The MIT Mystery Hunt kicks off the year of events for many puzzle enthusiasts. Thousands of solvers descended on the Cambridge campus over the recent MLK weekend for a puzzle hunt titled “20,000 Puzzles Under the Sea.” The organizing team One Fish, Two Fish, Random Fish, Blue Fish invited solvers on a steampunk submarine adventure in which completing puzzles allowed solvers to explore deeper and deeper oceanic worlds. The subs eventually helped the city of Atlantis defend against the Four Seahorsemen of the Apocalypse and the grateful Atlanteans offered a valuable lodestone as a reward. As organizers, Random did a wonderful job presenting puzzles and events over the weekend. The solving team Luck, I Am Your Father was the first to reach the lodestone just before dawn on Sunday morning — congratulations, Luck!
The nicest feature of this year’s hunt was the website interface. The status of the submarine voyage was represented by an underwater map that allowed teams to scroll down further and further as the hunt progressed. The puzzles were represented by sea creatures and other submerged objects in the map. While the puzzles were divided into various rounds, all of the rounds’ puzzles were conveniently accessible on the same map, as opposed to multiple linked pages used in previous hunts. One round of the adventure — School of Fish — featured 57 puzzles. The number is excessive for a typical Hunt round but all of the fish puzzles were relatively simple and could be solved by solitary person in about ten minutes, and by a dog pile of solvers using a shared Google doc even more quickly! The meta puzzle answers provided upgrades to team submarines and the metas themselves comprised a fair number of original pure metas as well as shell metas (and with an undersea theme, shell metas are appopriate). The hunt had a few drawbacks: the events and interaction rounds gave teams hint coupons but didn’t integrate as smoothly into the main solving arc and the final runaround was bloated and caused scheduling jams when many teams finished at roughly the same time. But overall the solving experience was enjoyable and the positive innovations presented by Random will hopefully be adopted in future hunts.
20,000 Leagues was my ninth hunt on the team Setec Astronomy. Setec has operated with a no-win policy since the time I joined, but in recent years the team has struggled to come close to finishing all the rounds before the wrapup. This year we finished with a solution complete (about a dozen of the puzzles were backsolved) and were eligible to go on the final runaround before the winning team had found the lodestone “coin.” Improvements in our shared document system and accommodations for remote solvers helped with our performance. I had some printer-connection issues with my laptop so I mainly flitted around our classroom headquarters helping others with puzzles or working in shared docs on my laptop. Puzzles that I enjoyed include Erraticism, Montages (that ended with a snowman-building assignment on uncharacteristically snow-free January day), The Accumulator, MiT MYSTERY HUNT, Game, Topsy-Turvy, A Case of the Monday Crosswords, Mashup, and the metas for Chemistry Lab, Pod of Dolphins, and Golden Tower. I attended an event that involved playing charades. I was surprised to learn that many of the younger participants were unfamiliar with traditional charade cluing but was proud of myself for successfully getting a teammate to guess the answer word TEMPEST.
An issue related to Hunt solving that came up in a few postmortem conversations was personal health. A solver on another team had overexerted himself during the weekend and during the final runaround needed to be treated for dehydration. He recovered in due course but some of us wondered about our own marathon-solving behavior. For many MIT Hunters sleep deprivation is a badge of honor and a mark of distinction between serious solvers and mere “casual” ones. I was awake for a 26-hour period during the weekend but I don’t feel proud of that fact — just tired. Solving shifts can certainly be assigned so that a team can be productive without anyone being overtaxed, but if reckless, sleep-deprived solving is the only way a team of 30-40 (i.e. relatively small) can win the Hunt then I’m not in favor of Setec Astronomy changing its philosophy.
Outside of the Hunt I had a wonderful time as always seeing so many friends. I’m not sure if I will be able to do as much traveling this year so I’m happy to have got in some quality time with my puzzle peeps right off the bat.