(This is a recap/review of the Miskatonic University Game, which happened on August 15-18. Puzzles and solutions are not fully online, but some of them are posted here. This post will likely contain spoilers.)
Real talk, folks. It’s been a long time since Miskatonic, and as it gets farther away, my memories become less focused and less useful. So as much as I want to document everything in exquisite detail, I’m going to try to go faster so I can reach the end. (Besides, this is the point in our journey where I was starting to get extremely sleep-deprived, so about half of the details I remember were probably hallucinated anyway.)
Side note: While I was being an absent puzzlehunt blogger, Puzzle Boat 6 happened! It was great even if it did take a perennial Mystery Hunt theme contender (unchosen finalist in 2009 and 2014) off the table. Grab some friends and sign up for lots of puzzly goodness.
Frat party? Frat party.
When we last left our heroes, they were feeling all smug that they had managed to surge past all the other teams, not knowing this was because they’d been skipped past a puzzle (the only puzzle we wouldn’t see all weekend). As it turned out, arriving to this multi-puzzle location in the fake lead was a big advantage, as a lot of the puzzles were in small rooms/areas that we initially had to ourselves, and later they were super-crowded.
The first and frattiest puzzles took place in a cafeteria area, as we arranged a collection of solo cups in beer pong formation to spell out beer names and then solved a nifty physical maze on the surface of a wooden hazing paddle. Teams were apparently sent to the remaining puzzles in this round in different orders (I am delighted that I did not have to work out the logistics of this). The other puzzles were mostly upstairs and did not feel particularly fraternity or university themed. I’m thinking that the idea was that the party was downstairs, but once you snuck upstairs you got access to all the creepy supernatural stuff that the frat bros were really up to.
We next went upstairs to solve a nice non-rectangular grid puzzle on a whiteboard, which could be erased quickly for the next team. This was one of the times we were grateful to be early, since there were stations set up for four teams to work at once. We were the only team in the room and thus we could shout out answers as loud as we wanted… I think this would have been more frustrating with other teams present, as I’m hypersensitive to overhearing unintentional spoilers.
The next puzzle involved going outside, and I’m grateful it was served to us next, because a terrifying and thematic rainstorm was rolling in. We had to grab a multicolored cryptogram from a box on a bench, and then transcribe Morse Code from a whole bunch of blinking eyes. Transcribing Morse is not easy in real time, and it’s harder in the dark, and even harder when you’re under time pressure because it’s starting to rain. Some of our data seemed wonky, but we fled into the lobby with what we had, and it was enough to finish solving inside. Meanwhile, we saw several poor souls run outside into what was now a torrent, run outside and run back in soaked with a wet piece of paper, asking, “We don’t need anything else from out there, do we?” Bad news for you.
We got shuttled between four more frat party stations, the coolest of which by far was a Ouija board with a paddle that moved automatically when you spoke a word to it (or more accurately to the data inputter listening nearby). The puzzle itself was essentially just word mastermind, but this was the sort of visually impressive set piece that I look for in a Game versus a typical puzzlehunt. We also tackled a very challenging but eventually pretty cool puzzle based around a gallery of paintings of tentacled creatures, a set of jars of mutilated stuffed animals communicating in both Braille and genetic code, and a puzzle box where the box was unintentionally open when we first arrived, and which was closed by the organizers and then didn’t open without assistance when we did the right thing. I heard positive feedback about this puzzle from others, so hopefully we just had a dud box.
Next stop: metapuzzle! We were told to proceed outside (thankfully the rain had passed) to find a dark and creepy path leading to the back of a truck. The truck contained a pretty cool padded room with words drawn on the walls and meandering paths all over the walls connecting various letters. This was yet another case where getting there early was a boon, as we had the truck to ourselves and could write down all of the paths pretty effectively. But we got stuck for quite a while on what to do with our puzzle answers and the words on the walls, until we remembered a sign on the outside saying something like “What do you fear most?” All of the items on the walls had phobia names that could be linked to our puzzle answers, yielding a meta answer.
This led to the best plot twist of the weekend; we were confronted by an excellent actor playing a stern psychiatrist in a very nicely understated performance, telling us that, in the spirit of some disturbing episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Community, everything we’d been doing so far was imagined and that we were actually in a mental hospital. It was a particularly nice touch that when he asked where we really were, and I incorrectly said, “Arkham Asylum,” without missing a beat and without breaking character, he patiently explained to me that that was a fictional location from the Batman universe. Here’s to you, creepy psychiatrist guy.
We were ahead of the curve at this point, so we were fed a non-meta bonus puzzle. I’d been carting around my laptop all weekend for no reason, and this was the one time I used it; not only did we have to speed up some super-slow recordings, we had to know exactly how much we’d sped them up, so having Audacity was a godsend. Once we finished this puzzle (which was honestly kind of tedious) we were told other puzzles weren’t ready for us, and that we’d be paused for about an hour. So we squatted in the room we’d solved that puzzle in, turned off the lights, and attempted to take a nap.
When I woke up, I encountered the most horrific moment of the weekend. In trying to fall asleep, I’d tried a lot of positions including a few in which I slumped onto my bag on the table. My glasses were also on the table, and presumably at some point I had put my bag, and all of my head weight, onto the glasses. So when I put them on, they had been bent and mangled to the point where I could not place them on my head in a position I could see. This was really distressing, and thankfully one of the people around when I was freaking out about this was brave enough to carefully bend them back into position. I don’t remember who you were, glasses repair guy, but you kept me from having a panic attack, and thus you occupy an echelon even higher than creepy psychiatrist guy. I still had trouble getting past how jarring this experience was, and much to my team’s dismay, I proceeded to tell this story to everyone I encountered for several hours.
Before departing for breakfast, we had another quick interaction where we established we were consciously choosing madness (as opposed to exposing the charade of Evil John Hodgman, making this officially more like Buffy than Community), and we solved an inkblot-themed puzzle, folding sheets of paper to yield the phrase THAT WAY LIES MADNESS. As we’d find out after the event was over, this was one of two possible answers to this puzzle, which was integrated into the event in a surprising way that we wouldn’t fully appreciate until much late.
For breakfast, we finally took the van to another location, where before entering the main room, we were whisked off into a small room where we were told there was a humans-versus-cultists war brewing, and we were on the human side. Given the general dark undertones of the event, I assumed we were being led to believe we were helping the humans, but that we would actually secretly be helping Cthulhu. But in fact, based on the answer we’d found to the inkblot, we had legitimately been assigned to oppose Cthulhu. This is pretty cool in retrospect, but in the moment, it was just confusing.
The breakfast room had two puzzles. The first involved viewing a whole bunch of crayon drawings of monsters around the room and determining a complex monster naming convention, which we would then use to draw our own monster. Jenn drew a fantastic picture of Thaathlog that you can appreciate here, then stood in a long line only to be told it was close but not right. So we spent a long time re-studying the pictures to figure out what was wrong, and then eventually decided to re-check the exact same picture, whch was then ruled correct; apparently there was a mistake in the way the judge was interpreting the language rule. There was a second wordplay puzzle involving monster bags in monster bags in monster bags, but I don’t think I appreciated it due to being annoyed that we had been held up looking for a nonexistent error.
Once we finished these puzzles, we were given an old-timey music box, a collection of audio files, and directions to park in Boston for the final phase of Miskatonic. Which I’ll describe in the final part of my Miskatonic write-up, coming soon. Hopefully soon doesn’t mean December.