Watercooler: Favorite Mystery Hunt Themes

Hi all –

Looking for some quick feedback today: For those of you who participate in the Mystery Hunt regularly, what themes/structures have you enjoyed the most, and (briefly) why?

Asking for no particular reason, of course.


Upcoming: Three Online Puzzlehunts

Greetings from the front lines of writing the Mystery Hunt! If you thought I was bad about updating this blog last year, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet… But I am dropping in to let you know about three puzzlehunts appearing online in the next couple of months, one of which was just announced and is very very soon.

Cambridge Puzzle Hunt: This is the second year of the CPH. Loyal readers might recall that I did not adore the first installment, and I was not alone. The good news is that I’ve seen a lot of puzzlehunts improve dramatically between years one and two. The bad news is that this one was announced on less than 48 hours notice (the first round unlocks this Saturday at 9am ET if I’m converting time zones correctly), which does not instill confidence. Australian rules, two rounds of four puzzles each, teams of five (or one if you want to be eligible in the “Lone Wolf” division… I hear Mystereo Cantos will be defending his championship).

Cryptex Hunt: Justin Nevins, who makes professionally crafted Cryptexes (Cryptices?) is sponsoring what appears to be a text-adventure-based hunt that starts on February 24, a week from Saturday. Details on the website are scant, but having listened to an interview with Justin on Room Escape Divas, I can tell you that registration will be for single players (oddly, on the podcast they still encouraged people to solve in teams, but I guess they want one name since the prizes aren’t really splittable), and that the first weekend will be a warmup phase for solvers to figure out “how things work.” There will then be a puzzle a day throughout the week with prizes for the first solver of each, and a more involved puzzle Saturday (determining the grand prize winner) that requires you to have solved the earlier ones. I have conflicts on three of the five weeknights, but I’ll be doing my best to compete on the other days.

Galactic Puzzle Hunt: The Galactic Puzzle Hunt also debuted last year with a March Madness theme… And it was awesome! This year’s event departs from the Australian format to embrace a more Mystery-Hunt-style puzzles-unlock-puzzles structure. So while it’s scheduled to last nine days, presumably you win it when you win it. (That said, given the apparent Cookie Clicker theme, your team of up to ten players might have to occasionally wait for your army of grandmas to bake the next puzzle.) This one kicks off on Friday, March 16 at the crack of pi (3:14pm ET) and my Killer Chicken Bones teammates and I are psyched.



2018 MIT Mystery Hunt, Part 4: Some Puzzles

(This is a recap/review of the 2018 MIT Mystery Hunt, which happened this month. Puzzles and solutions can currently be found here. This recap will contain spoilers on some puzzles.)

I’m in danger of dropping the ball on a Part 4 post for the second time in under a year, so let me close out my Mystery Hunt posting by chiming in on some non-metapuzzles I solved or helped solve that I have opinions about.

Let’s Get Ready to Jumble: Scott Purdy and I looked at this at the same time… I was drawn to the picture of The Undertaker and immediately noticed the feeder entries were all names of pro wrestlers, whereas across the table Scott figured out the answer to the first pun without doing any of the anagrams. (“They’re all wrestlers!” “Linear B is a wrestler?”) We teamed up and made short work of the puzzle, and then filmed our heel turn together, which was aided by the fact that I was already wearing a Marty Scurll Villain Club T-shirt. I suspect we were one of the earliest solves, because there were technical difficulties with the upload… Whatever our solve time appears to be if a log comes out, subtract about a delay of about 40 minutes that came between sending our video and receiving an answer.

Temperance: The aha on this came from someone else; I jumped in for the extraction phase. I just wanted to mention that I think the title is cute, and that I cannot promise a third puzzle in the streak of puzzles about TV characters nicknamed Bones.

