MITMH 2020: Friday

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 don't remember much from the morning before the start of hunt. I'm sure I picked up coffee at the hotel and walked through the cold to campus. I'm sure I made my way to Team Left Out HQ and settled in. I'm sure I said "Hooray for the lanyards that saved Mystery Hunt." as I accepted and donned an MIT administration-approved event participation lanyard.

I suspect I mostly sat, caught up on messages, and thought "Holy crap; This Is Really Happening."

[photo: HQ Early Friday Morning]
Not much happening early Friday morning.

Other Left Out folks were excited. A crisis emerged: Someone tried to print something that we needed for registration. The printer didn't work. That wasn't the crisis; we had a spare printer. The spare printer didn't work either. That was a crisis. But people were paying attention. Someone bought a spare-spare printer and drove off to the store to pick it up. Someone rushed over to their nearby place of employment to print up the things needed before the spare-spare printer arrived. So there was a crisis and a bunch of people who were ready to pounce on a crisis. Maybe this game wouldn't be a disaster?

[photo: More nerds]
The room fills up.

As kickoff time approached, more Left Out people trickled in to HQ. Eventually, we were crowded: during the game, we'd stay in HQ in shifts; actors would be out visiting teams; some of us would be in classrooms to run events. But for now, few of us had things to do elsewhere. We were all crammed into HQ, excitement bouncing around the room.

I updated a few puzzles. I sat at a physical-puzzle-assembly table and helped some folks glue together hook-able objects for a carny fishing game. These objects were destined for our Midway event, at which puzzle nerds would enjoy (let's hope) some carny-midway games of skill. We used up all our glue dots, which meant that we were done assembling objects.

This was a good time for me to go on an excursion: My Rumpelstiltskin's Cottage puzzle had some puzzle materials hidden around campus. So I grabbed the materials and visited the relevant campus spots. I was surprised: there were people milling around these places. When I'd scouted them, they'd been empty—just a couple of building lobbies that I'd thought were unused on snowy days. But there were some folks in those lobbies, folks who idly watched me plant mysterious pieces of paper around. Hopefully they weren't Mystery Hunters; hopefully I wasn't spoiling their fun. I slunk back to HQ at about the same time most of the team was leaving: the kickoff was about to begin.


[photo: Opening Skit]
Watching the opening skit from HQ

I wasn't so eager to attend kickoff at Kresge. I'd already experienced a similar thrill—I had stood in front of a huge auditorium full of nerds for Microsoft Puzzlehunt 11.0. Thus, I stayed in HQ and watched the "emergency" phone line, freeing up a teammate to attend kickoff.

A skeleton crew of us sat in HQ and watched the kickoff on a big video screen. It seemed to go over well. We hadn't been sure how the audience would react to a real live wedding. They (mostly) liked it fine. They laughed at the right places in the skit that followed.

After kickoff, a phone rang. I was on emergency phone duty, so I perked up. Was it an emergency? No, the phone next to our emergency phone was ringing. In theory, we were only using this phone for outgoing calls. In practice, someone was calling it. (Later, I'd learn that many teams haved saved the phone numbers of the Bush room, often used as hunt HQ, from previous hunts.) I answered in character as a worker at Penny Park: "Guest Services; this is Larry; how may I help you?" The reply: "What team is this?" I said, "Guest services?" They muttered something and hung up.

[photo: Newlyweds] [photo: Cake]

Some phone calls came in on the correct phone line. A team was locked out. A team hadn't made it to kickoff and thus wasn't registered. A team needed badges. Linda Holman could fix all their problems; I was basically a conduit of requests to Linda.

Meanwhile, Left Out folks were coming back to HQ. A lot of them were just picking things up and heading out again—heading out to setup events or interactive puzzle rooms.

Then Chris Yao took over phone duty. I was duty-less.

I went over to my laptop and looked at the HQ interface to the hunt web site. Specifically, I looked at how teams were faring at solving Rumpelstiltskin's Cottage, a puzzle I'd written. Some teams had solved it. The puzzle, I was relieved to see, was not completely broken. (Yes, it had gone through plenty of testing. But until players solve a puzzle, I'm always at least a little on edge.) I checked the secret HQ Slack—Walker had visited the chemistry lobby and snapped a picture of the crowd of solvers. Later, I'd see a tweet by Tony Sindelar showing he'd reached the Eastman Lobby OK. (I think; I can't find that tweet now.) Not completely broken.

