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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.
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)
MellowMelonMellowMelon [wordpress.com] on January 22nd, 2013 04:05 am (UTC)
Actually I deliberately constructed it be parallelizable. There were about 10 break-ins to that puzzle and they did not merge for a long time. Guess that didn't work out so well in practice?

The inability to correct mistakes is certainly a problem though. In hindsight I might have fixed that by finding an extraction mechanism that could let you self-correct or self-confirm your progress.
zundevilzundevil on January 22nd, 2013 06:14 am (UTC)
"Solving" very very remotely and sporadically here in ABQ gave me the ability to spend all afternoon on the Portals puzzle (and not even bother with answer extraction) and I greatly enjoyed it and marvel at its construction. I look forward to seeing the official solution, as Corral felt like it could go a couple of ways, and my Nurikabe has an ambiguous 3. But the other eight feel solid. Norinori, a puzzle-type I'd never seen before, was a lot more pleasant than I'd been figuring.

Aside from one scary moment where the top-center of my Slitherlink went haywire, it was all forward, however slowly and steadily. Kudos.

motrismotris on January 22nd, 2013 01:20 pm (UTC)
My comment on not splitting may also have been affected by two other things: 1) we got this ~1-2 AM and people I could have worked with were asleep and 2) I am paranoid about working on such a big task and having mistakes pop in not of my own making.

Compared to the ~10 independent path puzzles or the 8 independent sudoku, or several hunts ago my 8 unknown Kakuro variants with Dan, that each split into a "you do this page, I do this page" kind of thing, having 10 different break-ins does not help if it means pencils are crossing across puzzles to use them or track progress on two sets of sheets. So splittable I guess, but not 100% in practice to split only other routes.
meanderlawn.blogspot.com on January 22nd, 2013 03:41 pm (UTC)
Codex parallelized Portals by copying it on a Google spreadsheet. Most of it was solved by several people in at least three locations. Near the end, the local contingent took over, and polished the remainder and the extraction. Errors were made, but they were quickly challenged and Ctrl-Zed away. Personally, I also kept a graphical copy, partly because it allowed for more complex notation, and partly as a failsafe.

We were rather thankful the solving path was not narrow, and we did have fun on it as a group. One of the hunt's highlights for me.
affpuzz on January 22nd, 2013 08:41 pm (UTC)
Unfortunately, one of the pitfalls that Motris brings up happened to Codex here; the google spreadsheet was not correct and the puzzle had to be re-done from "scratch" locally (at least, after we brought up the error, nobody seemed to update the spreadsheet, it still seems to have the ambiguity). The quote around "scratch" I thought was amusing, after seeing Motris's comment about the lower right of the statue park. Basically, I was convinced that that puzzle was correct due to the way that that corner resolved, so on the second printout, I took that puzzle as a given.

Oh Zundevil, if you still have your paper copy with you, I can tell you why I thought I had an ambiguous Nurikabe; one of the 10's covered a square of the dark purple portal, and when checking it, it looked like a black square.... Took a while to figure out that it was part of the island.

It was a fun puzzle, it just makes me wish I had a color printer at home so I go over it again before the USPC or something...