Bar Exam, Part 1: Theme (and NOT Structure yet)

(These posts will discuss the creation of Bar Exam (aka Willy Wonka and the Puzzle Factory), which was the extravaganza presented at the 2017 National Puzzlers’ League convention in Boston at the Revere Hotel. Puzzles are posted via the link above; future parts will include puzzle spoilers, but this one will not.)

At the 2015 NPL convention, when it was decided that the 2017 convention would be in Boston, I found myself itching to write another Con extravaganza, despite my pledge to write fewer puzzles for free, which I’ve broken a lot lately (see my four-part series on the 2017 Mystery Hunt). I figured it would be convenient to be local so that I could scope out the hotel in advance and deliver equipment by car if needed. So at the 2015 convention, I asked several members of the program committee whether I could “reserve” the slot in advance, and I’m thankful that they were willing to let me do so.

For the second time in a row, I intended to write the extravaganza with two people I’d barely worked with, and we ended up recruiting a fourth I had more experience with. For the Seattle convention, I was excited to try writing something with Kevin Wald and Todd McClary, both of whom I’d never constructed with, and through various events we ended up joining up with Mike Selinker, whom I’d collaborated on several events with (some for his company, Lone Shark Games). Of course, having written with someone before is not a negative, and Mike’s contributions were invaluable.

Similarly, for Boston, I identified Mark Halpin and Todd Etter as my wish list of awesome puzzlehunt constructors I’d never worked with. Todd was interested in joining but had been vaguely talking to Brent Holman about writing an extravaganza; Brent is also a fantastic constructor, but he wasn’t on my “never worked with” list because he’s edited some of my work for his company, Shinteki. In addition to being phenomenal puzzle authors, all three of them are very adept at making their work (and the work of others) visually appealing; if, like me, your aesthetic formatting skills are weak, I cannot emphasize enough how good an idea it is to surround yourself with people who speak fluent Adobe Illustrator.

The four of us started discussing theme ideas in 2016, while I was still working on the Mystery Hunt; the idea was that we would finalize a theme early (with me subtly arguing against “role-playing game” as a theme if it came up) and nail down structure after Hunt, so that I wouldn’t have to keep mum about any structural elements of the Mystery Hunt. Before the Summer Olympics, we were less than a year from when Boston had dropped out of bidding for the Olympics in 2024, and all signs were pointing to Rio being a total disaster, so our first theme idea was a rather cynical take on the Olympics; solving teams would represent different countries bidding, but rather than trying to get the Olympics, their goal would be to try to AVOID hosting the Olympics. Some of us really loved the bait-and-switch of this idea… but then as most Olympics do, Rio generally came off well despite the organizational issues, and the country seemed pretty pro-Olympics, so we weren’t convinced this would go over well. Plus, it’s the sort of theme that has a great initial impact, but doesn’t lend itself tremendously well to puzzle theming. (And now, the water pollution word search!)

Willy Wonka, on the other hand, is a puzzlehunt theme I’ve had in my back pocket for a few years now. Like Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, it’s a story that essentially consists of a series of colorful encounters in a fantasy world with minimal constraints. That sort of story structure lends itself very well to puzzlehunts, since every puzzle is in a sense its own encounter, and if the elements of the world have lots of variety, your puzzles can too. I threw it in as an early contender for Setec’s 2017 Hunt, and I said if we didn’t use it, I’d probably use it somewhere else eventually.

That “somewhere else” was potentially going to be the solo-written multi-phase crowdfunded puzzlement my brain keeps telling me is going to make me rich when I have enough free time (my brain is wrong both about the money and the chances of ever having enough free time), but I brought this up with the extravaganza team, and the other seemed to get really excited about it, so we never really entertained a third option.

That’s partially because the Wonka theme tied nicely into one thing we wanted to do with the event structure, given some challenging elements of the audience for NPL Con extravaganzas. I initially called this post “Theme and Structure,” because those two things are massively intertwined when it comes to puzzlement creation, but the post is pretty long already. So let me cut this off here, and I’ll touch on the structure we chose and why we chose it (and how that tied into the theme and story) next time around.