[photo: Rumpelstiltskin Part 1 (photo by Walker Anderson)] [photo: Rumpelstiltskin Part 2 (photo by Tondy Sindelar)]

Then I was caught up on Slack and socials and so I pestered Linda to give me something to do. Thus I found myself tidying up our snack area. (This task was made somewhat fraught when I remembered how much of the Bush room's safety briefing involved keeping the carpet clean.)


When I was done with that and again pestered Linda for something to do, she sent me over to the Midway event to help set up tents. So I suited up into cold-weather clothing, made my way to a room in the student center, removed my cold-weather clothing, and made myself useful.

[photo: Setting up the Midway event] [photo: Setting up the Midway event]
Setting up tents and attractions for the Midway event

By the time we were done setting up tents and carny attractions, there wasn't much time before the event start. I found myself on hotdog-cooking duty. The same folks who had rented us the tents also rented us a hotdog steamer and a popcorn machine with a knowledgable person to run them—but he couldn't keep both of them going and thus needed some unskilled labor (me) dealing with the hot dogs. (Yes, it's a little strange that a vegetarian ended up tending the hot dogs. The show must go on, and all that.)

When puzzlers came up to the food table, they had a couple of questions: was the food a puzzle? Was the food free? I wasn't sure whether the food was a puzzle. But I did know that the food was free:

Grandmaster Puzzles had sponsored the food, thus the food was free. There was a little sign pointing this out, but hungry nerds often overlooked the sign. I worked up some patter: "Yes, the food is free thanks to the great people over at Grandmaster Puzzles, makers of excellent logic puzzles. I didn't even realize you could put such art into making a sudoku, but they found a way." This got me some startled looks—maybe these hungry nerds weren't expecting the hot dog guy to have sudoku opinions.

I'm pretty sure I made more hot dogs over the course of those few hours than I'd made (or would make) the rest of my life.

When preparing food in Massachusetts or other civilized places, one wears gloves. After a couple of hours of wearing gloves over a hot dog steamer, those gloves fell apart. I didn't know that could happen. I removed the shreds from my hands and put on another pair.

I handed out more hot dogs, answered more questions about hot dogs…and then event-organizer Evan came by and told me I was done. I thanked the caterers for sharing their sausage mysteries, gathered my things, and headed out into the cold so I could make my way back to HQ. I didn't even worry about bundling up that much. I felt like my body retained heat from spending so much time next to the hot dog steamer.

Back at HQ, I sat down, hauled out my laptop, and looked at our hunt dashboard to see how teams were progressing. A couple of teams had solved the puzzle Charming I'd collaborated on. Once again, a wave of relief washed over me: the puzzle was Not completely broken.

I looked over Ann Etter's shoulder. Ann was working a shift as our Dispatcher, keeping track of our actors making team visits. Before dawn tomorrow morning, this would be my job; thus I wanted to see how it worked. Ann gave me some advice: show up a little early. The hand-off from the previous-shift Dispatcher hadn't gone smoothly, information had been lost. Ann had spent the first part of her shift getting caught up on where people were. If I showed up even earlier than my bleary-early shift started, I could have a smoother hand-off.

It was getting late in the evening. In theory, it was time for me to head back to the hotel for early sleep so I could wake up early and be Dispatcher. In practice, I stuck around and got caught up on Hunt-related social media. I thus saw that Jeff Walden was amused by a wry comment I'd left hidden in a puzzle's source code:

"This browser does not support playing audio files, which is a pity, because this puzzle has a bunch of them." #mysteryhunt

— Jeff Walden (@jswalden) January 17, 2020

Then, a crisis: a team had spotted an erratum in a puzzle, our first erratum of the hunt. Worse, it was a puzzle I'd worked on, Charming. I flushed with embarassment. At least I had the tools and permission to revise the puzzle and post that revision (and erratum announcement) on the hunt website. (You might think there couldn't possibly be errata in the puzzle, since a couple of teams had solved it while I steamed hot dogs. But just one part of the puzzle was messed up, which meant they couldn't get one letter of the answer—but these teams were clever enough to figure out the answer from the other letters. And someone on one of those teams was clever and nice enough to spot and report the problem so that I could fix it so that future teams wouldn't hit the problem…)

It took a while to fix the puzzle. I was now officially still at HQ when I was supposed to be sleeping. I hadn't even gotten in on the big team-wide dinner order, thinking I wouldn't still be at HQ this late. Kiki snuck me some eggplant pomodoro. That's why Kiki's the best.

Finally, I was done at HQ for reals. Before anyone could find something else for me to do, I headed out into the cold night. Soon I was back at the hotel, asleep.

Saturday [>]

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