Good Fences Make Sad and Disgusted Neighbors, Hashiwakakuro, A Learning Path: I solved a bunch of abstract logic puzzles in this Hunt that I really enjoyed, and I appreciated that most of them had a bunch of separate grids, so that those of who like logic puzzles could split them up. Roger Barkan, Dave Savitt, and I had a lot of fun with Good Fences, though we made it much harder than intended before Roger re-read the flavortext and realized that the shadedness of a hex determined which type of clue it was; we were solving a much more open-ended variant. I was not involved in the Shoal Patrol/Submarine Patrol solve, but I heard good things.

You Know What’s Missing, Mass Aid: We never even considered urinating on the urine puzzle… We tried putting it in water and nothing seemed to happen, and then managed to read the clues with the aid of a flashlight. We thought they would somehow tell us the pH of the material we needed to put them in, and then somebody came up with the P deletions and we realized what we were “supposed” to do to get to where we already were. We also then regarded the evolved puzzle with fear, appropriately. It was gross. Boo.

A Tribute: 2010-2017: I solved this almost entirely by knowing about puzzles I’d written or co-written. I knew the extraction mechanisms from Heirplay and Magic Mushrooms, someone else had worked out another one, and from those three letters I guessed the thematic answer.

The Year’s Hardest Crossword: Once we knew we had to solve the Listener, a half dozen of our best cryptic solvers worked together to do so. It took hours. British cryptics are not my cup of English Breakfast tea.

Flattery Will Get You Nowhere: Solved this with Guy Jacobson and some others helping via spreadsheet. Figuring out that the answers were all synonyms for FLAT was a nice aha, and figuring out that they were all different definitions was even cooler (the link to 11C was much appreciated).

Cash Cab: Speaking of nice ahas, figuring out that this was about Ramanujan was one of those moments where a whole lot of random decoration on the puzzle suddenly comes into focus and makes sense. Once we figured out we should be looking for 1729 in the sequences based on the theme, we were able to get enough of these to guess the answer. I wrote down the Death Cab songs immediately but never thought to look at their lyrics.

Flags o1 6ur 10the15: I did almost none of the solving for this… But I’m pleased with myself that when Steve Peters explained the mechanism and asked if I had any ideas for Set W (the last one they were missing), I came up with Wheel of Time despite never having read any of the books.

No Context: LOVED this puzzle. It was the sort of puzzle where we immediately knew what we were expected to do, but it looked completely impossible… but then we made a little headway, and the farther we got, the easier it was to make additional progress. Just the right difficulty for a group solve, and possibly my favorite regular puzzle in the Hunt.

Voter Fraud, Arts and Crafts: Didn’t solve either of these… I’d just like to complain that we unlocked (and solved) the MLS puzzle while I was sleeping and Jackie was still en route from California, and that we did the same with Voter Fraud before she arrived (when she’s teaching a Math & Politics course this semester that covers voting methods. On the other hand, I was fortunate to be around for the wrestling puzzle mentioned above, and Jackie absolutely crushed Studies in Two-Factor Authentication (she’s also teaching number theory, and looked at the puzzle and immediately said, “Are these Gaussian primes?”).

Murder at the Asylum: I talked about this in an earlier post. The assignment of sanities and honesties required a ton of concentration but was very satisfying. I never worked out a scenario that made sense for the murder itself… The solution revealed something I didn’t consider, and while it’s fair, it also reminded me why I don’t like when logic puzzles have “rules” that aren’t completely clear. Everything up to there was awesome.

Zelma & Frank: As we broke into this, our data (gathered mostly by Street View) was coming out a bit inconsistently, I pointed out that it was going to be very unpleasant if we had to try to fill a crisscross without a fully reliable wordlist. It was. (The fact that there were only three answer lengths was very nice for discarding incorrect answers, but unspeakably cruel when filling the grid.

Hey, there are three bonus backup puzzles posted at the bottom of the List of Puzzles! I didn’t notice them until now and am off to check them out.












