Checking In, Recent & Upcoming Events

Last time I posted, I said the new WordPress interface would take some getting used to. Then I didn’t post for three months, so I clearly didn’t get used to it. (My absence has not been due to an inability to use this website, and it certainly hasn’t been due to a lack of quality puzzle events… teaching in 2020 is a draining experience, and I’ve rarely felt relaxed enough to type hundreds of words about puzzling.)

I’m mostly checking in to mention two events in the next two weeks that might fly under the radar since they’re not written by well-known constructors. Tomorrow night marks the beginning of Daro & Caro’s Pixar Puzzle Hunt, which is advertised as 15ish puzzles and a meta for teams of 3-6. I don’t know the authors and have no idea how strong the puzzles will be, but some friends and I have a regular Friday puzzles/trivia meetup, so we plan to give this a whirl, at least at the beginning. The website’s pretty, even if the font wouldn’t be my first choice…

Then next weekend, starting on Saturday (hopefully the same day that the New England Revolution will be winning their first MLS Cup, Final Four, baby!) is CRUMS, which is written by some friends of mine I met solving puzzles at Brown in events like MUMS and SUMS. This is actually the second CRUMS, and the first one was not publicized and only had something like 4-6 teams compete (one of which was just me solving solo), but it had some really nice puzzles that showed promise. I’m intrigued by the fact that this is scheduled for a week but only has six puzzles and a meta. That’s a long time for a short slate of puzzles, and it’s interesting that they claim to be similar to late-stage rather than early-stage SUMS/MUMS puzzles.

A lot of good events have happened while I was too busy to post, most notably two previously hyped October events, Puzzle Boat 7 and Matt & Emma’s Birthday Bash (teammatehunt). Both of these were excellent, and both took longer than expected; in both cases my team hoped to polish them off in a weekend, and in both cases we needed a day or two extra to wrap things up. Beforehand I tried to predict which I’d enjoy more, and my guess was teammatehunt, since I expected the puzzles to be harder on average, and in my “you kids get off of my lawn” stage of puzzledom, I’ve seen a lot and want to be challenged. I think that was accurate, but Puzzle Boat, in addition to having many more puzzles to contend with, had some VERY tough metapuzzles! It also left me really wanting to play The World According To Ubi.

The Birthday Bash made me acutely aware that my puzzlehunt theme inclinations are cynical to an unhealthy degree… I always assume that if the theme is going to take a turn, it’s going to be in a dark direction, and thus I was convinced we were going to be solving a Five Nights at Freddy’s hunt. But no, even though there was a bigger theme than initially implied, it was fun and friendly and non-menacing. (I had the same experience with Penny Park in the 2020 Mystery Hunt… when is the other shoe going to drop? It’s not. It’s an amusement park. Chill out, Dan.)

In any case, the puzzles were generally excellent, and while they were quite hard as expected, and we did get bottlenecked on a few (hence the needing the extra days, as well as one hint to confirm that we should keep doing what we were doing on Connect The Dots), I had a blast. It very effectively filled the hole in this year’s schedule vacated by the Galactic Puzzle Hunt… teammate hunt had a lot of similar sensibilities, which makes sense since they’re written by sibling Mystery Hunt teams. I know teammate aren’t the ones writing the 2021 Hunt, but if the two are anything alike, I’ll be very happy with this year’s atypical event. (And teammate did very well in the 2020 Hunt, so maybe they’ll be writing 2022? If they can beat Test Solution Bees Ignore, who won both of the October events and have been terrifyingly effective on online puzzlehunts recently.)

On a much smaller scale, Jackie and I had a lot of fun solving CMU’s Oregon Trail Hunt as a pair; this wasn’t anywhere near as involved as the other events, but it made for an enjoyable low-key afternoon. If you’re looking for something to solve on your own for fun, the October hunts might be too intimidating, but I’d recommend giving this one a try. The most recent issue of P&A was also breezy, with the top ten filling up (I think) within the first two hours!

I won’t say which of the above hunts they were in, but this fall I solved puzzlehunt puzzles about Pokemon and Hanabi (both of which are hobbies I do not enjoy) and liked both of them a lot. Maybe 2020 isn’t the darkest timeline after all. Everyone be safe.

