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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.
Craig K.canadianpuzzler on January 23rd, 2013 02:26 am (UTC)
Craig of Team Luck here, with a data point for you.

As I remember it, my morale never really flagged, and I never became part of that "grim death march" that you described.

There's a reason for that, however: as the team ran out of puzzles for which more manpower in general, or more of my brainpower in particular, I started stepping aside to stay out of the way of the efforts that our alpha solvers were making to continue to make progress on the remaining puzzles. I believe that it's safe to say that the other people on site who were not alpha solvers did the same thing. I'd say that for the entire time when Team Luck was working on metas exclusively, and at least to some extent before that, that there were two distinct functional groups at our HQ: the alpha solvers who were working at full power at making further progress; and the beta solvers who were staying out of the way of the alpha solvers, remaining at HQ for moral support, and enjoying each others' company. The betas were having fun; the alphas weren't.

Based on the above, I can say with confidence that Team Luck's morale will not be a problem next year, and not only that, that it wasn't a problem this year. If anything, I would have to say that the fact that we stuck with certain puzzles well after it was fun to continue to do so indicates that our morale was actually holding up relatively well under trying circumstances.
Sin Vraalsin_vraal on January 23rd, 2013 05:10 am (UTC)
If our morale weren't high, we would have done as at least one other competitive team did, and just walked away. How many teams aborted without seeing it through?
Andrewbrokenwndw on January 23rd, 2013 05:35 am (UTC)
Re: yes
Codex had members solving through the noon email, although I and a number of our usually dedicated members had basically called it quits by Sunday night. I think our Sunday night onsite crew was a dozen or two, down from many dozen at the peak.

I hear from Plant members that they stopped solving sometime Sunday.

That said, both we and they were, institutionally, Not Trying To Win. I imagine Codex Alimentarius (that is, 2011 Codex) would have been plugging away full steam Sunday night.
noahspuzzlelj on January 23rd, 2013 04:04 pm (UTC)
Re: yes
Plant shut down headquarters Sunday for dinner. People had plans or work or flights, plus people wanted some time to just hang out with their friends over dinner or a pool party. Hunt is also a social reunion, and running past Sunday afternoon messes up that aspect. That said, we did have some people solving Monday morning, including Reid calling in the Oceans meta Monday morning. We also gave up around dinner time in 08, though we pushed through to Monday morning in 09 (in part because we wanted to win, and in part because we were only frustrated with metas and were still enjoying the regular puzzles).
 Catherinecmouse on January 24th, 2013 01:03 am (UTC)
I think enjoyment varied wildly by team, interestingly many people on this thread are from the same few teams.
motrismotris on January 24th, 2013 01:19 am (UTC)
This may just as easily be a factor of who already reads this blog and that is a majority of current teammates of mine and former Bombers for sure, as well as logic puzzle solvers that are fewer and far between.

That Derek and Palmer were the first Mages to comment here for example would have been true regardless of what I or anyone said.

I'd welcome a far more open and public discussion of what solvers want, instead of single people representing what they are hearing from lots of people. I would also separate the opinion of first time solvers from more experienced participants in terms of valuable perspective for the discussion. And Hunt constructors even more than those who have participated a couple times.

Edited at 2013-01-24 01:21 am (UTC)
lunchboylunchboy on January 24th, 2013 01:51 am (UTC)
And, as I've said somewhere else deeply buried in this thread, I enjoyed my own Hunt weekend quite well, but that was in some sense unrelated to the quality of the Hunt as a Mystery Hunt. There were so many puzzles of such difficulty that I had no problem filling an entire weekend with engaging, self-contained solving experiences. But did it feel like I worked on a *Mystery Hunt*? Not so much. So "enjoyment" is in some sense not entirely relevant to the discussion.