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21 January 2013 @ 02:40 pm
Too Big to Solve?  
Not my tagline, but a good description for the Mystery Hunt that just happened. One line of dialogue after last year's Hunt that I led with in my wrap-up was a question of when is too soon for a Hunt to end. I said, in this era of a few competitive teams trying to grow to get over the winning hurdle, constructors aiming bigger was a mistake. The Hunt ending after 36 hours (Midnight Saturday) is fine if that makes the solving experience stretch over the weekend for everyone else. I won't comment generally on this year's effort but it seems a great example to point back to of too much ambition by too many people towards the further militarization of the size of Hunt so that by 2025 the team "The whole of new USA" can go after the coin against "USSReunited" for at least a month. The sense of "puzzle" versus "grindy work" is also a discussion I have every year and I don't choose to repeat myself. I've felt since 2008 that the Mystery Hunt is far from an event I'd regularly attend in person although I'm glad to have finally been onsite to play with Team Luck with whom I've been a "free agent" now for three years.

I had a good solving year as things go relatively, but it was mostly demoralizing personally. I soloed Palmer's Portals, for example, but spent many hours after basically solving 8/10ths with a need to tweak a very small and underconstrained set of things to get from that hard work state to a finished state. At some stage I told the team "I'm going to solve Portals and the Feynman meta and then go sleep" and I met this goal but in many times the expected time when I gave the statement. I led the solve of both Danny Ocean (with zebraboy stating the most necessary last bit to get my work over the cliff) and Richard Feynman (with Jasters). I obviously co-solved lots of the logic puzzles and other puzzles, and gave various finishing help to a range of things too. I think I did this best for "Kid Crossword" once when he had spent a lot of timing mastering the hard steps of a crossword/scrabble puzzle -- and could quite impressively fast rewrite out the set of steps I wanted him to do about the puzzle -- and the follow-up steps were not obvious but I led the killing of the beast. This was too often the feel for these puzzles, and my assassination rate was far lower than I wanted. My Sunday was spent earning 3 puzzle answers by actually going to an event, and then falsely believing the power to buy some answers would let me finish solving the Indiana Jones mini-metas -- where I had already mostly soloed Adventure 2's snakes with 5/8 answers, but then killed myself dead on #1/Ouroboros for the rest of the day for so long solving, as many solvers will say in hindsight, the puzzle that was meant to be in one of a dozen ways and not the puzzle it was. Let me state here as I did for hours with my team, the phrase "I'm not cut out for this" is horrible flavor. It implies both cut this out and, in a different way, also don't cut this out. This makes you want to cut it out, which takes a lot of time, but also to not invest too much time in cutting it out, so as to save the wasted time of doing a task you are being told not to do. Other wordings are far safer, and implied negatives within positives is one of the five worst flavor failure modes in my opinion. Puzzle editing and flavor text is an art and is certainly the biggest variable from year to year and constructing team to constructing team.

So yeah, Mystery Hunt happened. And there were the usual share of overwhelmingly incredible Aha moments. Endgame seemed very fun and I wish all teams could do just that for the weekend or at least a lot more things like that. More of that, and more sleep, would have both been some good choices this year. If only the puzzles solved on schedule.

ETA: And as I added far below around comment #300, as a solver who was both frustrated yet had fun in this Hunt, I do want to thank everyone on Sages for the incredible effort they put in. Making a Mystery Hunt is a gift for all solvers whether it matches expectations or not, and as a mostly thankless job I do want the constructors and editors and software engineers and graphic designers and cooks and phone center workers and everyone else to know I appreciated all you did over the last weekend to give us several days together for puzzling.

Further, as I was asked to write a larger piece elsewhere that has given me personally a lot more attention as the face of the criticism, and as I use the phrase "My team" a lot in general as solving forms this kind of bond, I want to be very clear: since Bombers broke up after 2009 I have been a free agent. I have solved recently with Team Luck but am not a core part of their leadership and these opinions I state are my own. I intend to form my own team next year to go after the coin again, and if you have a problem with what I have said anywhere on the internets, please hate me for it. I believe in my posts I have been offering constructive criticism, but even what I have said is without all the facts of what went on inside Sages so I could easily be speaking from ignorance a lot of the time.

EFTA: Thanks to tablesaw for pointing out this chronologic feature of posts. If you want to see all the additions to this post in time sorted order, go here http://motris.livejournal.com/181790.html?view=flat. We're on page 14 at the moment.
 
 
 
Adam R. Woodzotmeister on January 21st, 2013 11:12 pm (UTC)
I wanted to remark on the seeming change in attitude you present between this entry and your previous "that happened" ones, but it occurs to me that this is quite possibly entirely the result of my having read this one in YOUR voice rather than my own. - ZM
motrismotris on January 21st, 2013 11:15 pm (UTC)
I'm slowly getting the entries shorter so that I can just tweet "so XXX happened" in the future with a link and not rant for paragraphs again. But the phrase is certainly a loaded part of my lexicon, after WSCs and Philly Sudoku tournaments and such past.

Edited at 2013-01-21 11:18 pm (UTC)
MellowMelonMellowMelon [wordpress.com] on January 22nd, 2013 02:01 am (UTC)
I'm not expecting a whole lot of positive reviews given that the difficulty fell so far outside of our expectations. I hope Portals was enjoyable at least - of the half a dozen puzzles I made, that's probably the only one I was proud of. But now that things are over I also realize it was probably part of the length problem.

