Recap: Miskatonic University Game, Part 5

(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.

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.

Bad morning!

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.




Recap: Miskatonic University Game, Part 4

(This is a recap/review of the Miskatonic University Game, which happened on August 15-18. Puzzles and solutions are not currently online but should be posted eventually, likely here. This post will likely contain spoilers.)

I was just ranting on a Slack about how online things related to puzzlehunts should be posted as soon as possible after the event, because as time goes by, constructor willingness to deal with the event decreases exponentially. Then I realized that applies to me as a blogger as well, and I should get back to Miskatonicking ASAP.

Obligatory me update since I don’t have a non-puzzlehunt blog to speak of: September is busy as always, since my job for the math department includes a ton of administration and placement advising that peaks when a ton of first-year students arrive at once. Looking forward to my first lull in mid-October after my first round of exams. Also hoping the Revolution have limped into the playoffs by then (currently 7th of 7 playoff teams, with control of their own destiny but not a lot of room for error).

The next stop after the solve-by-sulking puzzle I mentioned last time was a bit more on-theme; if we were going to playing an occult game north of Boston, surely we’d be seeing some witch trial sites, and we were directed to the Witchcraft Victim Memorial in Danvers. The first wordplay stage of this puzzle gave us a message telling us to “peel” the cards, and we discovered that one side of the cards could be removed (not easily, which was presumably so people wouldn’t discover this by accident), revealing white lines that could be arranged to form a path. We got very stuck on this stage for a long time; we couldn’t decide what letters, if any, to place on the path, and we did consider trying to peel the other sides of the cards, but it clearly didn’t work. After a while, constructor Joe wandered over to check on us and asked what we’d done, and he suggested that no, we weren’t done peeling the cards… and if you think one side was hard to get off, don’t get me started about the other side. The other peeled side had some delightfully subtle vanished letters, and finally we had letters to spell an answer word.

Onward to… wherever we wanted for dinner, as we were given a jigsaw puzzle to take with us and solve at the location of our choice. As noted earlier, everybody else on the team had scoffed at my mention of McDonald’s earlier, and yet here we were at one for the second time, mainly because we figured it would be a good place to be able to claim some space and leave whenever we were ready. This was one of those artisan jigsaw puzzles with pieces that fit together unusually and custom-sea-creature-shaped pieces (which had been sneakily removed). The actual image was simply of NATO flags, which are mostly solid colors, so it was difficult to assemble. It was even harder to assemble on the table we chose, which had weird flashing colored lights and was likely intended to entertain children while they ate their McNuggets. It also entertained this adult while he ate his McNuggets.

Fortunately, we didn’t get dessert at McDonald’s, partially because even I think McDonald’s dessert is wretched (hey, McDonald’s, sponsor my blog [insert awkward pause while I have a Mandela Effect moment and double check whether “McDonald’s” has an apostrophe… yes it does, I’m not crazy, you’re crazy) and partially because our next stop was Richardson’s Ice Cream, a huge ice cream stand in Middleton. (This place looked super-familiar, and I just confirmed that Jackie and I went there with my brother and his soon-to-be-wife a few years ago.) The puzzle at this location was a set of three rolling block mazes with convoluted and amusing shared rules. Concerned we might still be running behind the pack leaders, we decided to replace our initial puzzles-then-ice-cream plan by splitting up into Team Go Get Ice Cream and Team Solve The Damn Puzzle. I ended up with the first of three puzzles, and teammates took the second and third. Each puzzle spit out letters as you advanced far enough through the maze, and my maze had the most (three) but it also branched the least and was probably intended to be the tutorial. By the time I got two out of three letters (CH_) we’d pulled one out of two letters on each of the others (C_) and (E_), and we chose the correct option out of several words that could have fit that pattern. We submitted the answer right as ice cream reinforcements were arriving. You can tell Richardson’s is a quality ice cream vendor because a “small” cup contains enough ice cream to feed the population of Kazakhstan.

