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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.
The waking life stitched together in your headdalryaug on January 23rd, 2013 01:11 am (UTC)
This was a incident that made me very, very unhappy and really soured my impression of the event.

Edited at 2013-01-23 01:12 am (UTC)
Sin Vraalsin_vraal on January 23rd, 2013 04:58 am (UTC)
That terrible phone call
If I recall Derek's visit, it wasn't too long after this phone call. I have been debating contacting Manic Sages directly about it, but since it is now out in the open, I am choosing to express my feelings here.

The response to our phone call is what put me over the edge. We basically begged HQ to send someone to simply watch us perform the Enigma decoding, which only takes a few minutes, since we got the example code to work but the puzzle code to not work (even failing a full AAA-ZZZ keyword brute-forcing by program). In the spirit of the hunt, I pitched that the person could simply say "you should probably check your work, the puzzle appears to be working as intended" or else note what we were doing wrong and choose to hint mildly, at their discretion.

Instead, in response to the request and a Call to HQ that consisted of the gibberish the puzzle message gave us, we were met simply with a "you CLEARLY don't know what you're doing" and a group of people in the background snickering and laughing in response.

I don't know if that was nervous laughter at the audacity of the response, a knee-jerk response of sleepless, punch-drunk individuals, or actual derision, or stark arrogance that we dare question a super hard meta could possibly have an unintended bug or ambiguity that could be addressed. But it doesn't really matter. That one act showed me and my team that our enjoyment of the Hunt was no longer, if ever, a priority of those individuals and/or the Hunt Team at large (that person was a "supervisor", as the person on the phone had that person call us back after our initial request was explained).

Did I have fun? Yes, I did - whoever(s) came up with your hunt theme and overall concept deserve high praise. Did I tell the hunt organizers who visited that I and my team were having fun? Absolutely; I respect the hell out of the job you (mostly) accomplished on-site. And there were so many amazing things - that laser maze, for instance - that I truly, deeply wish you had designed your Hunt to allow more teams to experience. I estimate, oh, about 20% of the teams got to try that beautiful piece of art (or any of the other Obstacle training), and only one or two got to try the souped up Runaround versions. And I must commend Catherine (and others who visited, please forgive me for not remembering all of your names) for your genuine concern, and your extremely patient phone operators with whom I feel I am nearly on a first-name basis by now (hi, Tanya!!). Most of them ad-libbed zanily with me every night through hundreds of phone confirmations, and I hope/think that small indulgence on their collective part was fun for all of us.

All of these nice things you provided us had offset, in my opinion, the huge flaws that include sheer size and purposely-exaggerated difficulty/lack of puzzle "in" issues Derek and others have cited. But our "death march" as it was labelled on this blog was fueled by that phone call. Those people all but ruined my Hunt experience by deriding my trust in your compassion in light of the literal man-day(s) poured into something that might, just might, have NOT been our fault for not being able to solve.

Thank you.
lunchboylunchboy on January 23rd, 2013 07:04 am (UTC)
Re: That terrible phone call
I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the obstacles and heist puzzles will be posted online in some sort of home-solvable version. I only saw the guard puzzle, but that one is certainly doable on paper. Don't know about the rest, obviously.
 Catherinecmouse on January 24th, 2013 12:47 am (UTC)
Re: That terrible phone call
We're trying and I'd really like to. Tech manpower is an issue as it was through the development process.
Dr. C. Scott Ananiancananian on January 24th, 2013 03:37 am (UTC)
Re: That terrible phone call
Yeah, you really need to insist that these things are finished and complete before the hunt, or they typically don't get done at all. Everyone is done with the hunt when the hunt is over.
 Catherinecmouse on January 24th, 2013 03:46 am (UTC)
Re: That terrible phone call
Oh man, tell me about it. ;) Except for pictures and contacts and stories. Work has certainly ceased.
Andrewbrokenwndw on January 24th, 2013 04:09 am (UTC)
Re: That terrible phone call
...tell me about it.

I am, right now, looking at parts of the 2012 hunt site that need to be corrected, updated, and fixed.

Needless to say I did not plan to be doing this in 2013!
lunchboylunchboy on January 24th, 2013 05:23 am (UTC)
Re: That terrible phone call
I definitely had people asking if the show videos from 2012 were going to get posted to the Hunt archive. I forget, is there an easy way for people to get their own team's videos, at least?
Andrewbrokenwndw on January 24th, 2013 05:32 am (UTC)
Re: That terrible phone call
Not to my knowledge. It's one of the things I definitely have on the TODO list, but I was a bad panda and didn't download the big archive file when it was available, so I'll be depending on the generosity and meticulousness of our teammates.
affpuzz on January 24th, 2013 06:48 pm (UTC)
Re: That terrible phone call
I believe that all of the videos that were on my computer made their way to youtube (that is, if the team gave permission). I think the user name was MysteryHunt2012. I'm not sure if anybody else did any uploading; I seem to recall marking the spreadsheet of what we had permission to post, but didn't have all of the videos locally.
 Catherinecmouse on January 24th, 2013 12:45 am (UTC)
Re: That terrible phone call
Wait a second... I'm terribly confused about this. When we opened up hints, we obviously got a lot of incoming volume. Anyone and everyone was answering the hint line since keeping that response prompt was important to me.

Like any team, we have our share of... uh... socially awkward people and I'm sorry one of them spoke to you and I honestly wish I knew who it was. I can assure you that whatever you heard in the background was totally unrelated to the call. By Monday morning we were taking hint calls all over HQ and not just in the call room. And with call volume it wasn't like anyone or everyone was ever listening to individual calls.

It may surprise you to note that we kept spirits and moral up during the hunt. We were probably laughing about something unrelated. We really would have never done anything like that - it's very different than the way HQ worked.