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Bar Exam (NPL Con 2017) Available Online, P&A Issues 65-67 Recaplets

(After the first couple of paragraphs, this post includes spoilers for P&A issues 65-67 from January, March, and May 2017. Solutions to these issues have already been posted on the P&A website.)

Hi all! Over the last two months, most of my puzzlehunt attention has gone not to blogging but to constructing Bar Exam, the very well-received “extravaganza” (evening puzzlehunt) that was presented at the 2017 NPL Convention in Boston. I look forward to posting in detail about our creative process in the near future, but those posts will almost certainly involve spoilers, so you should go solve those puzzles if you haven’t already.

But before I get to that, I’ve been meaning to post about recent P&A issues. When I started this blog, one thing I figured would allow me to post regular content was that I solve P&A every two months and could talk about my solving process. But I’ve run into the obstacle that I don’t like to post spoiler content on online puzzlehunts until the solutions have been posted. For P&A, by the time that happens, I have generally forgotten about the last issue and am more focused on the new issue about to drop. For Issue 68, I was finally disciplined and took notes about what I solved in what order, so I should actually be able to post a decent recap in September. But for the sake of completeness, particularly because this year’s issues fit into a themed set of six (presumably with some sort of uber-meta coming), I thought I’d comment on the first three issues of the year in terms of the shreds I remember.

P&A 65 (Jane Austen): This was the second year in a row that I happened to be giving a talk at the AMS/MAA Joint Mathematics Meetings on the Saturday on which P&A was released. (For the next three years, the Joint Meetings will coincide with Mystery Hunt weekend, which prevents the P&A problem but opens an entirely different can of worms.) Since we were on the East Coast this year and my talk was in the morning, I was able to get my part out of the way before puzzle-solving started, but I had a lot of talks to attend in the afternoon, so a lot of solving happened in the ten-minute breaks between talks.

The ordering for the metapuzzle was pretty clear, and I remember locking into the mechanism pretty quickly, as I was convinced at one point that the answer was COMMON COUPLE, meaning I must have been solving from ?OM??? ?O????. I really liked that answer, because it fit the storyline but also described the matching pairs of letters that the meta revolved around, but there’s presumably an additional constraint this had to fit, since the meta answers this year have been a bit clunkier than usual and all the same length. The actual answer fell once I managed to solve the puzzle yielding the Z.

It’s been a long time since I looked at the puzzles, but I remember particularly enjoying Faults and Faultiness (the interpretations of pictures were funny and pleasing to work out), and that Decks and Detectives was challenging but satisfying. I believe Jackie did the heavy lifting on the traditional big-ass logic puzzle (as she often does), and Gliding and Gladiators was the last holdout in achieving a complete.

P&A 66 (Edgar Allan Poe): I solved this one solo, and it was a rare issue where I had all the puzzle answers for quite a while before cracking the meta. The symbols were pretty clear, and the ordering fell after spending way too much time trying to order by publication date, but the problem is that the pair of parentheses in the symbol string made the string look like it MUST be an emoticon, and I spend much too much time trying to interpret it as a picture rather than a coded message. Thankfully at some point it occurred to me that there might be a code associated with Poe, and once I had the key the answer (and complete) came instantaneously.

Purloined Letter was a lot of fun, and a good example of an identification puzzle where identifying some answers gives you traction with some others, which is a great thing to aim for since it makes the last stages fun rather than frustrating. Masque of the Red Death was a nice variation on a standard type, and Cask of Amontillado was a great example of a puzzle that fully reflects its theme.  I never fully understood how The Tell-Tale Heart worked (and according to the solutions, that’s because it still had errors at publication) but was able to chip away at it enough to solve it… and as usual, I avoided the cryptogram puzzle as long as possible, since those quickly devolve into typing chunks of code into Quipqiup.