(Mostly) Non-Mystery-Hunt Stuff

Still one Mystery Hunt post to come (and lots of intriguing discussion ongoing below the previous posts), but a few bullet points worth mentioning:

  • Palindrome’s pre-MIT practice hunt is publicly posted here. I used to make these too! I used to have free time.
  • The only place I’ve seen more detailed Mystery Hunt discussion than on Puzzlvaria is in the Ask Me Anything that Death & Mayhem ran on Reddit yesterday. (I used to avoid Reddit entirely because I thought by reputation that it was a toxic cesspool of childishness and hostility. It turns out that it’s just large parts of Reddit that are a toxic cesspool of childishness and hostility.)
  • If you’re in the Boston area, Boxaroo (my favorite Boston-area escape room company before they indefinitely closed) is running a live puzzlehunt on February 3; it’s 75 minutes long and costs $38 per person. At that price, my Mystik Spiral colleagues (mostly Setec members) and I are still on the fence about participating; I think we’re spoiled by the availability of cheaper longer events. Particularly with THREE BAPHLs apparently upcoming in June, September, and October; the September organizers are looking for creative and logistical help, and I don’t want to post their contact info publicly without permission, but if you’re interested, drop me a line and I can put you in touch.
  • By the way, with Boxaroo closed, my favorite CURRENT Boston-area escape room company is Escape Rhode Island. They don’t have anything puzzlehunty going on, but I like them and want to promote them. I particularly recommend Ex Machina and The Mausoleum, which are both 6-person rooms where you can actually bring a max-size team and not have half the people get bored.

2018 MIT Mystery Hunt, Part 3: My Meta Experience, Continued

(This is a recap/review of the 2018 MIT Mystery Hunt, which happened this month. Puzzles and solutions can currently be found here. This recap will contain spoilers on many metapuzzles.)

Shortly after gaining access to Games Island, my wife arrived! Jackie was giving a talk Friday at the Joint Mathematical Meetings, which sometimes overlaps with Mystery Hunt (as it will again in 2019 and 2020) and sometimes doesn’t (as it won’t for a couple of years afterward), and then taking a red-eye to Boston. After last year’s short Hunt, and the warning this year that there would be fewer puzzles, we were both a little worried that we might finish before she got to Cambridge. This was not a problem.

I spent some time eating breakfast and solving regular puzzles before someone solved Wolf in the Fold; we had already confirmed that all the answers had outer words, and FITZSIMMONS GUILBERT made us reasonably confident that the inside letters were not going to matter. I forget who noticed the “nut”/”bolt” theme, but once we spotted that and corrected our botched enumeration count in the grids, it wasn’t too hard to read off the Build answer.

Over the rest of the afternoon, the folks who had been working on the Pokemon round figured out the intricate setup of how evolutions and battles worked; I mostly observed, though I managed to contribute the right interpretation of how BLACK MAGIC would work. Finishing the Pokemon super-meta was enough to open our fourth island, Sci-Fi, at 5:13pm. Sci-Fi was where I finally found my meta-solving stride, as Jackie and I teamed up to solve the Aliens Country Road submeta at 9:31pm (we filled in half the path with 3 out of 5 answers but needed a fourth to pin down which SE????TION/E????TIONS word we wanted) and the Transformers submeta less than an hour later (someone else had figured out the doubling/deleting/changing, but I got the “bit change” constraint quickly, and Jackie and I worked together to find five or six of the car models).

Meanwhile we’d amassed all of the Hacking Deploy answers, and Roger Barkan and Dave Savitt had already figured out the Akari mechanism, but they didn’t have an ordering. Jackie and I worked on this for a long time but couldn’t find an ordering of rows that yielded a unique answer and message. We concluded it couldn’t be done, and then, of course, somebody else on our team did it. I see now that there was a very subtle ordering clue in the puzzle titles, and I don’t believe we ever found it. Noticing key words in a puzzle title is one thing… First letters is a bit of an ask.