The next stop was one of the more immersive locations, a police-taped-off crime scene showing outlines of dismembered Scooby Doo characters (in the parking lot of the local NRA chapter– ick). I have no idea how quickly Todd ID’d that those were the relevant characters, but it happened before the end of a quick phone call to Jackie, and I think it would have taken me at least another hour. There was another nice aha here, as the letters that were spelling the names of famous dancers helped us realize that we were assembling “Dancing Men” cipher figures. I don’t remember much about the subsequent stop except that the puzzle was given to us in a milk carton, we split up a Gashlycrumb Tinies diagramless by having half of us solve it top-down and the others bottom-up, and we were driven into our van to solve this because the location was overrun by mosquitoes. It is a miracle that I don’t have EEE.

The next location was built out of a retired train car, although the car itself was full, so we opted to solve on some benches outside (again, how do I not have EEE?). The first puzzle we were given was a constraint-based 3-D jigsaw, which was not easy to parallelize, so some of our team members spent the time chatting with Here Be Dagons (they changed it from Dragons in the spirit of Lovecraft) members on a nearby bench. This puzzle was quite challenging, and while it took us a while, I think we did well with it. [This is where I look at the solve times and… yeah, not so well after all.] We next unlocked the metapuzzle, and this is when we were unwittingly skipped past a bonus puzzle. We’d stopped at a Whole Foods a puzzle or two ago for the benefit of those that didn’t stuff their face with McDonald’s, and it appears that we were seven minutes short of being allowed to tackle the bonus puzzle. Next time, no eating. Anyway, the metapuzzle was nice. I don’t vividly remember it now, but I must have understood it at the time, because we tied for fastest team to solve it, and a few hours later Sarah had me hint a team on it.

We were told that our next location was the “overnight location,” another hub where we’d be solving a bunch of stuff. This was thematically the invite-only frat party, and we were the first team to arrive. At the time, this made us feel like badasses, because we thought we’d finally passed everybody. In fact, we’d solved one puzzle less than The Gray Old Ones, who walked in a few minutes later. GOOs, if we looked smug, know that we now know our place. But I’m glad we got there early, because one of the puzzles at this location was outside, and there was a massive storm brewing. Would we solve the puzzles? Would we keep the partially unearned “lead”? Would we make it out alive? Tune in next time! (Spoiler: I am alive.)

Recap: Miskatonic University Game, Part 3

(This is a recap/review of the Miskatonic University Game, which happened on August 15-18. Puzzles and solutions are not currently online but should be posted eventually, likely here. This post will likely contain spoilers.)

Happy Labor Day! Two days ago, Jackie and I won the prize division of this year’s Labor Day Extravaganza, the Revs salvaged a tie, and I have not, to date, died of a mosquito-borne disease. Decent Saturday.

So before I continue with the Miskatonic recap, let me comment on two big picture things. At the end of Part 2, I mentioned that we were surprised to be solving yet another puzzle in Newburyport; all of the puzzles happening within walking distance were feeling a lot like a BAPHL (or DASH or DCPHR for those of you who don’t live in Boston). The structure of this Game did seemed like it was based primarily around a handful of BAPHL-like robust locations (the Castle Friday night, Newburyport Saturday morning, the overnight location I can’t remember the name of right now, and then downtown Boston on Sunday) with a smattering of one-puzzle locations between the big nodes.

On one hand, I totally understand the advantages of that setup from a construction perspective; there are probably only so many locations that can accommodate many teams, so you want to make use of those locations as much as possible if you have them, and it’s also probably easier to skip teams past puzzles when the puzzle after the next puzzle is within walking distance. On the other hand, as a New Englander who’s spoiled by having 2ish local walk-around hunts in my backyard every year, it felt weird to spend both money and sleep to do a bunch of them in a row. We weren’t in our van nearly as much as any of us expected, and that took the “adventure” feeling down a few notches. That said, running these things is a logistical nightmare, and I support design decisions that mean less stress for the saints that are organizing.