P&A 67 (Agatha Christie): If I remember correctly, Cards on the Table caught my eye first, and I ended up solving it early even though I don’t think it was one of the easiest puzzles. (I generally scan the set for something that looks approachable, and after solving it, I check the current stats to determine the “low-hanging fruit” lots of people are solving and prioritize that.) For both And Then There Were None and Dumb Witness, Jackie did a lot of the solving and I joined in to help with the pieces she was having trouble finishing. Five Little Pigs was tedious but had a nice aha, and we tried doing the right thing on The Mirror Puzzle almost immediately, but I messed things up by incorrectly parsing which instructions were intended to go with which pictures.

As for the meta, we had lots of names early, but we needed most of them before we decided the first names were likely what was important and happened to web-search the right ones as a group; at that point, I think we had all but two or three answers, and so the result followed quickly. I didn’t understand the final answer until I read the comment in the solutions, which is embarassing since I think that’s one of the last episodes of the series I watched before I got bored with it and stopped. (I started with the “modern era” series, so the only Doctors I know are Eccleston, Tennant, and Smith; of those, Tennant was my favorite by a country mile.) We solved most of the puzzles forward either before or after solving the meta, but we never figured out A Murder Is Announced; the answer to that one was readily backsolvable from the metapuzzle, and even after knowing the answer, I couldn’t make any solving progress before I read the solution two months later.

Upcoming: P&A 67, Puzzle Boat 4

P&A Issue 67 will be released tomorrow (Saturday the 13th) at 10am Arizona time, which is probably an hour off of what you think it is because the Arizonans are weird about daylight savings. P&A is currently $10 an issue, and well worth it given that you not only get a hearty mini-puzzlehunt, but also some fun bonus variety puzzles. I don’t solve those while the clock is running, but sometimes I return to them later.

I was planning on posting a recap of the last issue to get people psyched, but I see that P&A 66 solutions aren’t up yet, and I don’t want to interfere with stats if answer submission is still active. So I’ll try to write that in advance and plan to post it once solutions go public.

What I will do in the meantime is plug the Kickstarter for Puzzle Boat 4 which has seventeen days to go but has already reached its goal! (Yay!) For anyone who hasn’t participated before, the Puzzle Boat by Foggy Brume, the creator of P&A, but it’s more Mystery Huntesque in scope (well, more like the Mystery Hunts in the 2000s before the size really blew up) and usually has an interesting unlock system and cool meta-meta structures. The planned release date is some time in October, and for $100 you can register a full team and get your hands on a Kickstarter-exclusive puzzle suite. (There are also higher tiers if you want a P&A subscription or three, and/or if you want to get a picture of you wedged into the hunt.)

I’ve written this post during the first twenty minutes of my “this is when you can look at your graded Calculus I exam” office hour. Students seen so far? Zilch. This is what teaching a pass-fail course in the spring is like…

Recap: DASH 9

(This is a recap/review of the DASH 9, which happened this past Saturday in all of the cities. Puzzles and solutions are not yet posted. This recap may contain spoilers, but I’ll try to avoid them where possible, especially for puzzles I recommend.)

Once Boston registration opened for DASH, I immediately registered a Mystik Spiral team with the intention of filling it up later. As it turns out, many of our MS regulars were busy, so for a long time our team was me, Jackie, and Jenn Braun. After a successful run at Escape Rhode Island (where Mystik Spiral XL set a record that has since been broken by Dan K. Memes, which is a team I am not on but which I *think* is named after me? It’s complicated) we picked up Matthew Gardner-Spencer and his infant as a fourth and fourth-and-a-half member, though some time between then and event day, we lost the two of them and gained Scott Purdy. The max team size was six, but in retrospect, I’m really glad we ended up with four, because that seemed like the optimal number of solvers for many of the puzzles.