I can't really say anything about how the length debacle happened since even now I still only vaguely know about how one of our supermetas worked, and I only saw a few dozen non-metapuzzles in all. Conjectures from the organizing end about how we were so off-target will have to come from someone else.
motrismotris on January 22nd, 2013 03:06 am (UTC)
Portals fits the space of great puzzle, but great Hunt puzzle?!? as I felt about the Kakuro from last year. Yes, it was certainly a very impressive feat of puzzle construction and had many of the same joys of your last marathon from your blog. But I saw no easy way to parallelize the process, and no easy way after 3 hours of getting to an almost answer that incorrectly copied the wrong snake shape into the Statue Park and then built off of it, to hand off or get help from anyone else except to dig myself out of my own hole. Once I got the Statue Park to "feel" right to constrain the lower-right corner, I knew I'd get to the end soon, but I was not expecting to sign up for a six hour puzzle experience.

Edited at 2013-01-22 03:08 am (UTC)
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(Anonymous) on January 22nd, 2013 09:21 am (UTC)
In all honesty, I was looking forward to one of Palmer's puzzles on the hunt, and when I saw Portals, I knew it was going to be good. Not that I made a lot of progress at all on it, but now that the hunt is over, I can solve it my way.

I have to agree that this hunt and some of the puzzles felt made for a larger team to solve, like the Jigsaw Puzzle (god why)and Analogy Farm. That might be one of the reasons the hunt set the record for length. Along with the unassailable difficulty of ones that should have been simple, like Dessert Party. Not that there weren't some great ideas in the puzzles my team got, but this was not a good year for a first-time on-location solver like me.

Well, I look forward to trying to solve some of these later. Here's to next year, which will hopefully hit a middle ground after the past two years.

Giovanni P.

P.S. It was a pleasure to talk with you briefly at the kickoff, motris. I look forward to your work in the upcoming months. Also, apologies if this message shows up a couple of times in the forum. The sign-in forms are giving me a problem.
(Anonymous) on January 22nd, 2013 09:05 pm (UTC)
I certainly have some sympathy for what you must have gone through. We obviously failed spectacularly at estimating difficulty/length. We also had an initial plan to keep the number of open puzzles reasonable, to try to avoid favoring large teams; you probably noticed that on Friday. But by Saturday, *everyone* was behind the time curve (we simply had to release puzzles at a certain rate so they would all be out by Sunday), and with 30+ puzzles open, large teams had an obvious advantage. My impression was that the less serious teams loved having a vast array of puzzles to pick and choose from. But it just wasn't a good competitive Hunt, given the crazy amount of hints and "options" (free puzzles) we had to give out in a desperate (failed) attempt to end the Hunt by Monday morning.

On the other hand, walking around and seeing different teams and contrasting their approaches to the Hunt was quite interesting. Even other top teams like Death From Above (in the lead through most of the Hunt) and the eventual winners John Galt (second up till Sunday before establishing a convincing lead) were all smiles and obviously enjoying themselves when I visited. Then I got to Luck, and some of you (not all) seemed to be locked into a grim death march, desperate to get to the end.

I know Luck really wants to win, and we probably made it impossible for a mid-sized team this year. But keeping morale up should help your odds of being the victor in future years... :)

Regarding your specific complaints: Portals was a brilliant puzzle and obviously parallelizable, as I saw several teams doing exactly that. :P And Ouroboros has its issues (the main one being how hard it is to assemble the loops), but I really find it strange that you think we would be hinting in flavortext at something you SHOULDN'T do. Your mind must have been pretty scrambled by early Monday morning. :) It wasn't just you, either; everyone - except Palindrome! - really seemed to stumble on the last few supermetas. Nobody's close to their best after 60 straight hours of puzzling.

- Derek Kisman
motrismotris on January 22nd, 2013 10:45 pm (UTC)
There are many valid interpretations of the flavor including don't cut out. The meta clearly presented snakes with the letters in the answer words and the concept of knotting and just seemed to obfuscate snake identity to be mean. One can imagine a single ouroboros assembled in one loop so that going head to tail around it all the letters can be crossed off in order uniquely in the answer words leaving the leftovers. That would have a nice word and logic component to match the other parts. It was a much more fun idea that almost was fully constrained. One can imagine knitting a head to tail snake group like a potholder to spell out all answer words with overs and unders and edge leftovers read cw or ccw for extract. Certainly one can even with sleep read not cut out to mean not cut out because those are the words in a row.

I will hate all Hunt construction teams that have any contingency that needs to unlock a round of 20(+6) puzzles all at once to a competive team of any size as happened to my team at midnight to 4 AM with Rubik.

Edited at 2013-01-22 10:52 pm (UTC)
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(no subject) - owens888 on January 23rd, 2013 10:17 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - lunchboy on January 23rd, 2013 10:34 pm (UTC) (Expand)
owens888owens888 on January 23rd, 2013 06:59 pm (UTC)
Why weren't partials confirmed? That was so demoralizing.
Also, this hunt made me realized how demoralizing it is to buy answers instead of hints. Often, we were forced to buy answers to puzzles that people had worked hours on. The half-hour 1 yes/no question mechanism for hints actually worked really well; I wish something like that had been available far earlier.
motrismotris on January 23rd, 2013 07:17 pm (UTC)
The answer I've heard for years, when solving or constructing, is that tradition is not to confirm partials as is done at Microsoft Hunts or Google or elsewhere.