As we passed midnight, I had the big decision of whether to go to sleep… how long was this Hunt going? If I slept, might I miss the end? I didn’t actually care that much whether we wanted to come in first, but I didn’t want to doze through the endgame. Jackie was certainly going to go to sleep, but I decided I was going to “power through.” We had finished solving puzzles that fed into the Stargate submeta, and no one was working on that, so I spent the next few hours working on it (partially with Roger’s help, though he eventually ran out of ideas and moved on). It was a very tightly constructed logic puzzle, brutally hard but incredibly satisfying to solve once I/we cracked it (there’s no explanation of the logic in the solution, but the hardest step involved looking at all of the possible total counts of stargates on the board). I enjoyed it, but I’m not at all convinced that it should have been a metapuzzle. I can’t imagine it’s possible to solve with less than 100% of the four inputs (maybe if you code it?), and even with all four it took hours to solve, and I think I’m an unusually strong logic solver, as is Roger. Great puzzle, but I question its placement.

Throughout the solve, my energy was fading, and so at this point, as Philip Loh was breaking into the Firefly submeta and debating whether to call in REAL EVIL (so close!), I decided I would go back to the hotel and sleep for two or three hours. I did that, and when I woke up, I saw we still had at least three supermetas unsolved. Confident that we weren’t about to finish in my absence, I snuck in another hour and a half of sleep.

I walked back into HQ just as the seven team members still in HQ had called in the correct answer to the Hacking supermeta. Brace yourself for horn-tooting, because we’re approaching my best contribution of the weekend. While I was asleep, the team had assembled the Games Island soccer ball but hadn’t decided what to do with it. Looking at the folded paper version, I wondered if you might need to look at opposite faces; this was before reading the flavortext, so when I looked there and saw references to Australia, I was delighted that it was confirming what I already wanted to do. A lot of our cube faces were not uniquely placed, since we didn’t know all the terrains, but I did find three antipodal pairs of faces that had puzzles assigned to them.

I was expecting to read around the ball, but someone pointed out that the answers already had an ordering from the first meta. I wrote two columns on the board, one based on switching the index numbers, and one based on switching the words being indexed into. One of the columns said ????O??I??E??E??RT. Someone else noted that DESERT was thematic, and I said, in my finest moment of this year’s Hunt, “What about THE FORBIDDEN DESERT?” (I hadn’t played that game, but we’d given it as a prize after our Forbidden Island-themed BAPHL in Providence. That was wrong, but continuing to stare at the board, I suggested IN A FORBIDDEN DESERT. We were going to start looking at whether the options for the remaining faces would allow this, and I suggested that we might as well call it in and save ourselves the extra work if it happened to be right. And that’s how we solved a supermeta with 6 out of 16 letters placed. Though we’d solved more than 6 out of 16 puzzles, of course.

So now we found ourselves, at 8:39am, one meta-meta away from the final runaround (excuse me, walkaround) with all six Sci-Fi submetas already solved, and fourteen out of fifteen answers. And with most of the room focused on this last meta, we got hopelessly stuck. We were reasonably sure based on the flavortext that (a) we needed to use country flags, (b) we needed to view the cube as a circuit with resistors (likely reinterpreting three-stripe flags as color codes), and (c) we needed to generate the missing stardate to get one more Star Trek episode (that part wasn’t true). But we were fixated on extracting countries from the meta answers rather than the regular puzzle answers (did you know EMANATIONS contains all of the letters in ESTONIA?). Over time, some of us got tired of the meta-meta and worked on other puzzles to keep ourselves interested; then, sometime around noon, someone spotted the country codes in the puzzle answers. From here, we did exactly what we were supposed to, simulating the circuit in a computer program, but it wasn’t giving us anything useful. It turns out that one of the voltage drops was coded in backward; essentially, Philip had plugged in a virtual battery backward (forgive me if that’s not the right interpretation, I haven’t taken E&M in almost twenty years). We called in the answer (at 2:42pm), had the somewhat intense discussion alluded to in Part 1 of this post, and then we helped Miss Terry Hunt find the coin. And that’s what the metapuzzle structure was like for me.

One more post to come, with some comments on particular (non-meta) puzzles I solved.


2018 MIT Mystery Hunt, Part 2: My Meta Experience

(This is a recap/review of the 2018 MIT Mystery Hunt, which happened this month. Puzzles and solutions can currently be found here. This recap will contain spoilers on many metapuzzles.)