Another thing I want to comment on, as alluded to above, is “skipping”… unlike in most puzzlehunts, teams in the Game are traditionally skipped past puzzles without explicitly being told it’s happening. In this Game, the puzzles fit into metas, so you might discover you skipped something when, after solving six puzzles, you reach a meta and are provided a list of eight answers, two of which you might not have seen before. There also aren’t explicit standings during or after the event (at least I didn’t think so, but more on that later), so what’s the motivation to solve quickly? I can think of at least three reasons: (1) Keeping up with the top teams makes it less likely that you’ll skip a puzzle. (2) Arriving at locations early makes it more likely that the locations are comfortable and have good solving space. (3) I just think solving puzzles with the goal of finishing quickly is fun.

In any case, we were trying to go at high speed throughout, and since we were never fed an unearned meta answer, we were put on “pause” due to not having puzzles available a couple of times, and we even earned one explicitly bonus puzzle, we were pretty confident that we got to see everything. So imagine our faces when data/statistics were released to teams last week, and it turns out we DID skip a puzzle! Dagnabbit. I blame the ^#%$^@ boats. We were one of five teams to solve 45 out of 46 puzzles; congrats to the Burninators and The Gray Old Ones for being the only teams to move fast enough to see everything. (The GOOs is Brent Holman’s team, and I knew they were the only ones to see one puzzle in the Famine Game, so this was not a surprise; and I didn’t see Wei-Hwa Huang from Burninators at most of the Saturday stops, so they were clearly staying ahead of us.)

This could be a post by itself, but I really need to keep making progress while I still remember some of what happened, so:

Saturday, continued

The last stop in Newburyport was a pond (lake?) where we were given a tiara and handout shaped like the tiara (which, fun fact, I didn’t notice at first). The person giving out puzzles also recommended we choose a place “near one of the birdhouses,” which was doubily useful because I don’t think I would have noticed one birdhouse, much less that there was more than one. We needed to gather info from birdhouses all around the pond (lake?), and we sent a couple of team members to go looking… But our team mojo was still not at maximum function, and instead of suggesting that the teammates text us info as they got it, we waited for them to do a full lap. Which took a while, because it was a big pond (LAKE?). Once we had the necessary info, all of which was pre-existing but some of which the constructors had to rebuild at the last minute when a birdhouse disappeared, we drew some lines and solved a puzzle and left with a tiara (possibly being worn by Princess Tanis at the time).

Now we finally got to drive somewhere (forgive me for forgetting where) and it wasn’t totally clear from the instructions whether we’d need to solve something on site or if someone could pick up something to bring back for solving in the van. So we sent Scott into the park initially, and he came back to confirm that, no, he could not bring the display of sixty boxes with him. This was my kind of puzzlehunt puzzle, in that there was an immediate task you could sink your teeth into (taking lots of superimposed sets of letters and figuring out what words they represented) but still having a nice aha to work out (the numbers on the sides of the boxes indicated the lengths of *adjacent* words in clues, and stringing the words together to form clues was a satisfying challenge). This was one of many puzzles in the weekend where I collected a bunch of data and wrote it down in handwriting half the team couldn’t read, which slowed us down, but it felt like we picked up some time on the teams we were competing with, though the data dump suggests that wasn’t really the case.

Next stop: Georgetown, MA, where some boards with photos connected by colored strings, conspiracy-theory-style. (These puzzles were starting to feel not-very-Lovecraft-themed.) It didn’t take us too long to notice the pictures were cluing MA towns (it helped that half of us were local and one of the images was, well, Georgetown), giving us a bunch of sequences of towns and no idea what to do with them. This location was extremely sunny as well, so our brains were being fried as we stared at our town lists.

