'd swapped north and south in the web app. I hadn't noticed this at first because all testers had figured out that they were supposed to walk east to reach the goal; east/west worked fine in this app, I'd only mixed up north and south. It was pretty embarassing. When I asked Yar for permission to make this last-minute change for a puzzle, he asked what the problem was. I muttered something about how the interface was needlessly confusing and hoped he wouldn't press me for details.

So that got fixed OK, albeit a lot closer to game day than I might have liked.

Later that evening, I went on a campus walk with Yar, Jan, and Nina. There was more Whirlwind testing on more phones. (Is this when I found out that iPhone's Safari browser didn't support geolocation?) We did some correctness-checking for the People Mover runaround: one of our puzzle diagrams was slightly off. Careful Nina made a note about the fix.

[photo: Yar, Jan, and Nina doing some quality control]
Double-checking data in the underground hallways.

We visited with Rich Bragg, who was doing a Space Karaoke test run. And no doubt other fun things happened that night, but I couldn't stay awake for them.

Thursday the 16th

On this day, the Bush Room (Hunt running team HQ) opened up. I thought I'd spend the day helping to unpack equipment. But that's not how the day went. Whirlwind wasn't the only puzzle with last-minute changes. So I maybe helped move furniture for 15 seconds before someone told me to get caught up on messages. I hauled out my laptop and started fixing puzzles.

Something subtle in the website style rules broke the layout of some of our more finicky puzzle pages—puzzles that had been laid out just right to print on one page. The puzzle HTML didn't change; the stylesheet didn't change; it wasn't clear what had jiggled the layout of these puzzles. (Later on, when I had some time to think, I came up with a guess: The website HTML had improved enough to be more HTML5-compliant; this caused browsers to use a different, not-"quirks"-y mode when laying things out.) I fixed the layout of a couple of puzzles. For another couple of puzzles, I gave up on fixing the layout in time for hunt; and instead fell back to presenting them as PDF files.

[photo: Sitting at the Hints-Team table in HQ. Wei-Hwa, Jessen (obscureed), and Stribs discuss something]
Sitting at the the Hints-Team table in HQ

There were some last-minute fixes to some of our emoji puzzles. E.g., there are two main dog emojis: 🐶 (dog face) and 🐕 (entire dog). We weren't consistent about which we used. Would puzzlers think there was a secret message encoded in our inconsistent usage? To me, 🐶 looked like a Morse "dot" and 🐕 looked like a Morse "dash" and we'd invented the cutest Morse variant ever…but of course that wasn't our intent, so we quickly standardized our dogs.

[photo: Phones, cardboard gates, Nick Baxter]
Though we weren't doing phone answer callbacks, we still needed some phones.

I (like everyone) signed an MIT code of conduct about interactions with minors and said "Hooray for the form that saved Mystery Hunt."

Excellent computer server programmer Doug had come up with a process by which we could update a puzzle mid-hunt. Thus, if we learned of an erratum on Saturday, we could replace the broken-puzzle-version with a fixed-puzzle-version. So far, only Doug had tried this process out. So I was the guinea pig to see if the process worked for non-Doug people (who might not have the same computer permissions). Thus, the last-minute puzzle problems gave us an excuse to test out the web server some more.

I tried using the process to fix a few puzzles and it worked fine. Then I updated another puzzle and crashed the web server. Thus, we found out that if we updated a puzzle that used a particular feature, we'd need Doug on hand to re-start the server. That was a good thing to find out before the hunt started, not during the hunt. Yes, I was glad we were testing.

Then the puzzle-fixes calmed down.

For lunch, I ate a poorly-chosen sandwich. This sandwich had little chunks of of cucumber. Some little chunks of cucumber fell out of the sandwich. When an organization uses MIT's Vannevar Bush room, the school administration sets out some rules. A surprisingly large fraction of these rules involve caring for the carpet. I carefully carefully retrieved my dropped cucumber bits before anyone trod them into the carpet. I went outside to Building 10's courtyard "porch" to finish eating that sandwich (at least, to eat the parts that made it into my mouth. That sandwich lacked structural integrity.)

[photo: Tammy and Wei-Hwa solve a jigsaw]
In case we needed to know the solution to our jigsaw puzzle, Tammy and Wei-Hwa set about assembling it.
(In the background: Linda, David Andre, Nina, Martin, Jessen.)

The puzzle-changes having calmed down, I did some normal setup activities for a puzzlehunt. I inflated some confetti-filled balloons. I unwrapped pancake supplies. I followed some amazingly-detailed computering instructions yelled across the room so some folks could double-check that a Teamwork Time puzzle was working as intended… you know, normal puzzlehunt setup tasks.

The room took shape. Physical puzzles were assembled and put away. Looking around, you could believe that we were going to pull this thing off.

[photo: Gizmo Demo]
Gizmo Demo

In the evening, we paused our tasks to gather. At the end of the hunt, teams who finished would get to interact with a cool puzzle-y gizmo. That gizmo was now assembled. Most of the team (including me) hadn't seen it yet. So now, the proud designers gave a demo. (Why hadn't more people on the team seen the gizmo yet? I suspect Todd had kept it under wraps so there could be a dramatic reveal now.) I tried to work up some enthusiasm, but the truth was I was tired. This day had worn me down. I was worn down and the game hadn't even started yet.

Then, a team briefing. Linda, head of operations, rallied us. Each of the Triumvirate said something arguably inspirational. I somehow kept my eyes open? Then inspirational speeches were done and I slouched through the Boston winter back to the hotel.

Back at the hotel, a message from eagle-eyed Stribs: in a puzzle's text, he'd spotted a "who" that could be "whom". Could I change it and upload the changed puzzle? I thought back on other last-minute crunch projects, last-minute changes that backfired. What if that "whom" became some team's red herring? I wrote back that I suspected this change was too risky, but I'd do it if he convinced a member of the Triumvirate that the change should go through. (At this late stage, we weren't making changes unless some head honcho approved them. I'm guessing that the folks who made that rule had gone through some similar life experiences to mine…) Anyhow, if that "who" disturbed you, don't blame Stribs. He wanted to fix it.

Finally, finally, I went to bed. I was so tired that I even slept.

Friday [>]

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