I mentioned in my previous post that to me the most exciting thing about Mystery Hunt is finding the most efficient way to navigate the structure. This leads to my spending just as much time, if not more, staring at a blackboard full of answers as opposed to solving individual puzzles. I think of this as “strategic”… A passing observer might characterize it as “lazy,” which is probably occasionally accurate in moments that I’m not fully awake. (Though I worked on a fair share of individual puzzles, which I plan to talk about in the next post.)

As we solved emotion puzzles from the intro round, various members of the team made various bits of progress on the five metapuzzles. I focused on Fear, as I’d guessed from “medical emergency” that the words and phrases appeared in the Health & Safety guide (as had other team members) and I thought it was pretty significant that the small-word answers we had like “except” only appeared once. I correctly looked at the words after the answer words, and unfortunately, our first four gave the words “locations,” “of,” and “lost,” which sounded like parts of a useful phrase. We tried putting these words in the guide order, but they didn’t make a meaningful phrase, so I kept trying to rearrange them… meanwhile another group of team members thought of looking at the acrostic and got the right answer. We actually solved our emotion metas in a pretty narrow period of time: according to our Activity Log, we called in Sadness at 4:16, Joy at 4:26 (after incorrectly trying BUCK UP), Fear at 4:28, and both Anger and Disgust at 4:40 literally five seconds apart (we didn’t get a Disgust interaction, as Anger brought us our item from Disgust).

We were surprised that solving all of the emotion metas didn’t immediately open an island; we had to go back and solve a bunch of additional puzzles to pump up our brainpower, though we did get our first island (Hacking) open at 4:52. I did some backsolving cleanup and was proud of myself for getting ASCENSION based on some letter information and the book requirement for Joy; I did, however, convince myself that Beast Workshop’s answer would surely have GORILLA in the answer, as a homophone for GUERRILLA, which, like KNIGHTLY, is eight letters and has an L as its 7th letter. Well, it does if you spell it wrong. Let’s move on, nothing to see here.

Presumably due to a backup on interactions (planning to send five visits to every team during the first round is ambitious!), we didn’t actually unlock the Brainstorm until 6:28. Like many teams, judging by what I see elsewhere, we brought back the five words and thought we needed to solve them; eventually someone found the instruction that said to just enter them as a string (although there was some text elsewhere that seemed to contradict that), and thankfully we did that. It was a little underwhelming, especially because this would have been a nice opportunity to “solve” the logo (we tried taking shared letters at the points where colored regions met).

We had been eating dinner when the Brainstorm happened, and afterward I went back to trying to fill in letters into the chutes and ladders grid for the Scout meta. Before dinner we only had two answers that overlapped, and they fit into two places. I had noted (to Josh Oratz, I think) that in one place they could make ?XO???????? if you read upward, and I brainstormed out loud “EXOSKELETON?” After dinner we had a second overlap that only fit in one place and blocked one of the options for the first pair. Josh was thankfully still around and said, “Look, it is EXOSKELETON!” which I had not noticed. After calling this in, I fit in the rest of our answers and determined that the other two should be of the form L????A?? and PE??????L. The latter seemed like it could only be PERSONNEL, PERENNIAL, or PERPETUAL. The folks working on Murder at the Asylum pointed out that the answer was likely to be nine letters long, and PERSONNEL seemed thematic, so we guessed that at 10:47pm. It was incorrect. We’ll come back to that.

I hadn’t left HQ in a while, so I decided to participate in the Scouting Challenge with some other alums. We definitely missed some pictures early on, because when we finished we had the string TTNOONE. We were going to retrace our steps when I suggested the answer might be TRUST NO ONE, and we called that in and confirmed it, saving us some time. When we returned to HQ, James Douberley was coming by to visit… I whispered “Trust no one!” to him, and he laughed politely with a look that suggested he didn’t know what the hell I was talking about.