I had plugged my phone in to charge in the van, and for reasons I won’t get into, I couldn’t go back to get it. So I was suggesting things we might want to look up (without being able to do it myself) leading to a testy exchange with a teammate. This caused me to storm off and stand under a nearby tree with my copy of the town lists, which was a blessing in disguise, because by abandoning all possible outside reference options, I tried just pulling letters from each name, and noticed I could spell one of the town names with letters from town names. I returned to the group, and we were able to work out a town-name-to-letter cipher to produce seven town names and thus seven letters, which we anagrammed to form an answer. I still don’t know if there was supposed to be a less haphazard way to decide which letter to pull from each town (rather than just a constrained cryptogram) but we definitely banked “send Dan off to sulk” as a potential solving technique for the future. This was another stop where it felt like we made up time, but the solve data suggests that if we did it was minor. These stats are super-interesting, but also very ego-deflating. Maybe those are both good things.

This is a completely random place to interrupt the narrative, but it’s getting late here and tragically it is no longer the season in which academics can sleep in. I may have to speed this recap up in future chapters.

Plug: Mark Halpin’s Labor Day Puzzles 2019

I’m still in the middle of blogging the Miskatonic University Game, but as it’s the Saturday before Labor Day, I would be derelict in my duties if I didn’t remind you that Mark Halpin’s annual Labor Day Puzzle Suite is premiering today at 1pm Eastern. This is traditionally one of my favorite online puzzlehunts of the year, as Mark’s puzzles are usually very challenging but elegant and fair. Solve, enjoy, and tip!

This will also be my first puzzle-soccer-conflict day in a while, as the Revs play at home tonight at 7:30, so under non-puzzle circumstances we would probably show up to tailgate by 5 (and I doubt we’ll be done solving by then). On the other hand, my region of Massachusetts is currently beset by lethal EEE-infected mosquitoes, so I’m not sure I ever want to go outside after dark again. Off to the drug store now to buy all of their insect repellent.

Recap: Miskatonic University Game, Part 2

(This is a recap/review of the Miskatonic University Game, which happened on August 15-18. Puzzles and solutions are not currently online but should be posted eventually, likely here. This post will likely contain spoilers.)

Friday at the Castle

Hammond Castle did not disappoint as a thematic setting; when we arrived, Chancellor Red welcomed us to the Activities Fair and ushered us across an honest-to-goodness drawbridge and into a stone basement with lots of art and antique displays. We were also given an envelope full of puzzles, and while no time limit was announced, we had a self-imposed urgency based on sleep. Once we finished, we’d need to travel for an hour and get as much sleep as possible before traveling another hour. (That second hour would theoretically be a good time for bonus sleep, but it’s tough to nap when you’re geared up to start a puzzlehunt.)

I think we finished relatively early compared to the pack, though two things slowed us down. One was team strategy; even though 5/6 of us are on Setec Astronomy, we’d rarely solved together as a unit and didn’t have much of a rhythm. We divvied up puzzles and went our separate ways immediately, when we probably would have benefitted from giving every puzzle a first look as a group so that each subgroup would move forward with the wisdom of the whole team. (Speaking of the team, I don’t think I’ve formally mentioned who I solved with: my Mystik Spiral teammates included my Famine Game allies Eric Berlin and Scott Purdy, plus college-and-beyond friends Tanis O’Connor and Jenn Braun, and one of the most pleasant human beings on earth, Todd McClary.)

So for example, I went off on my own with half a list of scavenger hunt items and quickly found one, a green statue of a nude person with a fig leaf. I was hoping once I figured out what area of the castle the puzzle referred to, the rest of the items would fall quickly, but it turned out the puzzle referenced items throughout this floor of the castle, and walking around with one of two pages was not particularly efficient. I also noticed while wandering around that a bunch of people were gathered around a table full of flags in one room, and I figured one of our puzzles would eventually send us there.

The second slow-down factor came from something we were warned about in advance, the lack of cell signal and wi-fi in most of the puzzle area. Essentially we had to walk upstairs or outside to get any internet, and even then both signals were inconsistent and unreliable. This was pretty rough given that (a) some puzzle required research, (b) answer submission was online, and (c) hints were sporadically distributed online. It was annoying to have to venture out of the castle just to see if there might be a hint, and to not be able to instantly check suspected answers.