I've wanted an automated system that confirms partials (and maybe pushes "keep going" or eventually hints) since we ran 2009's Zyzzlvaria Hunt. I had no traction with my last team, but if I ever have my own team and win I'll modernize many aspects of Hunt including partial confirmations.
(no subject) - zotmeister on January 23rd, 2013 09:58 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - owens888 on January 23rd, 2013 10:01 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - cananian on January 23rd, 2013 10:19 pm (UTC) (Expand)
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(no subject) - cananian on January 23rd, 2013 10:36 pm (UTC) (Expand)
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(no subject) - cananian on January 24th, 2013 04:27 am (UTC) (Expand)
(Anonymous) on January 23rd, 2013 07:16 pm (UTC)
Flavortext (Lack of)
Looking at the intended solutions is a bit frustrating. Some seem like decent puzzles, but with no indication that the solver should be pursuing the intended method. Take Linked Pairs:

Puzzle:

http://www.coinheist.com/sneakers/linked_pairs/index.html

Solution:

http://z.manicsages.org/puzzle/uploads/puzzle_files/50f97ae1d6438.zip_dir/

The actual puzzle is fine, but was there a reason the solver should have known that the puzzles were in different languages? Was Hofstadter supposed to be a nudge in this direction? Some decent flavor text hinting really would have helped here.

- JJ
(Anonymous) on January 23rd, 2013 07:27 pm (UTC)
Re: Flavortext (Lack of)
Seeing now that one of the English clues mentions Japanese and one of the Japanese clues mentions English.

That was a bit subtle for me.

- JJ
Re: Flavortext (Lack of) - (Anonymous) on January 26th, 2013 10:30 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Todd Ettertoddetter on January 23rd, 2013 09:15 pm (UTC)
Why partials are sometimes needed
It was mentioned earlier about confirming partials, and while I understand that the MIT hunt traditionally hasn't done this, I think constructors need to realize the pitfalls of not having it.

Take Ex Post Facto, for example.
http://www.coinheist.com/get_smart/ex_post_facto/index.html

Solution: http://z.manicsages.org/puzzle/uploads/puzzle_files/50c68f8070358.txt

I was solving this with a team of four and even though it took us quite a while, it was tremendously fun and satisfying, probably my favorite puzzle of the hunt so far. When we finally realized to rebuild the grid, it was one of those fun aha moments, culminating with what we expected to be the final answer.

After rebuilding, assuming we were very close to being done, we got the message: PROB CLEARLY STATED. So we first called that in. Wrong. So then we found the quote, "A problem clearly stated is a problem half solved" So we called in PROBLEM HALF SOLVED. And PROB HALF SOLVED, and about 5 different versions of this, including the author of the quote.

So at this point we were very deflated. And it mostly a function of wondering if we were just not wording the answer correctly or we actually had to sit down and do a lot more work.

In this case, the intended path was to backtrack to the halfway point and find a nine-letter message split into three different segments spanning the middle of the grid. A very impressive construction, indeed, but one we never found.

If the message had been something like "SOLVE THIS PUZZLE HALFWAY" or some other explicit instruction, then we would have likely plowed onward. But with the current answer system, the problem lies in not knowing if something is an instruction or a hint at the answer. And after spending hours on something, you really don't want to spend more time... you just want to end on a high point.

So, as a result, we became deflated on something that could have been a high point of the hunt for us and one in which we really enjoyed. Ultimately this was fixed when the hint was released so some of our teammates were able to pick it back up and eventually solve it.

This was a great puzzle and brilliantly constructed. My point here is that if you want your solver to dig deeper and uncover more layers, you need to be either pretty explicit about it or confirm partial answers.

Thanks to Manic Sages for all the hard work put into this year's hunt. Despite the length, we had a great time.


motrismotris on January 23rd, 2013 09:26 pm (UTC)
Re: Why partials are sometimes needed
As I wrote elsewhere, when I was called in to kill Ex Post Facto dead, I had Tyler do the "so what if we just write in half the grid step" and that still took many minutes to find and read out the answer. If it weren't for the awesome almost perfect symmetry of the half grid I would have discounted such an odd step.

And of course, I was more interested in knowing how "INTERPOSE" could work in the puzzle as the next step, since in this Hunt it clearly could not be the final answer and my Pavlovian response was to interpose something but I wasn't sure what. *sigh*

Edited at 2013-01-23 09:33 pm (UTC)
ztbb - ztbb on January 24th, 2013 12:25 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: ztbb - cananian on January 24th, 2013 04:35 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Why partials are sometimes needed - yuethomas on January 25th, 2013 05:17 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Why partials are sometimes needed - toddetter on January 25th, 2013 05:19 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Why partials are sometimes needed - yuethomas on January 25th, 2013 05:21 am (UTC) (Expand)
Adam R. Wood: portal300zotmeister on January 23rd, 2013 10:03 pm (UTC)
motris.livejournal.com - THE premier website for bitching about poorly-run puzzle competitions.
motrismotris on January 23rd, 2013 10:10 pm (UTC)
I'm glad I own that brand. It means I can now build my own brand of good competitions at Grandmaster Puzzles and use the motris.livejournal.com brand to trash all competitors! Until now its never been undeserved and I don't intend to change that.

