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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 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)
(Anonymous) on January 23rd, 2013 12:34 am (UTC)
Wait, how can you make a giant Ouroboros loop without cutting anything out? (And where would the "1/2" markers fit in, or were you just ignoring them?) I don't understand your "pot holder" description at all. I was the author, btw, so I probably shouldn't try to defend this universally hated puzzle. I just thought disassembling one set of snakes to form another set of snakes was neat. Sigh.

Incidentally, I just read Eric Berlin's writeup ( http://ericberlin.com/?p=5228 ). Palindrome also considered themselves "stuck" on the three supermetas, which is interesting because I think they were by far the fastest to get them (relative to when they'd solved enough metas to have a chance). They really caught fire once they got serious on Sunday. They were the only ones to solve Rubik, and [Atlas Shrugged] were the only ones to solve Indiana Jones.

If you want some cheering up, Luck was the first to solve a meta in the last three rounds (the Snake logic puzzle).

- Derek Kisman
ericberlin on January 23rd, 2013 07:54 pm (UTC)
I'm pretty sure our experience with those three supermetas was the very definition of "stuck," regardless of whether or not we got ourselves unstuck faster than other teams.
motrismotris on January 23rd, 2013 10:59 pm (UTC)
Yes. I solved that Snake logic puzzle (5/8 answers) which felt early. It was the energy that kept me from going to bed at 8 AM, and instead choosing shower and Thomas Crowne. Which led to me picking with consultation the 3 answers I wanted across Indy 1 and 3. I felt there was still much momentum to be had at 48 hours. Alas....