While I floundered on my art studies, two teammates were making steady progress on a sheet-music-based puzzle, and I think they solved the whole thing modulo a nudge on the extraction from teammates once we re-merged. I passed on the art runaround to teammates who were more patient and thorough at searching, and instead did something I was better at by providing an extraction aha for the sports puzzle others were working on. At some point I also realized that our web app (hard to access inside, remember) referenced four puzzles instead of three; the flag table was not something that would be pointed at by something in our packet, but in fact it was a self-contained puzzle we had not been paying attention to.

Some of us started getting data on that new puzzle, which involved a list of crossword clues and a lot of information on flags, while others found enough art pieces to extract a message telling us to request a copy of the MU humor magazine. Scott pulled me aside to work on the Jumble puzzle we’d been given (I think the two of us also worked together on the awesome pro wrestling Jumble in the 2018 Mystery Hunt) and we discovered the “humor magazine” was actually about humors, a very nice touch. From there, we proceeded fairly smoothly (once we found a 4G spot outdoor to bring up the Wikipedia article on humorism).

As we solved that, the sports puzzle fell as well, leaving the flags. Our two biggest obstacles on this puzzle were not noticing early enough that the clues on a handout were also on the flags themselves (giving us a clue-to-flag correspondence that we were working without for a long time) and not being able to interpret the hints, which told us there was another thing in the castle that applied to this puzzle. The hint said we needed something “besides the table,” but I misread this as “beside the table” and was focused on the flag room itself; it turned out we needed to go back to the biggest hall and apply the puzzle data to ten colored banners hanging from the ceiling. Once we had all the inputs, this puzzle involved some very pretty wordplay, and solving the fourth and final puzzle gave us access to the The Freshman Facebook meta upstairs. Actually, let’s just call it the Freshman Facebook meta, it’s cleaner.

Teams had been asked to send a photo of each team member (with a gimmick that varied by team) to facilitate construction of this puzzle, and each of the puzzle answers (HEADGEAR, PROJECTILE, etc.) referred to items that might or might not appear in a given photo. We were presented with a large array of these photos with a “major” listed under each one. We briefly considered things like connecting dots, binary, Braille, etc., but enough of the majors started with vowels that we suspected we’d be reading off an acrostic, either by answer or overall across the grid. We got enough letters to wheel-of-fortune out the answer, and at this point our teamwork was functioning better than it did at the beginning of the evening, as we entered after another team had already started work on the meta and left before they were done.

Our team was asked to send pictures featuring our favorite number, and while my picture appeared in the puzzle (unlike a couple of my teammates), my number was cropped out. I’m not surprised by this, because the number-related answer was PRIME, and my picture featured the number 511 formed from two soccer jerseys with the numbers 5 and 11. Since 5 and 11 are prime but 511 is not, I can see how this would have confused the hell out of people if the photo wasn’t edited. Sorry, organizers!

The trip back to Dedham was much less trafficky than the rush hour trip to Newburyport. As we disembarked and half of us headed to a nearby hotel, we noticed that a tentacle holding a pencil (now on my refrigerator) had been added to the MU logo on the side of our van when we weren’t looking. I thought these might eventually become puzzle content, but they were just a neat thematic touch. That night I got as much sleep as one can get on an air mattress the night before an event one is excited about. Which is to say, not very much.

Saturday morning in Newburyport

The trip to Newburyport was also straightforward, with a brief breakfast stop at McDonald’s en route. Side note: Leading up to the event, our team had some internal debate over whether we should bring food for meals or just for snacks. We eventually settled on snacks, with a majority of the team suggesting we plan to get meals on the road. I said something about stopping at places that would be quick like McDonald’s, and the response I got could be paraphrased as, “Ha ha ha, we are adults! Unlike you, we do not eat garbage.” Well, we stopped at McDonald’s twice on Saturday, and it was not my idea either time.

Our team sat down at a table in the first location to find an exam book, since college always has exams on the first day, right? Once things got started, we found that the exam book was one of three active puzzles, with a Horology puzzle based around the exam book, a Math puzzle based on a Power Point presentation that the organizers had some difficulty starting, and an Anatomy puzzle based on a timed appointment that was more than an hour away.

