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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.
Glenn Willengwillen on January 27th, 2013 12:01 am (UTC)
I really wish I knew what happened with that call.

I do not have ... such strong feelings as Catherine does, but I agree with her that this is not at all in line with the character of our team, and I really can't imagine it happening (and that's beyond the fact that she was present and would have heard it.)

Especially given that many of us were feeling extremely bad about the length of the hunt at that point, I can't even imagine a group of Sages making fun of a solver for calling in a wrong answer, if only because we were well into the point of blaming ourselves for how slowly the hunt was going. On at least one occasion a group of us was staring at the call queue silently begging a team to keep guessing on something, because they looked to be so close to getting a meta answer apparently by pure luck, and we really wanted things to keep moving by any means necessary.

More general comment about the mood in this thread: I am too sad about the hunt to read this comment thread in its entirety, but I get the sense that some of comments from solvers are coming from a place of "we want to make sure the Sages realize how badly they screwed up", whereas a lot of the comments from Sages are coming from a place of "we came out of this hunt upset at ourselves for how badly we screwed up, and it would be nice if people would stop rubbing it in."

Edited at 2013-01-27 12:02 am (UTC)
Dr. C. Scott Ananiancananian on January 27th, 2013 01:16 am (UTC)
Although I agree with you that some folks have expressed the "we want to be sure Sages know how much they screwed up (so that next time they win the hunt they do it right)" opinion, for the record I'm more interested in this post-mortem so that teams *other* than Sages learn from the collective wisdom. In my experience teams learn very efficiently from their own mistakes, but it's frustratingly hard to ensure that hunt lessons are transmitted to first-time winners. It shouldn't be the case that everyone needs to learn to write a hunt the hard way.

I'm not worried about Kappa Sig either, because they've learned their own lessons from the French Armada hunt. (And they've got dankatzian members who have been around the block even more times.)

But maybe someone reading this thread is going to be on the team which wins the 2014 hunt, and has never written a hunt before. Perhaps there's something useful we can transmit to them. That's my angle on this thread, fwiw. (Other than it's an excuse to share some of my own war stories about the 2012 and 2003 hunts.)
ze top blurberry: driftingztbb on January 27th, 2013 01:28 am (UTC)
As someone who is not on Sages but knows a big majority of the people on the team (and has admittedly been critical elsewhere in this thread), I concur that I don't think it's in line with the character of the team and can't imagine it happening. And as someone who's been on the construction side of several hunts, Catherine's guess that something else happened simultaneously to crack up Sages HQ sounds more likely to me than anything else.

As for the mood in the thread: I can understand how it might read to you like that. I do think most (all?) of the solvers here aren't trying to rub it in; it's acknowledged that there were problems, and we're trying to discuss what precisely the problems *were*, for everyone's benefit. (Certainly I am speaking for myself here, and I apologize if it didn't come out that way.) This thread is full of former hunt constructors who love dorking out on this sort of analysis, and we/I probably could have been more mindful that for you guys it was too soon not to be painful (and yet that many of you wouldn't be able to tear yourselves away). I'm happy about the turn that the thread has taken today, towards gritty discussion of individual puzzles.

I admit that in the hours after the hunt, multiple people told me they were worried that Sages would converge to the view that the hunt was too long, but otherwise fine. I don't think anyone thinks that any more.

Edited at 2013-01-27 01:33 am (UTC)