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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.
nameelectricshadow4 on January 24th, 2013 01:39 am (UTC)
Also (and this was much worse than the hunt length overall): too many puzzles were ridiculously too big. 49 7x7 jigsaw puzzles mixed together? 263 MP3 identifications? A 50x50 paint-by-numbers? Identifying around 75 different flights by takeoff/landing times? Infinite Cryptogram?

One of the great things about Dominion is that it's a fairly short game. There are plenty of games that are fun but generally aren't worth investing 6+ hours in.

Similarly, a lot of these puzzles seemed like they might be fun and I would have loved a version that a group could solve in 2-4 hours, but definitely weren't worth an investment of 8 hours of my time (and possibly 10 other people on the team).

Edited at 2013-01-24 01:40 am (UTC)
motrismotris on January 24th, 2013 01:46 am (UTC)
When a logic puzzle is too large for me to bother to solve it (the 50x50 crypto PbN), that might be a problem. But maybe I shouldn't talk as that was a clear software puzzle. And I did use software to assist Color Sudoku just because I have great tools. We had two other people on paper there.
Adrianywalme on January 24th, 2013 02:11 pm (UTC)
FWIW, testers did the PbN by hand and even told me it was too easy. As for the size, I guess my perceptions have been skewed by predominantly solving on griddlers.net, where 50x50 is commonplace -- sorry for that mental blind spot!
motrismotris on January 24th, 2013 02:52 pm (UTC)
I do hate large PbN so it was more, at the time after some people had tried a theory or two and explored code, I was told don't look at it further. I peeked and agreed.
Gemini6Icegemini6ice on January 24th, 2013 03:18 pm (UTC)
Btw, thank you for adding the numerical values of the symbols to your solution write-up! I suspected that the "enchanced" symbols were 10s/20s/30s/40s but couldn't see a pattern in how things were modified (that is, I wanted "horizontal bars" to mean 10s, "vertical bars" to mean 20s, or something of the sort!

However, I'm still unsure what would/should be the first deduction from what was given? Should we just have assigned some values to symbols and seen if it led to a contradiction?
Dan KatzDan Katz on January 24th, 2013 09:34 pm (UTC)
We did PbN by hand; the people solving showed me they'd gotten a cross in the center, and from that I predicted they'd likely be getting other symbols from the code in the other spots. I imagine it was very hard as a pure logic puzzle, but once you guessed what you were aiming for, it was very approachable.
Gemini6Icegemini6ice on January 25th, 2013 05:01 am (UTC)
What was the first deduction you made in PbS, out of curiosity? We deduced the single digit / 10x+single digit relationships but we didn't know where to start assigning values.
(Anonymous) on January 26th, 2013 10:46 pm (UTC)
We spent ~15 minutes trying to do PbS as a "pure" logic puzzle when Dan noted the (incorrect, incidentally!) cross we'd drawn in the middle of the grid, and inferred that we'd end up drawing five symbols -- one in each corner and the cross in the middle. From there, we got the lower-left corner by noting that the vertical symmetry and overall structure were only really compatible with one of the symbols. It took a bit of fudging to get it to fit without producing any contradictions, but once we had that it gave us enough information about symbol/number mappings to do the rest relatively quickly. We actually didn't notice the digit/digit+10 relationships until we worked out the entire mapping, embarrassingly enough.

I'm sure that description made any number of purist PbN solvers cringe, but I thought PbS was a very enjoyable puzzle.
Gemini6Icegemini6ice on January 28th, 2013 10:13 pm (UTC)

So you got a cross from pure logic to begin with? One of my problems was that I was thinking the single-symbol rows were probably small numbers, not large numbers. It would have been nice to have a "0" row or column. ;)
Doug Orleans: DOUGdougo on January 24th, 2013 08:24 am (UTC)
Also also: a cryptic crossword with twice as many entries as The World's Tallest Cryptic? And that was only half the puzzle?? And yep, it was probably my favorite puzzle of the hunt (Sam's Your Uncle), but it wasn't worth 30 person-hours of solving time (with practically zero stuckness time).
Ali LloydAli Lloyd on January 24th, 2013 12:24 pm (UTC)
Yep, sorry about that. By that point I was stuck with a difficult answer to construct (albeit a nice one thematically), and in retrospect I should have come up with a different mechanism.
Jenny Ghahathor on January 24th, 2013 01:03 pm (UTC)
I also worked on Sam's and REALLY enjoyed it (esp each of the aha's) but yes, the amount of time that it kept people from working on other things was challenging.
Ali LloydAli Lloyd on January 24th, 2013 02:23 pm (UTC)
The one with 263 MP3 files was actually really fun. A couple of us testsolved it over Christmas. Despite reservations about the length, I thought that if a reasonable number of people on a team listened to what was essentially 2x10 minutes of well known music, almost all of it would be ID'd in no time. The answer was also gettable with about 75% of the information, possibly less.

However, the fact that it appeared in the final round of this hunt was obviously something of a death blow.
Gemini6Icegemini6ice on January 24th, 2013 03:54 pm (UTC)
I thought that if a reasonable number of people on a team listened to what was essentially 2x10 minutes of well known music

I think you're absolutely right for large teams. A large team the size of Codex of Manic Sages can certainly get a dozen people to listen to these clips.