Once the presentation got started, my instinct to write stuff down was defeated by other people’s instinct to photograph/video the slides, which was definitely easier to work with. The puzzle involved solving some straightforward “D in a W = 7” style puzzles with an extra snag of determining what base the right-side numbers were expressed in. Meanwhile, other team members had discovered (likely in part due to the throngs of people that had assembled near the back of the room) that the clock opposite the presentation screen was changing every few seconds. This data was even harder to collect, but we split into data collection and semaphore-deciphering, and applying the resulting message to the cities and letters in our exam book got us to an answer.

With the two available puzzles solved and our Anatomy appointment still some time away, we unlocked Cartography, an overlapping map jigsaw puzzle requiring us to walk around the surrounding town and retrieve letters missing from photos. We assembled the map and then walked around as a unit collecting letters. We were able to wheel-of-fortune the answer from a little over half of the inputs, which was perfect timing as we got the solution as we were walking back for Anatomy. While walking, we also noticed what appeared to be a puzzle distribution stop, so we knew there was likely to be at least one more puzzle in Newburyport.

Anatomy was an extra-large game of Operation that was not that much different than playing regular Operation; in fact, the Operation step felt kind of like busywork, since we only needed to know which items were at which body part, which we could tell by looking at the board. (If we set off the buzzer on an item, we had to drop it and try again, but doing that wasn’t that different from a continuous try… This activity might have been more interesting if buzzing forced us to immediately hand the “tweezers” over to someone else on the team.) Having collected the data, we were also handed a bag of all the things we extracted–which we never used, so this felt like a waste of organizer money, although I imagine it would have been necessary if a team’s data recording was flawed. We considered a few wordplay ways to use the body parts and items, and one of our early theories was correct. This sent us to the station we’d observed earlier, and despite the fact that we’d already passed it, we still got a bit lost en route.

The next puzzle… oy, the next puzzle. The web app suggested we should get lunch during this puzzle if we hadn’t already, and it’s a good thing we did, because we were stuck on it for over an hour, and at least we were stuck on it for over an hour with pizza. The puzzle had two steps: photographing a set of mosaics of sailboats along the river, and then matching pieces of construction paper to irregular tiles, after which we’d connect the holes punched in the tiles to form letters. Our main problem was that we repeatedly assigned the right letters to the wrong mosaics since their tile shapes were very similar, and even given enough hints to know how the entire extraction worked, we could not reassign enough letters to squeeze out an answer phrase. After struggling on this forever, we finally decided we should start from scratch and re-check all of the data, and I think we had to revisit every mosaic before getting an answer. Leaving the exam room we thought we were among the fastest teams, but we definitely squandered any lead we had on what I would refer to for the rest of the weekend as the ^#%$^@ boats.

Each of the answers to our puzzles so far was the title of a textbook, and at our next stop (still on foot) we were given covers to all of those textbooks, with dotted lines along which to cut them apart. The resulting pieces had some letter overlap, and we combined them into a frankentextbook with our metapuzzle answer. Having spent hours walking around Newburyport, we were ready for closure and a change of scenery, and so we eagerly consulted the web app for our instructions to go to… another on-foot stop in Newburyport? Come on.

Even though that next puzzle was still within walking distance, it was part of a new “round,” so we’ll pick up with that in the next post.

Recap: Miskatonic University Game, Part 1

(This is a recap/review of the Miskatonic University Game, which happened on August 15-18. Puzzles and solutions are not currently online but should be posted eventually, likely here. This post will likely contain spoilers.)

You didn’t need any posts in June or July, did you? I’ve been doing a lot of traveling this summer, including two weeks in France to see the knockout rounds of the Women’s World Cup, five days in Colorado to get a nasty stomach virus during the National Puzzlers’ League convention, and most recently half a week in North Carolina, my first visit to the state since living there for three years in the early 2010s… the casual racism is still embarrassing but the biscuits are still delicious.

