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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.
Robpurplebob on January 23rd, 2013 10:00 am (UTC)
There is probably a misunderstanding here.

I was taking a lot of Enigma calls. I do not remember saying "You don't know what you're doing". I don't think anyone else would have said that to you either. And the room was not at all listening to the people taking the calls so they could join in in laughter. So what happened is probably an event that was misheard as that.

When a lot of Enigma calls were coming in, the team whose name was the text of Atlas Shrugged was *frantically* guessing puns for the Indy meta, like THEY ARE BAD ADDERS. That is what would cause the room to laugh, not a hint call.

Whatever you heard on the phone was very likely an unfortunate coincidence, and not directed at you, but I apologize for the result anyway. If it was me on the phone, I should have been in a place where I would not have to shout over people laughing at answers coming in.
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Cody B.: contemplationcodeman38 on January 23rd, 2013 07:22 pm (UTC)
We had the same problem with Herbs & Spices on Codex.
 Catherinecmouse on January 24th, 2013 12:55 am (UTC)
The only time something like this happened was with answers that were deliberately funny or... well... the 26-100 situation. I was in the room the whole time with the exception of little sleep and I can tell you we wouldn't have done something like this.
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 Catherinecmouse on January 24th, 2013 02:48 am (UTC)
I'm sorry, but that's flat our wrong. No one in HQ was making fun of anyone or anything intentionally. If one person did it once, I'm sorry about it. We do have a couple of teenagers on our team, for the most part they're very responsible.

No one is reporting similar experiences, it's already been established that the people "laughing" in the background of the enigma call were laughing about something else.
 Catherinecmouse on January 24th, 2013 03:08 am (UTC)
Ok, sorry for being angry. I just know what was going on and I don't want false rumors to the contrary to spread. I'm pretty protective of my volunteers.
Henrytahnan on January 25th, 2013 02:27 am (UTC)
In 2011, a solver on my team was incredibly upset at being told to "stop backsolving", when she was in no way backsolving. As the team captain, I immediately sent email to puzzle@mit.edu saying "One of your people was rude on the phone; my solver is upset; this is unacceptable". And I got an immediate call back from one of the leaders of the hunt, explaining why the person thought she was backsolving, acknowledging that it was nevertheless inappropriate, and apologizing that it happened.

It's too late now, of course, but if this sort of thing happens in the future, I'd really like to encourage people to ask their team captain to contact HQ so that the issue can be handled at once, rather than left to be brought up after the Hunt when no one can be quite sure what happened and it's too late to ensure it doesn't happen again.
Dan KatzDan Katz on January 23rd, 2013 09:54 pm (UTC)
I take responsible for starting the snake pun onslaught. I also called in HE GOT THE MAYAN SHAFT.
Sin Vraalsin_vraal on January 24th, 2013 04:01 am (UTC)
Dear lord, that's so bad, I laughed out loud.
aerionblueaerionblue on January 24th, 2013 05:37 am (UTC)
I was proud of the BAD ADDERS pun, but I'm a little disappointed that we never got around to calling in just "SNAKES SNAKES SNAKES" or "M-F-IN' SNAKES" (both 18 letters!).
aerionblueaerionblue on January 24th, 2013 05:46 am (UTC)
Though, sorry if that ended up clogging phone lines. Hopefully they were at least a little amusing for whoever was on the other end.
(Anonymous) on January 24th, 2013 11:08 pm (UTC)
Actually, one of the early ideas I'd suggested for the Indiana Jones supermeta answer was actually a pun on adders, almost identical to your answer (maybe tellers instead of clerks or vice-versa or something); this was before I thought of the BOA vs. Bank of America thing we actually used. I basically just looked at a long list of names of snakes and tried to construct every imaginable pun. So in an alternate universe you might have gotten this puzzle that way!

The Mayan shaft answer was hilarious! I couldn't stop laughing when I saw it on the call-in queue.

(Anonymous) on January 23rd, 2013 10:47 pm (UTC)
For the record, those puns were not guesses. They were attempts to amuse the large fraction of our team that was sitting around with nothing to work on.