(This is a recap/review of the 2018 MIT Mystery Hunt, which happened this month. Puzzles and solutions can currently be found here. This recap will contain spoilers on many metapuzzles.)
I mentioned in my previous post that to me the most exciting thing about Mystery Hunt is finding the most efficient way to navigate the structure. This leads to my spending just as much time, if not more, staring at a blackboard full of answers as opposed to solving individual puzzles. I think of this as “strategic”… A passing observer might characterize it as “lazy,” which is probably occasionally accurate in moments that I’m not fully awake. (Though I worked on a fair share of individual puzzles, which I plan to talk about in the next post.)
As we solved emotion puzzles from the intro round, various members of the team made various bits of progress on the five metapuzzles. I focused on Fear, as I’d guessed from “medical emergency” that the words and phrases appeared in the Health & Safety guide (as had other team members) and I thought it was pretty significant that the small-word answers we had like “except” only appeared once. I correctly looked at the words after the answer words, and unfortunately, our first four gave the words “locations,” “of,” and “lost,” which sounded like parts of a useful phrase. We tried putting these words in the guide order, but they didn’t make a meaningful phrase, so I kept trying to rearrange them… meanwhile another group of team members thought of looking at the acrostic and got the right answer. We actually solved our emotion metas in a pretty narrow period of time: according to our Activity Log, we called in Sadness at 4:16, Joy at 4:26 (after incorrectly trying BUCK UP), Fear at 4:28, and both Anger and Disgust at 4:40 literally five seconds apart (we didn’t get a Disgust interaction, as Anger brought us our item from Disgust).
We were surprised that solving all of the emotion metas didn’t immediately open an island; we had to go back and solve a bunch of additional puzzles to pump up our brainpower, though we did get our first island (Hacking) open at 4:52. I did some backsolving cleanup and was proud of myself for getting ASCENSION based on some letter information and the book requirement for Joy; I did, however, convince myself that Beast Workshop’s answer would surely have GORILLA in the answer, as a homophone for GUERRILLA, which, like KNIGHTLY, is eight letters and has an L as its 7th letter. Well, it does if you spell it wrong. Let’s move on, nothing to see here.
Presumably due to a backup on interactions (planning to send five visits to every team during the first round is ambitious!), we didn’t actually unlock the Brainstorm until 6:28. Like many teams, judging by what I see elsewhere, we brought back the five words and thought we needed to solve them; eventually someone found the instruction that said to just enter them as a string (although there was some text elsewhere that seemed to contradict that), and thankfully we did that. It was a little underwhelming, especially because this would have been a nice opportunity to “solve” the logo (we tried taking shared letters at the points where colored regions met).
We had been eating dinner when the Brainstorm happened, and afterward I went back to trying to fill in letters into the chutes and ladders grid for the Scout meta. Before dinner we only had two answers that overlapped, and they fit into two places. I had noted (to Josh Oratz, I think) that in one place they could make ?XO???????? if you read upward, and I brainstormed out loud “EXOSKELETON?” After dinner we had a second overlap that only fit in one place and blocked one of the options for the first pair. Josh was thankfully still around and said, “Look, it is EXOSKELETON!” which I had not noticed. After calling this in, I fit in the rest of our answers and determined that the other two should be of the form L????A?? and PE??????L. The latter seemed like it could only be PERSONNEL, PERENNIAL, or PERPETUAL. The folks working on Murder at the Asylum pointed out that the answer was likely to be nine letters long, and PERSONNEL seemed thematic, so we guessed that at 10:47pm. It was incorrect. We’ll come back to that.
I hadn’t left HQ in a while, so I decided to participate in the Scouting Challenge with some other alums. We definitely missed some pictures early on, because when we finished we had the string TTNOONE. We were going to retrace our steps when I suggested the answer might be TRUST NO ONE, and we called that in and confirmed it, saving us some time. When we returned to HQ, James Douberley was coming by to visit… I whispered “Trust no one!” to him, and he laughed politely with a look that suggested he didn’t know what the hell I was talking about.
We had a second island open by now, and I wasn’t really following the Pokemon structure other than hearing that there were puzzles and harder evolved puzzles. I participated in the solving of You Know What’s Missing (without urinating) and Mass Aid (uggggh) and helped wheel-of-fortune out the answer to the Advertiser meta (from 2/5 answers, I think) after someone else worked out the extraction. Around 11:30pm I decided it was a good time to go back to the hotel and sleep.
I probably got about 5.5 hours of sleep in and returned to HQ around 6:30am. I was shocked that we still didn’t have a third island open, particularly since the organizers had bumped up the requirement for said island due to points flowing too quickly. They had actually called us, since we were (in their words) “very close” to opening a third, to make sure we wouldn’t think that was unfair. I didn’t realize that was going to result in six more hours with only two islands! We were close now, so after being sad about missing the MLS puzzle overnight and circling the word CONIFER in CONFINED AQUIFER, I noticed everyone had given up on Murder at the Asylum. I talked through some of it with the half dozen people in the room but eventually decided I needed to go out in the seating area in the hall to try to concentrate on solving it frontward. It’s a great puzzle but it took a loooong time; from the Log, it looks like it was hours, though I didn’t think it was *that* long. I never fully worked out the murderers/accomplices, but I got enough information to squeeze out the answer ALTERNATE. That’s weird, that’s not PE??????L or L????A??. The printout I made of the chutes & ladders board had been thrown away, so I filled in a new one and discovered I’d left out a letter. With ALTERNATE confirmed, I realized that the PE??????L options were now valid for 10000-Puzzle Tesseract, which lots of people had put time into without finishing. We tried all three, and the last one PERSONNEL was correct at 9:37am… almost eleven hours after we’d tried it on the other unsolved puzzle. Major. Backsolve. Fail. On the bright side, this was just enough brainpower to open up Games Island.
This is getting quite long, so I’ll wrap up this post and continue in Part 3.