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 woke up at 02:30. This was far earlier than useful, but I was too excited to get back to sleep. I hauled out my laptop, checked on hunt status. A couple of teams had solved Spaghetti Western, thus reassuring me that it was Not Totally Broken. I got dressed, bundled up, and headed back to Hunt HQ in the Bush Room.
In the room, but not yet on duty, I took a minute to watch Eric Prestemon in action. He was on telephone duty, the voice making the Concierge puzzle work. This puzzle was our tribute to the old way of answering MIT Mystery Hunt puzzles, by talking on the phone. To solve this puzzle, teams would enter answers on the web site; but instead of the website telling them "right" or "wrong", Eric would call up the team and say mysteriously puzzly things to them. But it was 4:00 in the morning, teams were loopy, and they were amusing themselves by entering darned silly "guesses" trying to make Eric crack up laughing. He was 99% unflappable, however.
I sat down at the hint-giving table. It was darned early in the morning. There weren't many hint requests coming in, but there were a few. I pounced on hint requests when I could; but if I took a couple of minutes to look at hunt status, I knew we wouldn't fall behind.
The hunt status was getting exciting. No team had found the coin while I slept. But ✈✈✈ Galactic Trendsetters ✈✈✈ were getting close to solving their last "land" metapuzzle. The team Teammate wasn't that far behind. Assuming these teams had been working on the capstone puzzle "in the background", they might have solved that capstone puzzle—but wouldn't have a place to enter the answer to that puzzle until they solved the last "land" metapuzzle. Thus, the excitement among the few folks drowsily occupying HQ: maybe these teams were getting close to solving the capstone puzzle, and thus winning the hunt—the capstone puzzle was the last step before the final runaround to the coin.
At 05:14, a team solved the Courthouse puzzle: NOT TOTALLY BROKEN.
Around 05:30, ✈✈✈ Galactic Trendsetters ✈✈✈ solved their last "land" metapuzzle. Those of us in Hunt HQ leaned forward, looking at the big dashboard, watching to see the G.T. folks immediately enter the answer to the capstone puzzle. And, as the minutes passed, we realized that the G.T. folks weren't going to enter the answer to the capstone puzzle any time soon.
We'd assumed that the frontrunner teams would work on the "capstone" puzzle over the course of the weekend and would have a solution ready by the time they solved their last "land" metapuzzle. But we'd assumed wrongly. ✈✈✈ Galactic Trendsetters ✈✈✈ had looked over the pieces of the capstone puzzle as they'd received them, thought about them somewhat, then put them aside.
By this time, Hunt HQ was full of sleepy Team Left Out folks. Lots of people wanted to watch the final runaround. Thus, the few awake folks at HQ had called up many many sleeping colleagues telling them to wake up, get dressed, and hustle over to HQ or risk missing things.
Those sleepy Team Left Out folks didn't have much to do. The frontrunner teams weren't solving many puzzles. Probably most of their players were sensibly sleeping.
Todd had used his Super Running Team Powers to log his laptop in as a member of Team Palindrome, the team in third place. This gave us a way to keep an ear on the team: his laptop made a noise whenever Team Palindrome solved something. While ✈✈✈ Galactic Trendsetters ✈✈✈ and teammate were stuck, Todd's laptop kept making noise: every few minutes Team Palindrome would solve something. Then they solved a "land" meta. Would they catch up?
Things weren't so energized at Hunt HQ anymore. Lots of folks had been roused from slumber, had hustled over fuelled by adrenaline…and had now been staring at a dashboard for over an hour. The adrenaline was long gone; the lack of sleep was catching up. Yawns abounded.
Linda and Nina, our operations bigwigs, huddled for a while to figure out the minimal set of HQ roles needed to keep things running while most HQ people accompanied the runaround. The runaround would take more than an hour; we couldn't just shut down Hunt HQ for an hour. A skeleton crew would have to stay on. Linda and Nina figured out how big a crew, then discreetly visited folks in the essential roles, finding out which wanted to run along with the runaround and which were willing to stay put.
Time passed. Players woke up. Since Linda and Nina were distracted with discreet conversations, I was able to dispatch some skit actors. More players woke up. Some of them requested hints for puzzles. I kept busy.
Then, things got exciting again: team teammate solved their last "land" metapuzzle. Again, those of us in Hunt HQ held our breaths, sure that teammate would submit the answer to the "capstone" puzzle soon… Again, this did not happen. Again, a frontrunner team hadn't done much with the "capstone" puzzle ahead of time, instead setting aside its pieces.