Again, individually, I think these were ambitious and often cool puzzles. But too often too hard or underclued, with poor end extraction phrases, and in a big picture sense the Hunt was extremely broken from first impossible event to last impossible meta. When I get the sub-note about the KenKen puzzle, for example, that "I have a Ph.D. in mathematics and I'm not sure I could have gotten this to the end", you are more writing a Hunt for the whole world to try to crack and might as well throw Cryptos or P=NP or something else into the rounds to just pad the length a bit.

Edited at 2013-01-23 10:30 pm (UTC)
(no subject) - electricshadow4 on January 24th, 2013 01:39 am (UTC) (Expand)
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Dr. C. Scott Ananiancananian on January 24th, 2013 05:10 pm (UTC)
Poor kids
I'm actually starting to feel rather sorry for the puzzle writers on Sages. Their puzzles are being maligned because of decisions made by their editors. There are always overly complex and/or not-quite-baked puzzle ideas, but successful hunts have fantastic editors that make all the puzzles shine. Instead some poor kid writing his first puzzle for Sages wasn't given the necessary guidance, direction, or aesthetic sense, and now the Internetz are calling their hunt the worst thing ever. :(

There were some nice puzzle ideas in the Sages hunt. Just to pick two, 50/50 and "diagramless crossmusic" are both interesting innovative ideas buried by terrible editing.
noahspuzzlelj on January 24th, 2013 05:27 pm (UTC)
Re: Poor kids
So true, when I think back to my first few puzzle suggestions back in 2006 before the editors got ahold of them... There were certainly a lot of cool ideas in the puzzles I saw, enough to make an excellent hunt.
Re: Poor kids - motris on January 24th, 2013 05:41 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Poor kids - cananian on January 24th, 2013 05:43 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Poor kids - motris on January 24th, 2013 05:47 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Poor kids - dr_whom on January 24th, 2013 06:24 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Poor kids - motris on January 24th, 2013 06:30 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Poor kids - cananian on January 24th, 2013 06:39 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Poor kids - dr_whom on January 25th, 2013 12:31 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Poor kids - cananian on January 25th, 2013 12:38 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Poor kids - dr_whom on January 25th, 2013 12:57 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Poor kids - cananian on January 25th, 2013 01:10 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Poor kids - dr_whom on January 25th, 2013 01:15 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Poor kids - dougo on January 25th, 2013 05:30 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Poor kids - brokenwndw on January 25th, 2013 07:31 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Poor kids - dougo on January 25th, 2013 07:43 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Poor kids - doctorskuld on January 25th, 2013 11:49 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Poor kids - dr_whom on January 25th, 2013 02:08 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Poor kids - noahspuzzlelj on January 24th, 2013 06:01 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Poor kids - cananian on January 24th, 2013 06:18 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Poor kids - brokenwndw on January 24th, 2013 07:51 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Poor kids - ztbb on January 25th, 2013 02:37 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Poor kids - Thouis R. Jones on January 25th, 2013 03:08 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Poor kids - cananian on January 25th, 2013 03:34 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Poor kids - Thouis R. Jones on January 25th, 2013 03:40 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Poor kids - brokenwndw on January 25th, 2013 03:52 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Poor kids - zotmeister on January 25th, 2013 05:14 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Poor kids - dr_whom on January 25th, 2013 04:16 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Poor kids - (Anonymous) on January 25th, 2013 11:46 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Poor kids - cananian on January 24th, 2013 05:45 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Dr. C. Scott Ananiancananian on January 24th, 2013 05:50 pm (UTC)
Cody B.: contemplationcodeman38 on January 24th, 2013 06:40 pm (UTC)
One thing I found interesting in that post is that one team called in "SOL" for Ex Post Facto-- which is a completely reasonable thing to do, given the clue "problem half solved"!

If there's one thing that I feel ruined this hunt for me, it would have to be the ambiguity in what to do with a given extracted phrase. Sometimes something that looked like an oblique clue was the actual answer; other times, what looked like a final answer was actually a further clue. And sometimes, misinterpreting an extracted phrase led people down the wrong path entirely for the second aha (as happened to me on a few puzzles).
(no subject) - motris on January 24th, 2013 06:57 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - dougo on January 24th, 2013 11:37 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - rpipuzzleguy on January 25th, 2013 01:26 am (UTC) (Expand)
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(no subject) - jcberk on January 25th, 2013 05:42 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - motris on January 25th, 2013 05:58 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - selinker on January 25th, 2013 06:28 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - (Anonymous) on January 25th, 2013 07:51 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - lunchboy on January 25th, 2013 11:14 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - brokenwndw on January 25th, 2013 11:38 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - noahspuzzlelj on January 25th, 2013 11:47 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - Derek Kisman on February 1st, 2013 04:39 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - motris on February 1st, 2013 06:48 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - dougo on February 1st, 2013 09:08 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - motris on February 1st, 2013 09:55 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - krustad on January 26th, 2013 12:16 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - codeman38 on January 26th, 2013 04:13 am (UTC) (Expand)
(Anonymous) on January 24th, 2013 11:37 pm (UTC)
For any Manic Sages still reading, how did testsolving of "Bottom of the Top" go? I've always been really strong at music identification puzzles, but even working with a group we only came up with about a quarter of the songs after nine hours (some of which were even mis-identified). It didn't help that we apparently had to manually go through 300+ songs and hope that we listened to the exact right part of the song and recognized the bassline correctly before moving on.