For anyone who doesn’t know, DASH stands for Different Area, Same Hunt; a central group writes a one-day linear puzzlehunt and recruits local organizers to assign the puzzles to locations and administer the event. Solves are entered into ClueKeeper and time between solves doesn’t count toward your score, so if two puzzles are half a mile apart in my city and a block apart in yours, the competition is still fair because the walking time doesn’t count. (Not that it should actually count for anything, but if you rank teams by total start-to-finish time, we had the fastest time. Lunch breaks are for the weak.)

This year’s theme had shades of Indiana Jones to begin, but a few puzzles in, it became clear that the actual theme was based on Arrival. That’s actually an ingenious theme for a hunt the size of DASH, because (a) it’s one of the few recent successful movies that is essentially about a protagonist spending the whole time trying to solve a puzzle, and (b) it really didn’t have enough plot to sustain more than nine or ten puzzles. We had on-and-off rain throughout, but since we were ahead of the pack in Boston, we generally had our first pick of a solving area at every location, so we were usually able to find a protective awning. (Puzzle 3 was probably the most weather-affected, as there was enough wind and rain to get us from the side… naturally it stopped right after we finished solving.) After we finished, we had lunch at Granary Tavern, and when we emerged the weather was absolutely gorgeous, proving the event should have been moved to 2pm. (As a side note, shout-out to the Zinneken’s food truck, where a fellow Revs fan served us really delicious waffles for dessert.)

We were in first place in the country when we finished, but we figured we would probably be passed by other teams as they finished; in the end we placed fifth, and only second in Boston as we were passed by one of a swarm of Galactic-Trendsetters-affiliated teams (another finished in second on the other side of the country).

= = = = =

Puzzles I especially liked:

* Explore The Chamber, What Did We Miss?

The recurring thread of the event was a set of polygonal tiles that were assembled in various configurations to translate symbols into words. Explore The Chamber taught us how to use drawings of the configurations to extract those letters… mostly, they taught Scott and Jenn this while Jackie and I split up two mini star battles. The organizers helpfully gave us two pages with copies of both star battles, which is good because I broke mine, and then Jackie managed to solve both of them before I fixed mine. Perhaps this is why she kicked my ass in last year’s USPC.

Then What Did We Miss? revealed that all of our translations had been wrong because we were missing a third of the tiles, and “mistakenly” using the wrong translation system! Adjusting our interpretation of the language felt very thematic, and it was neat to use the information we’d produced earlier in an entirely different way.

Incidentally, I thought hints came a bit too fast on some of this year’s puzzles. For example, on What Did We Miss?, we figured out the tiles needed to form a 3-D object and were very excited to figure that out; my phone gave us that information for free about two seconds later. We’re a pretty fast team, so I imagine that most teams ended up being told that rather than figuring it out on their own. I get that you want hints to flow continuously so that teams don’t get stuck for too long, but I thought the hint curve felt too aggressive on some puzzles.

* Wide Field Array

This was a word search variant that didn’t set the world on fire, but I thought it was a great example of a puzzle where everything you need to do is elegantly contained within the elements of the puzzle itself. (I think there was a hint in the flavortext to the final extraction that we used, but we probably didn’t need to.) We had the second-fastest time on this puzzle, so maybe it was less clear to others, but I enjoyed it.

= = = = =

Puzzles I especially disliked:

* Radio Telescope

“Dislike” is unnecessarily strong here (I used it in my first recap and am trying to be consistent in terms of format… I should probably change it). This was still an enjoyable puzzle, but it didn’t feel as tightly constructed as the day’s other puzzles. Why was the criss-cross on a cube? Why were the numbers presented the way they were? How were we supposed to know for sure that the fourth item on the list was a five-letter-word and not the more specific seven-letter-word? All of these elements were solvable, but for me they felt like a lot of interesting ideas combined with a staple gun.

* Prevent Hostilities

ClueKeeper now has built-in Zappar support to allow augmented reality in their hunts. This is a really cool idea… that felt misused here. We were told to point our phone at a target, and that process revealed a 3-D rocketship, that we looked at and got very little information out of. Eventually we focused on the puzzle element of the puzzle and got a sequence of colors… After a while someone noticed we had colored buttons, so we could enter that sequence! Which we did. Over and over. We were checking our work yet again when we got our first “hint”… which explained that what looked like a window on the rocketship was actually a button, and that until we pressed it, all our colors were disappearing into the void. This seemed more like instructions than a hint, and I didn’t love that part of the puzzle was guessing how to use the app.