6 thoughts on “Checking In, Recent & Upcoming Events

  1. Serious question: why do you think scheduling a week is “a long time”? Not all of us take the view that it’s a race! I rather appreciate the idea that they are not going to be simply closing down after two days and posting answers. (And I think that’s part of the MIT Mystery Hunt “tradition” as much as anything else, and I’m not convinced that the MH is necessarily a good model for anyone else to follow!)

    Sure, if there is an expectation of an interactive hint service then yes, it wouldn’t be possible to run something like that 24/7 for the duration, but I think that’s a different part of the discussion that isn’t really related to the hunt itself. [And I think this can be a big flaw in some hunts that work on the basis of providing an interactive hint service, which means that anyone who wants to have a go later is denied access to hinting options and is reduced to having to consult the “full solution”.]

    But back on the timescale thing: when you consider an issue of Panda, do you think that someone who comes along later and takes a month to slowly solve it, is not having as much fun as the folk who open it on publication day and finish it within, say, 24 hours? I mean, I’m never going to be in the “top ten” list but I usually get there in the end. I mean, the same is true of a newspaper crossword after all. Some folk zip through them; others prefer to come-and-go. Is one of those methods inherently ‘better’ than the other?

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    • I definitely don’t think solving at a casual pace is inherently a worse experience than solving competitively. I have my preference for what I enjoy, you have yours, and I’m not trying to attack anybody’s sense of fun and never have been.

      The vast majority of online hunts over the last decade-plus have had “scoring windows” open that were proportionate to how long the constructors expect active teams to spend on the event. Hunts like CMU and this past weekend’s Pixar Puzzle Hunt (which I’m pleased to report was quite good) are scheduled for a weekend before they release solutions and stop keeping score, and bigger events like teammate and Galactic have advertised a week because they may take longer than a weekend even for many focused teams. In particular, CRUMS is somewhat inspired by the Australian Hunts, MUMS and SUMS (hence the name), which both traditionally allocated a little over a week to 20-25 puzzles, so advertising the same length for 6 puzzles is notable, and is longer than I’d expect based on historical data.

      Thus the ratio here is very different from the norm. I’m not saying that’s bad (I never called it “too long”), but it’s unusual. And given that the window length tends to be illustrative of the length/difficulty, I think it suggests the puzzle difficulty might be quite high. That’s all I’m saying.

      I’m also a big advocate of constructors making their puzzles permanently accessible so that as many people as possible can enjoy them in the format they want, but there is a friction between solvers who want to be able to browse all the puzzles after a time, regardless of whether they solved earlier ones, and solvers who want the website to continue to document their progress, offer hints, et cetera. It’s not trivial to offer both of these at once on the same website, and I think it’s up to the constructor to decide when things “change over” to a static presentation. Solvers who like to take their time should be able to solve what they want when they want, but I don’t think they should demand to be provided with an interactive experience indefinitely.

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      • The team I do online hunts with is small, spread over time zones, and has a lot of non-puzzle responsibilities going on. (For example I’m a west coast parent who doesn’t puzzle with my partner so most of my puzzling time ends up being after my kids are in bed… when my east coast puzzle buddies are often already asleep.) Once in a while I get to plan to entirely bow out of parenting responsibilities to get to do puzzles live with friends, and I generally get to do that for most of Mystery Hunt, but it’s a big request to make of my wife!

        We generally solve puzzle boat in 1-3 months at a casual pace. Galactic and Teammate have actually been big challenges here: we’re skilled enough that we could theoretically finish these hunts given more time, but in practice I end up losing a bunch of sleep staying up late (often still by myself) midweek so that we can just barely not open the metameta.

        Of course I know it’s a huge amount of work to provide hints and other support for these hunts and wouldn’t demand that they be longer just for teams like us! I was a bit worried about just having 48 hours for the Pixar hunt; in practice this meant I solved the whole hunt in two nights by myself since there wasn’t going to be enough to time for my team to overlap with each other. Which was certainly fun but differently fun from solving with friends.

        My point is, I’m pretty excited about the idea of a hunt with only six puzzles that’s designed to be tackled over the course of a whole week! That seems really up our alley — not so trivial that we’ll finish it on the first day we look at it, but something we can work our way through partially synchronously and partially async. A puzzle of GPH-ish puzzles that we’ll hopefully actually finish? Looking forward to it!