I was hoping there was an extraction method we all missed to be revealed in the solution, only to find out that not only did we have everything we needed but the grunt work but also that *the puzzle had three times as many songs to search through* up until the Saturday before the hunt!

With all due respect, I honestly can't believe that it could've been solved as originally designed in a sane amount of time and I genuinely would love to hear otherwise.
(Anonymous) on January 25th, 2013 01:46 am (UTC)
The testsolvers found the beats per minute (bpm) for each clip, and moved through the possible songs in alphabetical order; if the rhythm wasn't correct, they immediately switched to the next song. Some testsolvers just listened to the bass line of the song using a MIDI, which made it easier to match things up quickly. It still took a long time, but we thought if there are a third as many songs, it would be reasonable to go through the list quickly using these techniques. We also thought that there might be someone on each team who recognizes a lot of classic bass lines, so that between a quarter to a half of the songs could be ID'd by recognition. We realize now that this wasn't very reasonable.
(no subject) - (Anonymous) on January 25th, 2013 02:04 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - cananian on January 25th, 2013 03:27 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - (Anonymous) on January 25th, 2013 04:33 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - noahspuzzlelj on January 25th, 2013 04:40 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - (Anonymous) on January 25th, 2013 05:22 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - Ali Lloyd on January 25th, 2013 10:03 am (UTC) (Expand)
Mike Selinkerselinker on January 25th, 2013 04:33 am (UTC)
I just read 277 comments that, if I were on the Hunt construction end of them, might demoralize me. There's certainly payback value to saying "We were demoralized, so you should be too," but I doubt it's constructive. So I'm going to resist that urge, and try to give three pieces of advice to teams constructing their first hunt.

1) Writing a good Hunt is hard.
2) Writing an ambitious Hunt is much harder.
3) So to make your task easier, just try to write a good Hunt.

I think you can see the lessons in the two hunts that the Bombers wrote. Our first hunt, The Hell Hunt, was quite straightforward: there was an introductory round in which you got the coin but lost your soul, then a series of rounds with fairly grokkable metas (except for Law & Government, which is My Fault™), and one big meta that used all that info.

Our second hunt, Escape from Zyzzlvaria, was more ambitious. The Inner Zyzzlvaria rounds were pretty straightforward, and escalated in difficulty so that most teams could crack a metameta. But Outer Zyzzlvaria was not so straightforward, with cascading metas and superhard puzzles, and we had a lot of trouble getting teams through those rounds. We had to make changes on the fly that were not at all easy to make. It was a good Hunt that could have been great, but Hell was a great Hunt right out of the gate.

So my advice is: A first-time Hunt construction team should aim for what we did in Hell, rather than what we did in Zyzzlvaria. And they definitely should shy away from being more complicated than Zyzzlvaria.

Just my two Dollarbucks.

Mike
rlangmit on January 25th, 2013 07:10 am (UTC)
As someone who thinks Hell may be the greatest hunt of all time, I just want to point out that it was actually very innovative, as well as exceptionally creative. So any first timers shouldn't shy away from exciting things, as long as they keep the actual puzzles and meta structure from getting too out of control.
(no subject) - motris on January 25th, 2013 07:17 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - selinker on January 25th, 2013 07:18 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - rlangmit on January 25th, 2013 07:40 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - selinker on January 25th, 2013 07:23 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - noahspuzzlelj on January 25th, 2013 04:12 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - cananian on January 25th, 2013 06:02 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - motris on January 25th, 2013 06:05 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - selinker on January 25th, 2013 07:24 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Mikey Gemengee on January 25th, 2013 07:10 am (UTC)
I want to thank everybody who had anything kind to say about the hunt. Yes, we had massive issues. And yes, people should feel free to vent their frustration so long as they do it constructively. Anyone who is ever going to be constructing a Mystery Hunt should see and learn from these mistakes. But at the same time, there was so much effort that went into the hunt, a lot of good things came out of it, and it would be a shame to forget about those things.

I know that in previous years, many members of the Mystery Hunt community focused on trying to make new members feel welcome and making sure they had guidance and support. The thing that's disappointing to me is that there were many novice constructors (myself included) on the Sages who might someday grow into great constructors with the right guidance, who were truly excited that they got their first puzzle(s) into the Mystery Hunt, but who might be turned off from writing puzzles in the future because of all of the negative feedback we've been getting.

Of course, the other side of the coin is that there may be some solvers who are turned off from participating in future Mystery Hunts because so many puzzles in this hunt were just way too hard. And that's just as much of a shame. But the difference is that the Manic Sages worked hard and really tried to make the hunt as fun as possible (there were some great puzzle ideas, the obstacles were awesome, the art was beautiful, etc.). When things started to go bad, we did whatever we could to try and make the weekend as much fun as possible. For instance, at one point teams were struggling with the puzzle 11 Secret Herbs and Spices, the Sages organized an impromptu event for teams to work together on the puzzle, and we even sent some of our members in drag to perform as the Spice Girls. Yes, things were going wrong, but we tried our best to better everyone's experience. Some of the people posting purely negative comments online about how much they hated the hunt...well, they don't seem to be trying to better anyone's experience.