Meanwhile, at least one of our teammates couldn’t see my phone easily and was getting really annoyed by this. Now granted, if it was more clear how we could start the code entry, we wouldn’t actually have had to look at the phone for as long as we did. But it wasn’t ideal to have the big finish reveal (which honestly wasn’t much of a reveal) happen on a small screen. The idea of translating a message into symbols (instead of the other way around) in the last puzzle was a good one, and I liked the makeshift objects gimmick. But entering the encoded message into Zappar didn’t really add much, and the lack of guidance in how we should interact with the object subtracted a lot.

= = = = =

So that was DASH. I have to admit that the linear puzzlehunt is not usually my favorite format… If I’m stuck on something, I like to be able to look at something else and/or try to solve around the obstacle by solving enough other puzzles. But I found this DASH to have better continuity than the others I’ve solved, and we were never stuck long enough to stop having fun. I wish the weather had cooperated more, but it was a great day. Seven tentacles up.

 

 

Now Available: Escape from the Haunted Library

First off, a quick apology for being a terrible blogger, as it’s been almost a month and a half since I last posted. Next week I’ll finish up my teaching for the semester, so I should have more time for some random non-recap articles… and on the recap front, I owe you reports on this past weekend’s DASH, and the last issue of P&A since the next one drops this Saturday. (I’m giving all of you a 30-minute head start while I finish up Google Code Jam Round 2.)

Before any of that, I want to nod to a good friend, Eric Berlin. He’s been my teammate for several of my top ten puzzlehunts, and if you have/know any youngsters interested in puzzles, please point them toward Puzzle Your Kids and the Winston Breen book series posthaste. His latest puzzlehunt, a virtual room escape called Escape from the Haunted Library that he created for the Connecticut Library Association is now hosted on the P&A website on a pay-what-you-wish basis. Enjoy!

Recap: Galactic Puzzle Hunt 2017

(This is a recap/review of the 2017 Galactic Puzzle Hunt, which happened earlier this month. Puzzles and solutions can be found here. This recap may contain spoilers, but I’ll try to avoid them where possible, especially for puzzles I recommend.)

Back when I started solving Australian puzzlehunts, I usually played with The Sons of Tamarkin; we were perennial contenders against plugh, The Elite, and [pi] (aka Galactic Trendsetters, the team that generously brought us this hunt). A few years ago, I decided to join Killer Chicken Bones for SUMS, figuring that would be my annual break from my usual team… but in the meantime, some of the Sons of Tamarkin have gotten too busy to solve and others have found better teammates (for this hunt they totally outclassed us as Brown Herrings). So for now I’m with KCB for the immediate future, until we hit a hunt where enough original members are available to hit the team size cap and I get bumped.

The GPH is the second American “Australian rules” puzzlehunt I’m aware of, and the first intended for the public. (Last year some friends at Brown ran an event called CRUMS, which was aimed at the Brown community and doesn’t appear to be online anymore.) Maybe the American “flavor” made it more appealing, but it was definitely my favorite Aussie-style hunt I’ve participated in. Puzzles were generally solid and polished, and there was a very elegant meta structure at the end (and the meta was actually worth points… what a concept!).

On Day 1 and 2, we solved all of the puzzles before I went to sleep; on Day 3 we knew what we were doing on our last puzzle when I turned in, and everything was solved when I woke up. Things took a turn on Day 4; we only solved two puzzles before I went to sleep, and we still only had two the next morning. We hammered away at the rest and solved two of them before I had to leave for a wedding, but we went 24 hours without solving A Basic Puzzle, knocking ourselves out of contention for first place. We failed to solve one additional puzzle on Day 5 before overtime, but we were able to solve both puzzles fairly quickly with hints, so we finished first among the non-perfect teams (fifth overall).

