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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.
(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.
(Anonymous) on January 25th, 2013 02:04 am (UTC)
Wait, how did they find the BPM for all 1000+ songs? How did they find MIDI versions of each song? Did you provide more to the testsolvers than what was presented in the hunt or something?
Dr. C. Scott Ananiancananian on January 25th, 2013 03:27 am (UTC)
There is command-line software which will spit out the BPM (modulo a factor of two) for a wav file. This is a rather clever way to narrow down the matching task. This is where the "two test solve" criterion comes in: could you find two separate people on your team who could think of doing it this way, or was this just your super-solver?
(Anonymous) on January 25th, 2013 04:33 am (UTC)
*Maybe* that would have been possible with completely fresh players and two people to devote to this full-time for several hours. We were more of a triage unit at this point; the list of songs was posted in the hopes that there was some bass genius hidden on our team, but nobody really put all the time into it since efforts were better spent elsewhere.

I think the puzzle would have been hard enough with guitar solos, FWIW.

- JJ
noahspuzzlelj on January 25th, 2013 04:40 am (UTC)
Guitar solos was done in Normalville http://web.mit.edu/puzzle/www/05/setec/an_ax_to_grind/

Note that that puzzle had a mechanic built in so that once you IDed most of them the rest got easier.
(Anonymous) on January 25th, 2013 05:22 am (UTC)
I was thinking about guitarist interpretations of famous solos, but what's linked is an interesting progression / comparison. I was able to identify 10/14 of those on first listen; I'm sure a team would have that puzzle down in about 15 minutes, with or without software.

For these, I think I identified about 4/30 on first run through. Maybe with another 4 or so apparent after looking at songs that might fit alphabetically.

The extraction in the earlier puzzle is also much easier (it may be from an early round; I don't know). Difficulty level has definitely been ratcheted up several notches.

- JJ
Ali LloydAli Lloyd on January 25th, 2013 10:03 am (UTC)
I came up with the BPM trick. Other solvers had identified about a quarter of the songs before I arrived, so it was a case of googling the BPMs of tracks in between. Although I found it a lot easier to look at the outliers - like if a song is 170bpm then you don't even have to check most of the songs because they're obviously not fast enough.