So again, thank you to anyone who took the time to write about something you liked about the hunt. Believe me, you've made someone's day, and probably at a time when they really needed it.
motrismotris on January 25th, 2013 07:24 am (UTC)
I remember feeling at my lowest as a puzzle constructor after 2009 when our Hunt similarly went into Monday and we had a bunch of errors and we expected lots of solver to be frustrated with us. Writing a Hunt is a mostly thankless task that even when it runs right doesn't give all the credit to all the people who make it possible. I left 2009 not wanting to ever solve at MIT again. This was my first year back and not just remote. And despite all the frustration, I would not have wanted to build a time machine and miss this Hunt even knowing what I know now. I found a lot of aspects of this Hunt really brilliant -- the runaround components and training certainly. And many puzzles were brilliant or quite original.

What I think this long thread shows clearly is that there were people who had fun, and people who were frustrated, and people who were frustrated and had fun (where I'd place myself). But I think all of us in this superset of solvers want to thank you for the effort you did take to make this Mystery Hunt. No project with tens of thousands of person-hours of work can be easy. While I can only offer thanks today at the same time that may ring hollow given all the critiques for the future, if I ever get a chance to write Hunt again, the countless hours I'll put into that will be my return of the gift of puzzles to Sages and all the other teams that have built a weekend of puzzles with the community of solvers, whether they were all the puzzles we wanted or not.

Edited at 2013-01-25 07:26 am (UTC)
(no subject) - selinker on January 25th, 2013 07:28 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - MellowMelon [wordpress.com] on January 25th, 2013 07:55 am (UTC) (Expand)
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My First Puzzles - emengee on January 26th, 2013 06:12 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: My First Puzzles - brokenwndw on January 26th, 2013 06:21 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: My First Puzzles - ppaladin on January 26th, 2013 02:45 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: My First Puzzles - emengee on January 26th, 2013 05:17 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: My First Puzzles - ppaladin on January 26th, 2013 07:49 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: My First Puzzles - Prestemon on January 26th, 2013 09:56 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: My First Puzzles - emengee on January 26th, 2013 05:43 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: My First Puzzles - motris on January 26th, 2013 05:48 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: My First Puzzles - doctorskuld on January 26th, 2013 10:38 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: My First Puzzles - emengee on January 26th, 2013 05:59 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: My First Puzzles - jennyelfenmass on January 27th, 2013 06:47 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - (Anonymous) on January 25th, 2013 08:47 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - selinker on January 26th, 2013 01:13 am (UTC) (Expand)
(Deleted comment)
Ali LloydAli Lloyd on January 25th, 2013 11:06 am (UTC)
Re: Chloe outlet
The spambot comment is not a puzzle.
Re: Chloe outlet - brokenwndw on January 25th, 2013 11:47 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Chloe outlet - dr_whom on January 25th, 2013 02:45 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Chloe outlet - Ali Lloyd on January 25th, 2013 02:56 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Chloe outlet - motris on January 25th, 2013 04:19 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Chloe outlet - dr_whom on January 25th, 2013 04:56 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Chloe outlet - cananian on January 25th, 2013 06:05 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Chloe outlet - codeman38 on January 26th, 2013 03:58 am (UTC) (Expand)
David Glasserdavidglasser on January 25th, 2013 03:07 pm (UTC)
Nice things
Since this seems to be the unofficial Hunt discussion board, and since so far I've only posted negative things, hopefully it isn't too bad form to post my overall impressions here too.

It really pains me to see posts from Sages describing this Hunt as a "disaster" and making it sound full of regret. Do I have things I could criticize about this Hunt? Sure. (And I'll write them down and send them to Tetazoo if they ask for feedback. I can post them here too if Sages want, but I'd rather stay positive.) But that doesn't mean I didn't really enjoy it!

The overall theme was great. Despite my team's (RoboPop) inability to make headway on most metas, the structure was interesting and clever. As a whole, the Hunt had a strong and consistent sense of humor.

The first round was just right. All the puzzles were solvable, even by a team like ours where many of our core local members can't come until after work Friday. Our team reserves a room in the basement of Stata which is only available starting around 5:30PM, so we usually have another room for the first few hours of Hunt and then make the move. We called in 1248 literally as we were finishing packing up to move --- so that's basically the most perfect round length ever! (I think we had similar timing on History.) I personally enjoyed Changing States a lot.

Megamix: I really liked the idea of a "[color] album" themed identification puzzle, even if I could only get halfway through it.

Uncharted Territory: "Sit down and crochet this thing for a while" was a nice break from being stuck on other puzzles.

This Page Intentionally Left Blank: Great puzzle. Good for a few people to work on in parallel, a lot of little "a-ha"s, cute concept.

CrossWord Complex: I didn't work on the crossword half here, but those who did enjoyed it, and figured out how the pieces fit together. And then seeking out the trivial loops (once I realized we were talking homotopy in CW complexes, not knot theory) was fun! Really! And reading the solution gave me warm memories of the homology I once knew.

Treasure Island: Trying to solve this was fun. I don't know why we kept hitting dead ends. If we felt like there was any possibility that we could have ever made it to the Ocean meta level (this was the only Ocean sub-meta we fully unlocked) I would have written a program for it or something.

Sam's Your Uncle: This ate one of my friends for something like 36 hours. It was definitely a compelling puzzle! Unfortunately, despite realizing from the title that there was probably something British involved, we didn't quite get the main twist, and just spent a day very slowly getting optional clues together. But, y'know, fun enough that we didn't give up for a huge amount of time.