Speaking of hints, being on this end of the yes/no system has changed my opinion of the oracular hint system, which we used in the Mystery Hunt, and which very few teams took advantage of. Galactic Puzzlesetters (sorry guys, I’m too lazy to figure out how to insert the airplanes, but rest assured I made the noises while typing) have posted a great wrap-up dissecting their own hunt, and they have some interesting thoughts on yes/no hints, but here’s mine: One yes/no hint is rarely useful, but a series of them (where you can ask follow-up questions) is potentially very useful. On both of the puzzles we solved in overtime, we figured out what we needed to do not by asking one question, but by  asking several and narrowing down what we shouldn’t be thinking about. So in retrospect, I think we should probably have given out batches of questions in the Mystery Hunt, rather than singletons. (Though I again want to emphasize that earned hints were only intended to sort things out as needed for contender teams… we always intended to be generous to more casual teams, and that was instituted here with the “infinite hint” system, which is much tougher to execute in an online hunt!)

= = = = =

Puzzles I especially liked:

* Zero Space (Day 1)

Took a long time to get the last aha here (exactly how to interpret the first phrase you extract) but once we did, it was hard to believe we didn’t see it for so long. Very clever and elegant solve path.

* Very Fun Logic Puzzle (Day 2)

As advertised.

* How to Best Write an Essay (Day 2)

Completely missed the hidden message in this puzzle. We guessed the interpretation of W quickly (though we were surprised there was no accompanying S), and then recognizing what Y should be without the message was an extremely satisfying aha. I’m almost a little sad that we weren’t supposed to figure it out the way we did, though I get that someone unfamiliar with the artist would have no way in in that case.

* Drive (Day 5)

This mostly got solved while I was at Jenn’s wedding. When I got back, I found a mostly solved puzzle on the spreadsheet, at which point I said to myself, “What a cool data set. And what a cool way to put it into a grid! And it would also be neat if you extracted like this… Yup. Solved.”

* Everything on Day 6 (Day 6)

There was no advertised meta in this set, but given the weirdness of the Day 1 answers and the sixth day that usually doesn’t exist, I predicted the five puzzles on Day 6 would be five five-puzzle metas. I suppose it makes much more sense in a March Madness hunt to have a 2^n-puzzle final meta, but you can’t blame for failing to predict that 25 puzzles would lead to a 16-answer bracket!

For what it’s worth, I do think the “put these answers in a line and modify them step by step,” as seen in Duck Quonundrum, may have jumped the shark. I’ve seen it used in a few places, and I don’t think it’s ever been as cool as it was in MH2015. But given that these answers each had to work in two metas, I get that this is a flexible mechanism to achieve that goal.

The main mechanism for the final meta was something we immediately considered when we saw it… and dismissed, even after solving two conferences. The rest of the team put two and two together while Jackie and I were asleep, but looking over it after it was already solved, I thought everything was fair and satisfying.

Puzzles I especially disliked:

* Famous by Association (Day 4)

I was delighted by the puzzle quality for most of this hunt, but I thought there was a downturn in quality on Day 4. Famous by Association was probably the clunkiest puzzle for me; the matches weren’t clean enough for us to be confident about how the mechanic was intended to work, and even after we sort of knew what we were doing, we frequently had multiple options for some of the items, and we eventually chose things based on giving us good letters. It’s never good when solving individual pieces of a puzzle leads less to an “Aha!” and more to a “Well, maybe? I guess?”

* The Treasure of Apollo (Day 4)

Most of the issues I had with this puzzle are acknowledged in the posted solution. The overall gimmick of the puzzle is neat (though once again the matching wasn’t tremendously clean… we had our third and ninth characters switched for a long time), but there was a lot of extraneous data, and the way you’re expected to parse the data was inconsistent. I also see why they added the enumeration after the fact… given all of that ambiguity, that’s an incredibly indirect phrase to parse without spaces.

