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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.
PrestemonPrestemon on January 26th, 2013 09:56 am (UTC)
Re: My First Puzzles
[From my dodgy memory... ]

I came into my team's work on "I Left My Stomach in Salt Lake City" with a mostly-correct aha already in place. They were looking for 2 locations per line (by finding possible integral solutions and trying them on the map), rather than 2 lines per location... Once we realized this wasn't locking things down, and some locations were on two lines, we switched over to looking at intersections. (Non-intersecting but integer solutions might have been an interesting puzzle too).

I started plugging pairs of equations into WolframAlpha simultaneously and it spit out the intersection (I realize now a custom program would have been faster, but I must have been very sleepy and more willing to do repeated easy things than using my brain.)

Then I just started drawing them out on a Google Map, much like the solution one. I assumed they'd make a loop (or line), with the jumps between cuisines happening in the order given in the flavortext, which I don't think was the case. Not that it mattered much, because the same-cuisine letters popped out just fine.


Edited at 2013-01-26 10:05 am (UTC)
Mikey Gemengee on January 26th, 2013 05:43 pm (UTC)
Re: My First Puzzles
Thanks for your feedback! I find it really interesting how many people looked at them as Diophantine equations as opposed to looking at them in pairs (I'm a math teacher and have taught basic algebra so many times that I guess I'm programmed to see linear equations and put them in pairs).

After writing the puzzle I spent about twenty minutes making a spreadsheet that used Cramer's rule to make sure that there weren't accidentally additional pairs of equations having solutions with integer coordinates. Then I realized that teams could use the same spreadsheet to definitively find the pairs with integer coordinates and ID all of the restaurants really quickly.

In the first incarnation of the puzzle, the equations were created so that they could be separated into four disjoint sets, and each set would only have solutions from one cuisine. This led to two problems. First, one could solve this puzzle without using Salt Lake City at all (by just plotting the integer-valued intersections of each disjoint set of lines on a coordinate plane). And also, our first test solver pointed out that it was inelegant that there were lines that determined only one point, which could trip up solvers. To solve both of these problems, I picked new lines to hit restaurants in multiple cuisines and took away the lines that only hit one restaurant.

In hindsight it would have been much more elegant to have jumps between cuisines in the order given by the flavortext, but I just didn't think of that. I think in the future, one of my own steps in editing will be, "Was there any part of the puzzle added out of pure necessity, and is there any way to make that more elegant?"

Thanks again for taking the time to write this!

And sorry, Motris, for the extra comments on an already long thread. But I'm learning a lot from this feedback, so hopefully it's for the best!
motrismotris on January 26th, 2013 05:48 pm (UTC)
Re: My First Puzzles
No concerns with more comments here. I enjoy reading the stories of puzzles from both sides too so I'm glad to see some of that now happening.