But a 5-person team simply doesn't have this bandwidth :( Even my team, in the 40-person range, could get only about three people on it.
Ali LloydAli Lloyd on January 24th, 2013 04:28 pm (UTC)
Yes, I see what you mean. And I was proved wrong anyway, since I'm not aware of any teams (even larger ones) having solved it.
AJDdr_whom on January 24th, 2013 05:15 pm (UTC)
I mean, even if it wouldn't actually take that long to listen to all of the samples, there's a bit of a "screw that, man" moment when you open up the file and see that there's 263 clips to listen to. It just looks like a lot of clues to solve.
jcberk on January 24th, 2013 06:35 pm (UTC)
"A couple of us testsolved it over Christmas" is unfortunately a really bad metric for what will be fun during Hunt. Spare time over Christmas without many other pressing obligations is different from "I could do this essentially boring/frustrating identification task for 10 hours or I could work on three other puzzles during that time." People found the IDs difficult with three seconds of two overlapped songs.
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Dr. C. Scott Ananiancananian on January 24th, 2013 05:35 pm (UTC)
Codex got a bunch of people to listed to the clips, but still didn't come close to 100% identification. (Perhaps Sages are most likely to identify music which is familiar to Sages?) And filling out a diagramless crossword with only tentative identifications for most of the entries was attempted without success.

Note that the puzzle also had the disadvantage of combining two very different skill sets. The crossword-ers didn't want to come near the puzzle which it was a music ID puzzle, and the music ID people generally didn't have a clue how to construct a diagramless crossword.

If the puzzle had been edited more tightly (clearer IDs, confirmation mechanisms such as listing clips in alphabetical order or in left-to-right order as they appear in the crossword), this could have been a fine puzzle. Note that the puzzle was also spoiled by the title change, which gave away the whole "diagramless crossword of music" aha. After that, there wasn't much doubt about what to do with the puzzle -- or interest in doing it.
Ali LloydAli Lloyd on January 24th, 2013 06:39 pm (UTC)
There's definitely no 'hive mind' working here - I am remote and have never actually met any Sages in person. Perhaps me and Tom just happened to be the only people with both skill sets. In any case, they are almost disjoint parts of the puzzle.

I suppose alphabetical order by across song would have worked. I guess all I'm saying is that I really enjoyed solving the puzzle.
Tom Yueyuethomas on January 25th, 2013 05:00 am (UTC)
Keep in mind it also wasn't much of a crossword. Sure you had to identify songs, but once you had a couple down, you began to notice that the number of clips matched the number of letters in the songs. I spent the longest time debating to myself whether it was an American or a British-style crossword (blocks vs. lines).

FWIW, the songs were almost overwhelmingly NOT post 2000 pop music.

I won't debate the individual merits of this puzzle, but the fact that it was placed in the last round was most likely what killed it.

Doesn't matter though; I had a good time solving it.
Jenny Ghahathor on January 25th, 2013 01:46 am (UTC)
What does "Testsolved it over Christmas" mean? Does it mean you locked yourself in a room and didn't come out till it was solved, or do you mean that over a week-long Christmas break, some group of you were able to identify all the puzzles and solve the puzzle? Because if it's the latter, well, yes, that could be a fun puzzle, but not necessarily for hunt.
Ali LloydAli Lloyd on January 25th, 2013 09:43 am (UTC)
It means 2 days, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, IIRC. So neither of your options, but closer to the first one. yuethomas and I (and a third person towards the end) identified 90% of the clips. I reasoned that if we could do it in 2 days, a larger group could do it much more quickly, since the most time-consuming element is identifying and/or putting together clips of songs that you don't know.
Ali LloydAli Lloyd on January 25th, 2013 09:45 am (UTC)
But yes, I absolutely take the point that the circumstances are completely different, not least because it was something like puzzle #140 in an already too long hunt.
Dr. C. Scott Ananiancananian on January 25th, 2013 05:56 pm (UTC)
I think it's fair to say that on most teams they had more like "two people (who'd have to work for two straight days)" on the puzzle, than "a hundred people". Codex probably had four people working on the puzzle at max. I think there was some overestimation of the amount of parallelism happening during the hunt. Sure, some teams have 100+ people, but some large fraction of them are asleep/eating/offline/stuck on some other killer puzzle and the rest of them are spread thinly among a large number of open puzzles.
(Anonymous) on January 25th, 2013 09:02 pm (UTC)
I wonder if it's time for Mystery Hunt to steal the "have a couple teams test run the full event, start to finish, in as close to real circumstances as possible" betas from (shorter, smaller-team, less parallelized) West Coast events. No idea how you'd get teams to give up Hunt proper, or collect feedback for different puzzles when dozens are being solved at once, but I've found them extremely valuable to get an idea for how things will actually work in the event proper. Plus, it gives you an incentive to get things done early.

-gfpuzz/@gfilpus (Don't have access to my LJ creds at work)
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