* A Basic Puzzle (Day 4)

This was one of our late solves. We immediately figured out what to do with the first line, but we tried a lot of similar approaches to the other lines with no success. Personally, I think the solution space was just too open here… you could do a lot of almost-right things without confirmation if you didn’t know what you were looking for, whereas with some narrowing via hinting, the rest of the team was able to polish this off while I was at the wedding.

* Unaligned (Day 5)

This is the other puzzle where we couldn’t figure out what to do without narrowing the solution space (though we should have, since Kristy suggested doing the right thing and I advised against pursuing it). My complaints about this are that (a) having two identical grids really makes you want to combine them in some way, and (b) confirmation here really relies on seeing that a bunch of three-letter strings are all words, which is something that could easily happen by accident. Our hint requests helped us determine which parts of the completed grids we could completely ignore, which helped a lot.

This was another puzzle where the posted solution revealed a hidden message we never found (two of them, in fact!).

Puzzles I simultaneously reluctantly loved and lovingly despised:

* Scramble for the Stars (Day 3)

This will be a bit more spoilery than the responses above, because I want to get into details. Somebody counted the number of clues and suggested constellations, and after trying a few things, I suggested the puzzle might work exactly how it turned out it did work, and said I really hoped it didn’t, because that sounded like it would be a pain in the ass. Then it occurred to me that this would only work if there was an even number of letters… I added them up and got an odd number, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

We had STRAIGHTLINE instead of STRAIGHTLINES.

Once we made that correction, I feared again that the puzzle would work the way I thought it did. I remembered from my ceiling growing up that Draco was the largest constellation (my incredibly awesome parents not only put a bunch of glow in the dark stars on my ceiling one day while I was at school, they took the time to make an accurate star map with constellations), and Draco didn’t have the right number of neighbors. But then I looked up the actual largest constellation and smallest constellation, and looked up their numbers of neighbors. They matched. Crap.

So, finally believing my original idea was right, four of us spent a looong time scraping the adjacency data from Wikipedia by hand (I considered doing it on a printed-out star map, but it was way too small to see anything). Once we actually got that data down and figured out how to keep track of assignments, the logic puzzle portion was exquisitely elegant. As the posted solution suggested, we started with rare letters and the necessary degrees of their neighboring nodes, and then things got easier and easier. This would have been a nightmare if we weren’t sure of most of the answers, but the clues were clear enough that we had all but two right. One of them, LOAD, was our fault… but having a clue for NOSTALGIA that could just as easily clue NOSTALGIC as just mean.

I went to sleep while Brent and Kristy were still assigning letters, and my only idea for extraction was to alphabetize the constellations and read all the letters in that order… but constraining all 88 letters seemed like an impossible construction feat. Putting the answer phrase on the zodiac was genius.

So as it turns out, this was a magnificent puzzle, and I have tremendous respect for the constructors. But at the same time, I stand by my initial prediction… solving it was a pain in the ass. 🙂

* X-Ray Fish (Day 3)

My only hate for this puzzle came from the sound clip being really annoying after 50 times, and from it being very difficult to count stuff in the video (even pausing it). I did like the overall mechanism, and knowing which part of the song to focus on due to playing it too many times in Rock Band. (Me: “I think those sounds are in the actual song, aren’t they?” Someone I will not name: “No, definitely not.”) And if you haven’t already, be sure to check out the posted solution for this puzzle.

= = = = =

As it happens, part of the reason the Galactic Puzzle Hunt happened (according to the wrap-up) is that the constructors had some downtime after finishing the Mystery Hunt early… So as a member of Setec, I take partial credit for miscalibrating the difficulty of our Hunt! In any case, this was a great addition to the online huntscape. Given that it was free, the constructors have no obligation to give us another one next year. But I hope they will, and I hope they start writing now just in case they don’t have quite as much free time next MLK weekend.

(Note to self: If I’m going to keep writing these recaps regularly, I’m going to have to start making them shorter.)