: New: Puzzle Hunts are Everywhere, even Cambridge/California

This past weekend was the annual MIT Mystery Hunt. I played for the first time. I joined up with Team Left Out, a team on which This hunt is a "conference room" game. It's mostly puzzles you can solve at home on your couch, though there are some where you want to be physically at MIT. (It isn't always obvious which are which. I (and other California folks) sought meaning in some strange colors for hours, not realizing they represented an MIT architectural feature.) It's longer than hunts I'm used to. It's even longer than weekend-long "The Game" games. The MIT hunt starts Friday noon Eastern time and tends to go to late Sunday. I think of 40 hours as a long hunt, but Mystery Hunt is more like 60.

I had fun! I want say that early. Because as I spew out more notes, they're mostly notes to myself about things I want to do better next year. And so they're things where I wasn't satisfied with what I did. So it sounds like I wasn't satisfied with the hunt. But I was! I had a good time. Solving was fun. Hanging out with puzzle nerds was fun.

One skill I need to improve: sleeping during a hunt. I'm used to staying awake all hunt; I can stay functional for 36 hours, then catch up on sleep afterwards. But there's no way I can stay up 48+ hours. So I slept. Except I can't sleep when full of puzzle-solving excitement. Friday night, I tried to sleep but only cat-napped. Saturday, I was pretty bleary. Saturday night I really did sleep; I don't think I was getting better at sleeping, but previous sleep deprivation helped to put me under.

I mostly didn't move. I sat and solved. When I woke up each morning, I walked to the local coffee shop. This was partially for the espresso but partially just to force myself to get up and moving. One more-experienced puzzler went for a jog each day. That seems like a good idea. My body's used to exercise, and felt bad from lack thereof. I bet that a brisk evening stroll would have helped me sleep better on Friday night, e.g. At the time it didn't seem like I could just get up and take time for a walk: there were puzzles to do! But it's a marathon, not a sprint. It's not like the hunt ran out of puzzles before I ran low on energy to work on those puzzles.

I wish I'd brought a change of clothes; I wish I'd showered. Probably other folks wish I'd showered, too. I can make it through a 36-hour van hunt without getting too… Uhm, maybe let's skip the details, OK? But while I'm taking notes on what I want to do better next year, one is: bring a change of clothes and use it.

The first day, I helped a bunch. I did grunt work, I had some insights. The second day, I wasn't so useful. That was partially sleepy-headed-ness. But it was also the puzzles getting tougher. I did gruntwork, but had few insights. Let's hope the gruntwork I did freed up some smarter folks' time to swoop in with insights and solutions. Yes, let's hope.

My favorite puzzle that I worked on was probably All History is Local because [SPOILER REDACTED]. That was a second-day puzzle. Which just goes to show that even when I was a sleepyhead, I was still having fun.

Mostly, I looked at confusing puzzles. Our team was big and there were many, many puzzles. If there was an easy puzzle, probably other folks solved it quickly. And thus I never looked at it; it wouldn't have been helpful to do so. But if the first batch of folks to look at a puzzle couldn't solve it, then that puzzle stuck around. More folks would look at it, hoping to have the necessary "a-ha". So if you're an MIT Mystery Hunt puzzle author and you want a wide audience for your puzzles, make them impossible. (OMG don't do this.)

Because our team is bi-coastal, there's a lot of incentive to work online instead of on paper. If a Californian carefully decodes a stream of data only to realize that someone on-site at MIT needs to compare that data to some local wall carvings or what-have-you, it helps if that data is already some place where MIT folks can look at it. And if there's a confusing thing which you want 50+ team members to look at in hopes that one of them will have the "a-ha, these are all obscure superhero sidekick names" or whatever realization, it's easier to get that list in front of their eyeballs if it's already online. When I say "grunt-work", that means that often the first minutes of working on a puzzle was copy-pasting its contents into a shared workspace. In a neighborhood-scale hunt, in which you solve clues in half an hour, those minutes would be wasted. But when organizing dozens of solvers on a team to solve hundreds of puzzles, that time is well-spent.

A neat feat possible for a bi-coastal team playing a multi-day hunt: one team member solved a puzzle in California, hopped a plane to Boston, then kept solving puzzles at MIT.

Another neat feat for long hunts: Our team has a couple that both enjoy puzzlehunts; they have small kids. They play in shifts: one hunts while the other stays home watches kids. Partway through the hunt, they switch off. Thus, they appreciate it when the hunt structure gives some idea how long the hunt will last: they can trade places closer to the half-way mark.

Oh, and I want to remember to bring Mi-Del Ginger Snaps because they are (a) yummy and (b) not made with/near peanuts.

Tags: puzzlehunts mysteryhunt

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