So far the puzzle highlights of August have been the Melbourne University Maths Society Puzzle Hunt (MUMS), which my team unexpectedly won, and the long-awaited Miskatonic University Game in the Boston area. I was going to cover them chronologically, but MUMS solutions still aren’t up (and there are a lot of questions I need answered about that metapuzzle before I talk about it) so Miskatonic gets first honors.

A couple of things to note before I start writing: One is that I’m not going to try to document every puzzle we encountered, because there were a whole lot of them. Word is that they’ll be posted online in the near future, and Matt Gruskin, showing far more patience than I possess, put together a marvelously detailed blow-by-blow writeup here. (Two of my teammates also wrote reports on their perspectives, if you’d like to hear from Eric and Todd.) I’ll comment on some of the more interesting, memorable, and/or problematic puzzles, but there will be an emphasis on my team’s experiences, both during and between the puzzle solving.

The second point I want to make is that no puzzlehunt is perfect, and so I am certain that I’ll have critical things to say; but overall, this was a really fun event, and so my nitpicking should not be read as lack of appreciation. The Game is almost certainly the most difficult puzzle event to produce (the Mystery Hunt requires more content creation and testing, but I can’t even wrap my head around the site procurements and legal red tape necessary to host an event at more than a dozen locations in one weekend), and just because I have isolated complaints doesn’t mean I don’t have immense respect and gratitude for all the work invested by Sarah Leadbeater, her puzzle Nathans (Fung and Curtis), and the rest of her eldritch minions in order to make this event happen.

Disclaimers processed? Cool. Let’s roll.


As new Miskatonic University students, before our classes started on Saturday morning, we had a freshman orientation to attend in Gloucester, MA on Friday night. (At least our orientation was Friday; the organizers added in an alternate session on Thursday that allowed them to accommodate more teams.) Based on the number of people they said they could fit in, some participants on the escape room Slack I frequent had hypothesized that the orientation would be held at Hammond Castle, so I was surprised when we were told to show up to a random fraternity hall. That is, I was surprised until we were told we would be eating at that location and then proceeding to another, which I correctly assumed would be the castle.

Despite being advised to spend Friday night at a location near Newburyport, my half-local team had decided to spend the night in the Boston area, since it formed roughly a temporal equilateral triangle (one hour per side) with Gloucester and Newburyport. Or at least I thought it did, but after making plans, it occurred to me to check travel time during Friday rush hour, which was when I discovered we’d want to allot 2-3 hours for the first travel leg. Oof.

Speaking of “Oof,” I arrived at Jenn’s (our Boston homebase) to be immediately told, “Don’t freak out.” Despite her confirming with Budget two weeks earlier that they would have our van, confirming with Budget four days earlier that they would have our van, and BUDGET CONFIRMING WITH HER two days earlier that they would have our van, Jenn had gotten a call an hour before pickup that they did not have our van, and was that okay? No, it was not. Budget Rental Car Denham doesn’t have a Yelp page, but if anyone’s considering renting from them and accidentally stumbles upon this article (and has read this far for some reason), RUN AWAY AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE. Jenn and her husband started calling every rental place in town, and thankfully Adventure Vehicle Rental in Allston had a van available day-of. In fact, it was way nicer (and according to our two drivers, easier to drive) than I expected. They do have a Yelp page that’s actually riddled with negative reviews, but our experience was delightful, especially considering the alternative.

The one real drawback to our new van was that the built-in GPS made extremely poor decisions about our route to Gloucester, so after driving straight through Boston during rush hour, we got to the first location after dinner was already being served. The volunteers handling registration seemed a bit testy after having dealt with lots of other teams… we kind of wanted to grab food before submitting waivers, but they insisted on having the waivers first, presumably in case the pizza toppings were poisonous. However, when we explained one of our team members was parking the van, they didn’t seem to understand why that meant we couldn’t yet hand them six signed waivers. But once the initial chaos resolved, we received nifty non-name-specific student ID cards, collectible plastic MU cups, and some tasty pizza. We also got a car mirror hanger designed to remind us that due to our van’s excessive height, we would not be able to park in a garage near the end of the event (we were reassured an alternative lot would be provided) but that unlike many unprepared college freshmen, we could survive a trip down Storrow Drive if necessary.