We had a second island open by now, and I wasn’t really following the Pokemon structure other than hearing that there were puzzles and harder evolved puzzles. I participated in the solving of You Know What’s Missing (without urinating) and Mass Aid (uggggh) and helped wheel-of-fortune out the answer to the Advertiser meta (from 2/5 answers, I think) after someone else worked out the extraction. Around 11:30pm I decided it was a good time to go back to the hotel and sleep.

I probably got about 5.5 hours of sleep in and returned to HQ around 6:30am. I was shocked that we still didn’t have a third island open, particularly since the organizers had bumped up the requirement for said island due to points flowing too quickly. They had actually called us, since we were (in their words) “very close” to opening a third, to make sure we wouldn’t think that was unfair. I didn’t realize that was going to result in six more hours with only two islands! We were close now, so after being sad about missing the MLS puzzle overnight and circling the word CONIFER in CONFINED AQUIFER, I noticed everyone had given up on Murder at the Asylum. I talked through some of it with the half dozen people in the room but eventually decided I needed to go out in the seating area in the hall to try to concentrate on solving it frontward. It’s a great puzzle but it took a loooong time; from the Log, it looks like it was hours, though I didn’t think it was *that* long. I never fully worked out the murderers/accomplices, but I got enough information to squeeze out the answer ALTERNATE. That’s weird, that’s not PE??????L or L????A??. The printout I made of the chutes & ladders board had been thrown away, so I filled in a new one and discovered I’d left out a letter. With ALTERNATE confirmed, I realized that the PE??????L options were now valid for 10000-Puzzle Tesseract, which lots of people had put time into without finishing. We tried all three, and the last one PERSONNEL was correct at 9:37am… almost eleven hours after we’d tried it on the other unsolved puzzle. Major. Backsolve. Fail. On the bright side, this was just enough brainpower to open up Games Island.

This is getting quite long, so I’ll wrap up this post and continue in Part 3.

2018 MIT Mystery Hunt, Part 1: General Thoughts

(This is a recap/review of the 2018 MIT Mystery Hunt, which happened this month. Puzzles and solutions can currently be found here. This recap may contain spoilers, but I’ll try to avoid them where possible, especially for puzzles I recommend.)

Going into this weekend as a member of Setec Astronomy, I did not expect my team to win the Mystery Hunt. Some of my teammates were taking a more relaxed approach, although I pretty much only have one intensity setting at Hunt; for me, the most fun thing about a puzzlehunt of the size and complexity of Mystery Hunt is figuring out the most efficient way to get from Point A to Point C (for coin) through strategic puzzle-solving, meta-cracking, backsolving, and time management. Navigating the Hunt itself is the most interesting puzzle of all.

On Sunday, after grappling with the final Sci-Fi Island metapuzzle for about five or six hours (for those on the construction team who asked, we were NOT stalling; we were missing a key insight for more than half that time, and then once we implemented the right thing, it gave us garbage output due to a technical error we didn’t find for quite a while), it became apparent we were about to win the Hunt, and we had a conversation about that. My philosophy, which I acknowledged is not every participant’s philosophy, is that if you choose to be on a team strong enough to win the Hunt, you owe it to the community to write the Hunt if you’re the fastest team to reach a point where you can finish. Members of our team had lots of different perspectives and conclusions, but the vast majority agreed, for one reason or another, that we should finish what we started, and we surprisingly found ourselves in charge of next year’s Hunt. Again.

We learned a lot writing in 2017, and we have yet another data point in seeing this year’s Hunt and how it worked from our perspective (and I hope to hear how it went for other teams). There are some things we’ll try to do again, there are some things we’ll try to do differently, and there are some things that will be much easier having done them recently (I know TK is super-psyched that most of the Hunt website code already exists in a form he understands). We’ll probably lose some members, we might gain some members, and our Hunt may be very different than the one many of you just solved. But like every construction team, our goal will be to produce an event that everyone enjoys, and we’ll do our best to achieve that goal.