        (Really it’s our fault for not growing our team to like 5 or 6 regulars instead of just 3.)

        By the way, having just finished Puzzle Boat for the first time without any hints, it is nice to see you describe the metas which we eventually solved as very tough 🙂

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      • I wasn’t really trying to suggest that you were attacking anyone’s idea of “fun” – I was merely trying to raise an issue that is perhaps sometimes overlooked at the “expert solvers” end of the spectrum, and, thinking further, I wonder if it is partially about the puzzle release process as much as anything.

        I would note that I rather appreciated the fact that all the Pixar Hunt puzzles were effectively “open” at the start (let’s leave the meta aside for a moment.) This meant that my small and casual team got to see all of it. (The same is true of the SUMS format, where they release things in fixed slots.) Whereas, e.g. we only saw part of the second section of the Birthday Bash, and ISTR being very surprised to discover that the last Galactic hunt had a whole final stage beyond the one we reached!
        Now I realise that this is partly to avoid information overload (the worst part of any MIT weekend for a mid-table team is possibly the moment on Sunday when there’s suddenly a deluge of puzzles released!) but it feels skewed towards the more competitive teams and can leave some of us feeling as though we’re not considered as important (even though I know that’s absolutely not the case.)

        Of course, as someone who does a bit of setting themselves and has always used what might perhaps best be called the Panda format of having a block of 12 or so puzzles all immediately available from the start, I am probably a little biased towards this approach rather than the unlock approach, as unlocking can get immensely frustrating if you don’t get it right. And hey, it’s rare for anyone to make the classic “linear” mistake these days (cough, Pixar meta 2, cough) outside of folk who came into it via things like pron.

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      • For what it’s worth, I have a strong preference for hunts with unlock structures over ones where you get everything at once. There are two reasons for that:

        1) I like the optimization aspect of the puzzlehunt as a single deep puzzle, where the goal is to get from Point A to Point B as efficiently as possible. People in the past have implied that if I want to skip some of the puzzles, I must not actually like puzzles… not true! It’s just that my favorite type of puzzle is solving things from incomplete information. So I enjoy working out what the unlock structure is, and how it can be approached most effectively… a lot of that gets lost in a structure where you start with everything you’re ever going to have.

        2) When you have all of the puzzles from the beginning, there are no exciting reveals left… I know all the puzzles I’m going to get, and if I’m instinctively drawn to the things I like most, I’m going to be left with what I like least, and that won’t change. Opening something new is an extra rush; this is especially true with new rounds in a larger hunt and especially especially themed rounds… in the 2019 Mystery Hunt, we hoped that the theme/structure would build anticipation about what new holidays were coming, and hopefully excitement to see each new one. That effect gets lost if you just give everybody all the holidays at once, overload or not. But I understand that not everyone solves these events with that feeling as a priority.

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      • I do wonder if it is partially due to this being a field with insufficient ‘academic’ insight. By which I mean broad examination of systems and structures, the assumptions that underlie them and whether or not those assumptions are built on tradition rather more than evidence. And that as a result, it is possible that some things have been built on uncertain foundations, but that we have accepted them because “that’s the way it has always been done”. (Consider the evolution of Escape Rooms, where second-generation rooms were generally variants of first-generation rooms, and third-generation rooms were subversions of the tropes, because they were now tropes, but there are some folk who are now doing completely radical things because the space has grown to a point that they are not coming from inside the “tradition”. I don’t think that really has happened with puzzlehunts yet, even though it’s an older field.)

        I completely take your point – and yes, I imagine that there is a significant subgroup of puzzlers who see the “incomplete information” aspect as being perhaps the point of the exercise, especially as a hunt becomes bigger and bigger meaning that aspect becomes more central. And I’m certainly not advocating for some sort of removal of that process! It would be a disaster for, say, the MIT hunt to ‘unlock’ everything up front, both for the reasons you propose (the optimisation and the thrill of the reveal) and for the actual existential horror of the size of it…

        And, as a side note, I wonder if it’s also partly what I have come to consider the “Microsoft” (or, rather, the “Windows”) problem, which is that there are now three basic categories of PC users: casual, experienced and expert. But there is really no way that one single OS can handle all of them. Have we now progressed to the point where this applies to Puzzlehunts too?

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