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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.
AJDdr_whom on January 24th, 2013 11:58 pm (UTC)
At Plant's post-Hunt brunch (which, this year, was not actually post-Hunt, but never mind) we talked about the possibility of putting up a Guide To Running The Hunt similar to what you describe, maybe somewhere on Plant webspace, but with contributions from all recent running teams. (Including arguments for and against some of the points you mention that there's not necessarily universal agreement on, like orthogonal events and multiple copies of the coin.)

I agree with you in favoring the "deterministic unlock" scheme over map-based unlocking, by the way, but it seems unfair to attribute map-based unlocking just to Matrix and Time Bandits when it was also used in well-regarded Hunts like Normalville and SPIES (...though it was just about the worst thing about SPIES, and its failure there is one of the reasons that I soured on it and that we opted for deterministic unlocking in Mario). And it's kind of you to attribute deterministic unlocking to Plant, but I think it originated with Hell Hunt in '07?
Dr. C. Scott Ananiancananian on January 25th, 2013 12:24 am (UTC)
I didn't mean to single out Matrix and Time Bandits, they were just the first two map-based hunts which leapt to mind. And Plant gave us a solid argument for deterministic unlock, which directly influenced Codex's hunt.

I agree that not all of my suggested points are uncontroversial. But there are solid arguments for doing things "that way", and hunts structured "that way" have turned out well. For new hunt-writing teams, I'd suggest that they be guided by best practices for their first hunt, and if they are going to break "the rules" at least choose a small number of rules to break their first time out. Innovate selectively.
Catredcat9 on January 25th, 2013 02:00 pm (UTC)
I think sharing the "why" of something is extremely important and the most likely to get lost over time. For example, we had a lot of reasons for making events orthogonal to puzzles in Mario (all having to do with trying to make it easier for teams to choose how to enjoy Hunt), but the opinions were mixed, and there could well be better solutions to the same underlying issues. It's too easy to see one solution, decide it's bad, and not go back to the reasons it was implemented in the first place.

That said, I suggested a collective archive of "stuff we learned or did wrong" because of one very stupid thing we learned during SPIES--DO NOT have your "bring us food" puzzle extremely late in Hunt. You will end up with no food, except at exactly the moment you want to be cleaning up and sleeping. That's the kind of thing that no one's going to think to pass on, but no one should have to learn twice.
Thouis R. JonesThouis R. Jones on January 25th, 2013 05:27 pm (UTC)
jcberk has some documents that could seed this effort (most from the Setec/Plant transition in 2006). All these comments should also probably be condensed into it.