But enough about 2019, what about 2018? My favorite Hunt of all time, the 2011 Hunt (Video Games) felt in many ways like an improved form of the 2009 Hunt (Zyzzlvaria) taking a lot of the bolder innovations of that Hunt and presenting them in a more effective way. Similarly, I thought that this year’s Hunt felt very much like an improved version of the 2013 Hunt (coin heist); the rounds had complex structures, often with multiple tiers and/or multiple metapuzzles, and the metapuzzles themselves often involved elaborate procedures as opposed to a simple aha about the feeder answers. I was thinking this long before we opened the Sci-Fi Island (which was our fourth), so I already made a connection to the 2013 Hunt before another six-sided-cube-with-overlapping-metapuzzles appeared!

There were at least three big improvements over 2013, however: (1) Puzzle quality across the board was a lot higher. Puzzle concepts were bold and creative, and execution seemed clean. 2013’s Hunt only ended on Monday because the organizers handed out puzzle answers like candy; this year the first completion happened later than Death & Mayhem (Life & Order) expected, but it happened organically (by the end we could afford to “buy” two free answers, and we just bought one to make our last meta solve easier). (2) While the metapuzzles were often very difficult, they were reasonable. All four of the top-level metas were complex but none of them took hours of processing; if we had all of the answers and knew what to do, they would not be a slog. (3) I found the theme (at least the main theme) very engrossing; Inside Out is fantastic source material, and the production values in the kickoff and final runaround were ridiculously high.

If you can’t tell, I liked this Hunt a lot… there were a couple of two-hour periods where I felt useless and a little frustrated, but the Hunt never felt unfair, and most of the time it was a lot of fun. My biggest complaint was that the island themes felt pretty random and a bit disappointing. The Hacking round, which we opened first, seemed like a labor of love clearly designed by people familiar with MIT hacking culture, and the tier filled with physical puzzles was very cool. We opened Pokemon next, and the structure of that round was neat, but “Pokemon” and “hacking” don’t really seem like items in the same category. We could tell from the “preview text” that our third island was going to be Catan-themed, and ultimately I didn’t really buy it as “Games Island,” since it wasn’t really about general games. And as for the Sci-Fi Island, the cube structure’s been done, and a space fiction theme that unites lots of different existing properties is a great Hunt theme… which is why we used it in 2009. The point made at wrap-up that these were different chronological stages of Terry’s life made them feel more related, but I didn’t grasp that at all during the Hunt when it matters most. I was definitely expecting the islands to be either closer to the Inside Out plot or themed around other Pixar films, and I think either of these would have resulted in a more cohesive Hunt. This was a great Hunt, but the stitches in the overall structure were showing.

One intriguing decision by the organizers was to allow solving teams to choose the order of the round unlocks, which hasn’t been done since 2004. (For anybody who heard James mention the “Vatican Effect” at the wrapup and didn’t know what that means, in 2004 you could choose which round you’d unlock next, and the organizers thought solvers would likely open rounds in numerical order… but the highest-numbered and hardest round was visually closest to the opening round on the visual map, and so many teams chose that thinking they were supposed to.) This “choose-your-own-adventure” approach has been brought up in multiple years when I wrote, and I’ve always opposed it out of fear that solvers who choose the “wrong” order might get bottlenecked and get screwed out of the opportunity to win by random bad luck. It also gives the organizers less control over when solvers encounter key concepts… When we were dealing with the scavenger hunt, we wondered how frustrating it would be to open said scavenger hunt in one of the last unlocked rounds, since we had to send team members home to gather stuff. From talking to other teams at wrap-up, I can confirm it would be very frustrating.

This got discussed a little bit at wrap-up, but I was hoping for a lot more information. What order did you open the rounds and why? And do you think it helped or hindered your progress? I’m glad someone had the guts to try this in a year where I wouldn’t be responsible for the result, and I’d love to hear how it affected your experiences.

Coming soon: More posts on my personal Hunt experience with the metas and sleep (or lack thereof) and some notes about puzzles I particularly liked or wanted to throttle for one reason or another. If there are things you particularly liked or disliked this year that you hope next year’s team will preserve or change, chime in via the comments; I can’t guarantee any/all requests will be honored, but I’m pretty confident that next year’s constructors will at least hear about your feedback.