Missed Connections: Short and sweet. Exactly what we needed Saturday morning.

Jigsaw Puzzle: People seem to be complaining about this on this post, or saying it was too much for small teams. Well, while it wasn't my thing personally, it was incredibly popular on RoboPop. It was a straightforward task that anyone could work on at any point when making no headway on other puzzles. It was probably the puzzle that made the most progress in the wee hours of late Friday night. And we did solve it.

Call and Response: Nice puzzle. We didn't solve it, but we really should of. Reading over solutions, one theme seems to be that Sages really liked "the two words have the same length, extract matching letters" and our team rarely tried that. (Dear Abby had the same problem for us.) Good to know :)

Dessert Party: I liked the semi-collaborative nature here: you definitely needed to share with other teams to get all the information, and then you could choose between secretive solving or group.

Lost in Translation: I didn't work on it but it sounded like those who did loved it.

De-coins: Definitely excited some folks on our team. Scavenger hunts are nice when you're stuck.

Time Conundrum: Now that I see the call-in page, I don't consider this puzzle to be semi-broken for not-super-organized teams. And even without the RED HERRING, we solved it and had a great time. Maybe my favorite Conundrum-style puzzle yet (though it's really more of a logic puzzle than Conundrum).

[more in next comment]
David Glasserdavidglasser on January 25th, 2013 03:07 pm (UTC)
Re: Nice things

Cone of Silence: Now I realize that I never saw the completed project of our team's and want to. They certainly laughed a lot while making it.

Halting Problem: Probably my favorite puzzle of the Hunt. The fact that one of them computed a number that is currently unknown (R(5,5)) and the double level of insight needed for Erlang ("this is a prime factorization algorithm!" .... "and this is RSA-768!") were great. And what a fitting answer.

Analogy Farm: I only tried this for a few minutes, but the hoard of puzzlers giggling in a corner for an hour sure liked it!

Security Theater: Generally fun (though it took us surprisingly long to figure out the rule for the respacing rows). Definitely appreciated the "checkpoints" during the decoding (spelling messages midway through).

Git Hub: Did we solve it? No. Did I assume there was something clever that I was missing that I'd kick myself for not noticing when I saw the solution? Yes. Was I right? Yes. Nice puzzle, I should have just drawn the graph like I kept considering.

A Regular Crossword: Loved it! A good example of a puzzle that's fun, unique, and slightly challenging without really needing any aha moments. Ahas are great, but some puzzles can just be "here's a new puzzle form I made up, solve it!"

Season Changes; No One Ages: Another easy late-hunt puzzle that made it feel like we still had something resembling momentum.
Re: Nice things - (Anonymous) on January 25th, 2013 05:48 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Nice things - emengee on January 25th, 2013 05:53 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Nice things - (Anonymous) on January 25th, 2013 07:37 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Jigsaw Puzzle - (Anonymous) on January 25th, 2013 07:20 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Jigsaw Puzzle - fuurei on January 25th, 2013 08:49 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Jigsaw Puzzle - rlangmit on January 25th, 2013 09:15 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Jigsaw Puzzle - (Anonymous) on January 25th, 2013 09:19 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Jigsaw Puzzle - fuurei on January 25th, 2013 09:33 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Tablesaw: Personabletablesaw on January 25th, 2013 06:09 pm (UTC)
The following link will list all comments to this page in chronological order:

http://motris.livejournal.com/181790.html?view=flat

Adding "?view=flat" to the end of an LJ post's URL always has this feature. No idea why it's not more widely documented.
Andrewbrokenwndw on January 25th, 2013 06:23 pm (UTC)
I feel a little bit like you've just showed up at the end of a puzzle I've been trying to extract for hours and delivered the critical aha. Thank you!
Alisonlandofnowhere on January 25th, 2013 09:12 pm (UTC)
Creating this as a sub-thread for members of Sages to ask for feedback on puzzles that haven't gotten much. (If you'd rather not do so publicly, send me an LJ message, or send the feedback to Sages to pass on to everyone involved).

My requests:
Transit Links (co-authored with MellowMellon)
Mergers (editor)
Stakeout (editor)
Grandson of the Realm of Unspeakable Chaos (editor, though not the main one)

