(This is a recap/review of the 2021 MIT Mystery Hunt, which happened this month. Puzzles and solutions can currently be found here. This recap may contain spoilers.)
Here are some comments on some memorable puzzles I worked on in this year’s Hunt (memorable because I liked them, or found them frustrating, or have interesting stores about them, etc.). Naturally it doesn’t include everything I solved or tried to solve. Let’s start with metapuzzles, shall we?
This was a great example of a metapuzzle that was likely inspired by the theme (in this case the dorm name), rather than an independent idea wedged into a round. By the time I looked at it, Philip had already associated the four answers we had with distributions and worked out which columns corresponded to which distributions (with which parameters) but his indices were giving garbage because we were trying to use two letters every time there were two parameters. Eventually I noticed that if we only used the max for our second uniform distribution, we could make the answer end in SPONGES, which felt like a good fit for the meta prompt. But then we were trying to use just the max for all of the uniform spots; eventually it dawned on us that each of the two-parameter disributions happened to occur twice, and we did the right thing and solved with 4/6. Three cheers for a random data generator puzzle that didn’t give me significant Fifty Fifty PTSD.
A while later, Jackie and I returned to the puzzle to try to backsolve the remaining answers and came up with HABITUAL, but then we found that we had solved the puzzle with that answer about twenty minutes after solving the meta… I’m not sure if that was done forward or backward. (Our wild guess for Beta was PRODUCTION PHASE, which was not too far off.)
I wasn’t very involved in the other dorm feeder metas… the Dorm Row metas were solved by a bunch of folks in a breakout room that tore through them in sequence like a chainsaw cutting through a sequence of metapuzzles, and I spent a lot of time brainstorming on East Campus without much success. I did get involved with the group working on the overall Student Center, and when someone suggested elements (I forget what got us there, because I’m not sure we noticed the earth/wind/air/fire motif), I immediately came up with what a bunch of the clubs might represent, and in particular, suggesting that the Honor Society might be noble gases was a good way to confirm both the name-length concept and the mechanics for some of the other clubs.
I thought the matching process was just the right difficulty (we made steady progress without feeling stuck, partially through good use of the column filter function on Google Sheets to view all of the students in a certain club), and the extraction worked the way we expected, once we remembered we had a bunch of sets of four students to work with. My only complaint is that, as a Senior Haus alum, I wanted some kind of Sport Death reference to show up in the overall meta answer and hijack the proceedings. (Thanks for putting us in the scavenger hunt, at least.)
Athletics (Basketball, Athletics)
This was probably my most significant contribution to meta solving and thus to our team’s progress. Jeff and I were around when the Basketball meta got opened (thanks to a solve of You Will Explode, I believe), and after brainstorming ideas, I made the prescient comment, “If I were a bunch of nerds who didn’t know anything about basketball, and I had to write a meta about basketball, it would be about Space Jam.” I thought I was joking, but fortunately I checked the Wikipedia article to see which players were in Space Jam, and the teams matching up (including a little Hornets jersey for Muggsy Bogues) confirmed that we were clearly on the right track. I assumed there was a way to match the answers to Nerdlucks, but we never found the hidden characters; we just looked for ways to place the answers so that the index numbers weren’t too high (we were missing the longest answer from Divided Is You that could have gone anywhere), and once we got an SQU at the beginning, we were off to the races.
Since that was our third sports meta solve (you know, in 2007 when we wrote a sports-themed round, people yelled at us), we then opened Athletics, and noticing the unusual letters at the beginnings of answers plus the 5×5 grid, we got to Playfair square pretty quickly. Once we noticed the prime/square/gaps element in the feeder metas, we were able to deduce that the Z must go somewhere in the keyword, somebody noticed that PUZLE would fit nicely (they said it would if PUZZLE only had one Z, but I remembered how you deal with repeated letters in a Playfair keyword), and we managed to get PUZZLE NAMES and then decode our way to the answer with about four missing answers.
Putting everything in the right place in the Playfair felt like a series of leaps of faith… We knew after solving Basketball that we had skipped a step, and I thought it was likely that we skipped one for Athletics too that might tell us in what order we should fill in the primes, squares, etc. But judging from the wrap-up, we were supposed to do the off-the-cuff grid filling that we did. Considering that, this meta feels quite hard to me. Even though it didn’t take us that long once we had it open, I’m curious how this played for other teams.
As noted in my previous post, we never made it past the Giga level before it was pity-unlocked for us once Palindrome found the coin. (A member of my team would like to correct me and say that some people did consider that the goal might be to backsolve, but I know that as recently as Sunday I was still saying I didn’t know where we’d submit the answer if we did solve the meta, and nobody corrected me and said the goal was to somehow “solve” Twins. We did understand roughly how the Rule of Three meta should work, and we’d even considered TWIX as a possible feeder answer, which for some reason we called in for two of our unsolved puzzles and yet not the one it actually went with.
When I woke up on Monday morning, we were down to a couple of puzzles (one of which, the Super Mario Maker puzzle, I solved after applying rested eyes to someone else’s partial data; by the way, we did have some team members with MM2, but on principle, throttling a team for hours because they don’t own a particular video game is not cool), and this meta, so in the end everybody was looking at it at the same time. Our big problem was that we essentially refused to move the arrows to positions that didn’t start in the circle’s center… we rotated and scaled all over the place, but didn’t translate them until we got a hint (which suggested “moving” them, which was general enough that it convinced us not to just rotate). I feel like we should have figured this out on our own for two reasons. First, one of the arrows is too long to point to anything from the center; we thought this meant we had to rescale it or point to somewhere else as a final answer, but we should have noticed it was small enough to point from one part of the seal to another. And second, I had already recorded my first multivariable calculus lecture for the semester, which explicitly talked about how the starting point of a vector could be relocated while still representing the same vector.
One of the possible rotations of the arrows sends the long arrow through the Y on the seal and lands on the Harvard Bridge. And of course, even though the bridge is outside the One.MIT circle, there is a name on it. So Galactic, if you’re wondering why you got a few guesses for answers starting with T and associated with Oliver Smoot, that’s what happened.
This was the second of the two metapuzzles we had left on Sunday night, and it got solved overnight with help from a hint. This hint mainly just shook us loose from two blind alleys we had hurtled ourselves down to varying degrees. One was noticing (correctly) that the first letters of the puzzle titles were A-G, and instead of viewing this as early entries in two alphabets, some of us decided we should somehow apply flats and sharps to them to form a chromatic scale. I was pretty skeptical of this, although some teammates made the point that “clusters” can refer to a bunch of notes that are close together.
The other was convincing ourselves that the grid-like map of the institute should be used as some sort of crossword grid for entering something (likely the translated answers, which started generating right away). I think I suggested this first and was willing to abandon it, but when someone pointed out that mousing over the puzzles on the round page lit up cluster locations on the grid, it seemed like there was no way we should ignore this setup. Until someone submitted a hint request, and we were basically told that two of the things we were staring at were irrelevant for solving.
There are two entertaining takeaways from this: (1) Our Clusters solve was impacted by tunnel vision, but as far as I’m aware, we had no cluster vision problem on our Tunnels solve. And (2) Setec got stuck on a late meta partially because we DID notice a mouse-over feature on the website. (Revel in that, 2005 Hunters.)
This is getting pretty long already, so I’ll upload what I have and save the non-metapuzzles for a third post.