I realize I haven’t even gotten to any of the puzzles yet, and they awaited at Hammond Castle after a run-down of the rules and instructions on how to use the event website. But the clock just struck midnight here, and since there’s no Game going on, I’m actually going to sleep. More solving-relevant content to come.

Summer Puzzling, Happened So Fast (Upcoming Puzzlehunts)

Hi folks! Brown’s semester is over (exams are still wrapping up but my courses had theirs last week) and so now I have months of glorious summer expanding in front of me, during which I look forward to… doing all the big work tasks I kept saying I didn’t have time to work on during the spring. But I hope to do some puzzle-solving as well, so in addition to the downs-only solving I’m trying out for Boswords training, here’s a rundown of puzzlehunts available either in New England or more nationally this summer.

P&A: Foggy abruptly moved the next P&A drop from last Saturday, when I couldn’t work on it at all since I was at Disney World celebrating my dad’s 70th birthday, to tomorrow, when I can barely work at it all because Jackie’s in a wedding at 1:30pm with a reception at 4:30. I do hope to squeeze in an hour and a half or so of solving between, but since I’m starting late and solving briefly, my only hope is that the meta is very short-circuitable, but only by me. I have mentally prepared myself for my top ten streak to stop at 77, but the last time I did that, a miracle occurred and I still came in tenth, so we’ll see.

There’s a second issue scheduled for July, likely on the 6th. Je vais voyager en France that weekend, and I can’t say much more about that in French because Duolingo hasn’t taught me future tense yet.

Puzzle Potluck: On June 15, Mystery Hunt regulars Super Team Awesome is presenting their second edition of Puzzle Potluck, a short online event that evolved from their habit of writing puzzles for fellow team members. I still haven’t solved the puzzles from the last iteration, but I skimmed them and they seemed fun and fairly accessible. There’s no team size recommendation that I can find on the website, but I don’t recommend throwing a dozen hardcore solvers at this one. Or do if you want to finish in an hour and brag about it. Maybe that’s how you roll. Who am I to judge?

BAPHL: After a long radio silence on the BAPHL front, two events were announced in quick succession for June 9 and July 13. I’ll definitely miss the second of these, as it’s during the National Puzzlers’ League convention (if you’re in the probably empty sliver of Venn diagram that lives in Boulder, Colorado and reads this blog yet doesn’t know about the NPL Con, you should definitely stop by), and I’m finding it challenging to assemble a full team for the first of these, partially due to the short notice and partially because my regular teammates are starting to develop families and non-puzzling lives.

I would urge future BAPHL organizers to (a) try to pick and announce dates well in advance, and (b) check for potential conflicts, both of which will help you maximize the number of people that get to participate in your event. Folks going to the NPL Con are by no means entitled to have BAPHL only happen when they’re around, but if I was putting in the time and energy to write a BAPHL, I’d want the most active puzzlers to be around for it. If you will be around for it (the first is in East Cambridge, and the second in a Boston-area location to be announced later), I recommend signing up, as BAPHL is almost always a good time.

MUMS: The Melbourne University Puzzle Hunt hasn’t happened since 2016, but they’re advertising a 2019 event on the aforementioned Puzzle Hunt Calendar… However, they were advertising it for an early summer date (in May or June, I believe) and it got shifted to August, so who knows if it will be moved again. As it stands, it’s scheduled for August 7-16, which likely means the puzzle releases will happen at night on August 6-10. No website link because I can’t find a current website that acknowledges the new event. Google it in August?

Miskatonic University: As mentioned earlier, the application process for this New England drive-around event is closed, so either you’re participating and know about it, or you’re not. The game designers were at some point looking for teams to participate in a dry run earlier in the summer and to man puzzle stations during the event itself. I don’t know if they still need personpower, but if you’re in the Boston area or will be and want to help, you can find info and a contact address near the bottom of this FAQ.