Before game day, I'd worried that our hunt was too long, that we'd overenthusiastically crammed in too many puzzles. When I'd worken up Sunday morning, with two frontrunner teams making such great progress, those worries were gone. But now my worries were back. Our capstone puzzle was pretty tough. Could teams solve it? Would we have to provide hints for it?
Another worry: a team reported an erratum in another of my puzzles: Whirlwind was missing a blank. Some teams had already solved Whirlwind; it was possible even with the mistake. But how many teams had been slowed down? As I fixed the puzzle, I flushed with shame. Did any other puzzle author have two errata?
Fortunately, as more players woke up and requested more hints, I soon had plenty of other things to worry about, distracting me from my wounded pride. My actor-Dispatching shift ended; but there were many hint requests.
Meanwhile, Todd's laptop kept making noise: Palindrome was catching up. They solved a "land" metapuzzle. Time passed; they kept catching up. At 12:14, they solved their last "land" metapuzzle. A murmur went around HQ: Would Palindrome immediately submit the answer to the "capstone" puzzle, seizing the lead from ✈✈✈ Galactic Trendsetters ✈✈✈ and teammate? Minutes passed…and thus we found out that Palindrome, like those other teams, hadn't already cracked the capstone puzzle.
Were we doomed? Had we made the capstone puzzle too hard? Had we made the whole hunt too hard? I was happy to have hint requests to distract me from these questions. Other Left Out folks weren't so lucky. They looked anxious.
Then, around 12:30, the ✈✈✈ Galactic Trendsetters ✈✈✈ started guessing some almost-right capstone answers. I went cross-eyed tring to watch their guesses and the hint-request queue. At 12:47, ✈✈✈ Galactic Trendsetters ✈✈✈ solved the "capstone" puzzle, locking in the win.
There was a flurry at Hunt HQ, folks streaming out to accompany Galactic on the runaround. A skeleton crew stayed behind to keep things running.
I was on the skeleton crew. Hint requests kept me pretty busy. Galactic made progress through the runaround. Fearless leader Corey gave runaround updates over Slack, so those of us folks still in HQ (or remote) could follow progress.
Palindrome solved the "capstone" puzzle (but had no way to pass Galactic).
Around 15:00, Galactic found the coin, officially winning Hunt. A big cheer went up in the Bush Room. We'd made a hunt more difficult than we intended but not outright impossible. I thought to myself Maybe we didn't ruin Mystery Hunt.
The next couple of hours were intense in our little hint-giving area. Those Left Out folks who'd followed along with the runaround were now back in HQ, available to give out hints; so you might think that we were overstaffed again. But but now that a team had finished the hunt, we could be generous with hints without worrying that we'd thusly accidentally help a team win out of turn.
Someone pressed The Button that unlocked all puzzle rounds for all teams. I ?think? the Triumvirate lowered some threshhold so that more puzzles had hints available, even if fewer than 30 teams had solved. Or maybe I'm mis-remembering that—I think the triumvirate was also tagging specific puzzles as having hints available. They'd watch the hint-request queue. When the hint-givers had caught up on the queue, the triumvirate would open up hints on another puzzle. Soon, the queue would be long. Then we hint-givers would catch up on the queue again, repeating the process.
My memories of what exactly happened right then are hazy. I was in the zone, claiming hint requests, giving out hints. And again. And again. And again. And so on until 17:00, when the hunt ended. When the hunt ended, teams no longer had a way to request hints.
It was time to stop. It was after 17:00. The hunt was done. The hint requests were done. I sat. I stared at my laptop, my head spinning.
It was time to stop.
I got up, headed out of the Bush room. I walked to the places on campus where I'd placed papers for the Rumpelstiltskin's Cottage puzzle. I cleaned up those papers. Came back to the Bush Room. I did some low-energy cleanup, but not much. Fortunately, the running team can wait until Monday morning to clean up the Bush Room (unlike solving teams, who have to clean up their HQs Sunday night).
There was a team dinner: Pizza at 'Za. There were speeches and conversations, but I didn't remember much. I was running on fumes. I don't even remember whether we did the Team Left Out thing where we change seats, scooting left every few minutes. I think we did? I remember watching John Owens chat with some Left Outers, asking if they were in the mood to solve with the team next year, even if it meant risking another win. Should we keep solving together or should we fission, or what? Owens is good at the touchy-feely teamwork stuff, so it made sense that he wanted to get an early read on the team. (Or a cynical person might suspect that he was asking folks about this while we were in a good mood after having finished running the hunt, so we might say "sure, let's keep playing together" and then blithely stick with that response later. But I'm not so cynical; it didn't feel like he was nudging folks towards one answer or another.)
Sleep was amazing.
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