(boing!) Cnoocy Mosque O'Witzcnoocy on January 25th, 2013 09:22 pm (UTC)
We figured out a lot about Grandson, but the people working on it weren't the people who worked on Son, and when I took a quick look at Son it looked different enough that I didn't go down that path. Did it get solved?
(no subject) - noahspuzzlelj on January 25th, 2013 10:06 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - electricshadow4 on January 25th, 2013 09:35 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - landofnowhere on January 25th, 2013 09:45 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - codeman38 on January 26th, 2013 03:46 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - dougo on January 25th, 2013 09:49 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - Ali Lloyd on January 25th, 2013 10:44 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - dougo on January 25th, 2013 10:50 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - (Anonymous) on January 26th, 2013 04:36 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - noahspuzzlelj on January 25th, 2013 10:04 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - electricshadow4 on January 25th, 2013 10:21 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - cananian on January 25th, 2013 10:40 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - pesto17 on January 28th, 2013 04:08 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - dr_whom on January 25th, 2013 11:38 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - novalis on January 26th, 2013 04:36 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - landofnowhere on January 26th, 2013 05:23 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - (Anonymous) on January 26th, 2013 07:02 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - zotmeister on January 26th, 2013 09:12 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - (Anonymous) on January 26th, 2013 09:59 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - ppaladin on January 26th, 2013 02:46 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - antimony on January 27th, 2013 01:45 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Puzzle feedback - (Anonymous) on January 27th, 2013 04:22 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Puzzle feedback - antimony on January 28th, 2013 12:18 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Puzzle feedback - (Anonymous) on January 28th, 2013 11:05 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Puzzle feedback - (Anonymous) on January 28th, 2013 04:10 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Puzzle feedback - snowspinner on January 29th, 2013 04:45 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Puzzle feedback - (Anonymous) on January 30th, 2013 01:10 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - devjoe on January 27th, 2013 06:03 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - Dima Kamalov on January 28th, 2013 06:21 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - zotmeister on January 26th, 2013 08:43 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - MellowMelon [wordpress.com] on January 26th, 2013 09:37 am (UTC) (Expand)
transit links - (Anonymous) on January 29th, 2013 08:13 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(Anonymous) on January 26th, 2013 05:44 pm (UTC)
Alphabet Book, Shoephone Event, Thomas Crowne Event
Hi Guys: I have a small subchain request (not intended to detract from the overall discussion.)

I would love feedback on Alphabet Book and the Shoephone and Thomas Crowne Events if you have any. (I’m quite a novice writer so I may ask you to clarify for which I apologize in advance.)

Re Alphabet Book: In first testsolve, people solved it without getting the Aha (that the objects clued by the couplets looked like the capital letters of their clues i.e. Eiffel looks like a capital A) so I was told to make the clues harder. Clues were *supposed* to be vague and confusing without this Aha but then be solvable once you’d found the Aha, and they were supposed to be quite clear once you’d gotten the answer. (I don’t know if this was successful).

Re Shoephone: I know the single-team-at-a-time final round was frustrating (We’d thought about this issue but thought it wouldn’t be a problem).

Any thoughts appreciated (about the things I knew were issues, or other things)! (Sorry once again for making a side conversation).
~Halimeda Glickman-Hoch
AJDdr_whom on January 26th, 2013 06:05 pm (UTC)
Re: Alphabet Book, Shoephone Event, Thomas Crowne Event
I worked on Alphabet Book very briefly (I started on it, and then we unlocked Grandson of the Realm of Unspeakable Chaos, so I went work on that instead), but what I saw of it I liked a great deal. Very cute and clever puzzle idea, with clues that were just solvable enough.

The teammate of mine who went to the Thomas Crowne event said he liked it a lot.
Re: Alphabet Book, Shoephone Event, Thomas Crowne Event - (Anonymous) on January 27th, 2013 10:03 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Alphabet Book, Shoephone Event, Thomas Crowne Event - (Anonymous) on January 26th, 2013 09:14 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Alphabet Book, Shoephone Event, Thomas Crowne Event - (Anonymous) on January 27th, 2013 10:14 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Alphabet Book, Shoephone Event, Thomas Crowne Event - (Anonymous) on January 27th, 2013 01:59 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Alphabet Book, Shoephone Event, Thomas Crowne Event - (Anonymous) on January 27th, 2013 02:14 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Alphabet Book, Shoephone Event, Thomas Crowne Event - (Anonymous) on January 27th, 2013 02:35 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Alphabet Book, Shoephone Event, Thomas Crowne Event - (Anonymous) on January 27th, 2013 08:04 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Alphabet Book, Shoephone Event, Thomas Crowne Event - (Anonymous) on January 28th, 2013 05:17 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Alphabet Book, Shoephone Event, Thomas Crowne Event - (Anonymous) on January 28th, 2013 05:19 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Alphabet Book, Shoephone Event, Thomas Crowne Event - fuurei on January 28th, 2013 03:48 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Shoephone Event - mystery_fish on January 28th, 2013 05:32 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Alphabet Book, Shoephone Event, Thomas Crowne Event - (Anonymous) on January 28th, 2013 06:30 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Shoephone Event - mystery_fish on January 28th, 2013 08:00 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Shoephone Event - antimony on January 30th, 2013 10:20 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Peasant's Paladinppaladin on January 26th, 2013 07:56 pm (UTC)
I attended the shoephone and crowne events for Codex. I liked the shoephone concept, but found it too long. The game had no puzzle content -- it was just a game. Making teams win the game 15 times just made us spend time. With 3 people there from the team, we would each need to play a minimum of 5 times, provided we won every time. I would have preferred needing to win 5 times, or even just skipping to the final puzzle lite version.

We were the first team to make it to 'final shoephone'. I thought it was fun and elegant, though we were unclear whether the answer we got was the answer, or a clue to the answer. I would have been frustrated if we had had to wait in a long line to play the final round.

I'd also note: the previous two events had very difficult puzzles that required observing everything. We came to shoephone prepared for the same, and were sketching the tape on the floor, looking for patterns in the shoes, etc. We even found an error in one of the tapings. I was happy that the event was dissimilar to the previous two.

I went to the Crowne event with two teammates. It seemed neat. Two of the three of us left as soon as we realized that having multiple people there did not help us in the least. It was very fun to see the event continuing every time we walked through lobby 7.