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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.
Derek KismanDerek Kisman on January 23rd, 2013 10:05 am (UTC)
(ugh, it's frustrating that Livejournal isn't accepting my Google ID, and Thomas didn't let my last anonymous post through)

None of us who were at HQ at the time knows what you're talking about, and I certainly can't imagine us erupting in laughter over a hint request. I suspect what happened is your call was being answered directly by someone in HQ (rather than one of our phone center or remote callers) and you heard people in the background laughing at some other event.

BTW, I handled the "detailed question" you're talking about, and it was a confirmation that you were doing the right thing *up to the reflector*, which you were. You were probably mistakenly turning the reflector with the third wheel, though (a mistake I made while fact-checking). The first H does not decode to a U.

I definitely don't appreciate the implication that HQ was doing things in bad faith. We were just as unhappy as you that people were having trouble.
devjoedevjoe on January 23rd, 2013 11:22 am (UTC)
Ah, I see now. We did that because we happened to be doing it that way when we got the test data to work.

During the hunt, when we couldn't get the enigma to work, I suggested swapping the rotors, that there were enough degrees of freedom in the machine that a jerk of a puzzle designer could have made the test data decode in more than one way, and that the right solution might have required not assuming that the rotor which came pre-assembled on the tube might not have been the correct first one. But no, this didn't work.

What the jerk of a puzzle designer actually did was make the test data work correctly whether you rotated the reflector along with the third wheel or kept it stationary. And we made some error when we tried it stationary that kept us from seeing that could work.
Derek KismanDerek Kisman on January 23rd, 2013 01:41 pm (UTC)
No need to be so nasty. I believe the slightly-more-trivial test data was there to help you, not hinder you. It confirmed *most* of the mechanism for you, so that if you fell victim to a common pitfall (rotating the reflector), you could try to isolate the problem, rather than questioning whether you had ANYTHING (wheel order, ratcheting mechanism, rotating before decoding, etc.) right. Would it really have helped you if the test data key didn't start with "A"? You wouldn't have been able to decode *anything* correctly, and been even more stumped.

Similarly, if you didn't get the double-stepping feature of the Enigma correct, you'd still get 30-40 characters into the final message before getting gibberish, helping you isolate the problem.
devjoedevjoe on January 23rd, 2013 01:50 pm (UTC)
I'm not trying to be nasty, but to convey the nastiness of the original puzzle. The puzzle was nasty.

When the rotors+knocks, reflector, and starting position are plugged into a real Enigma simulator, one which has been used successfully on real Enigma data before, it didn't work. This was the first thing we did, because we happened to have one. When that failed, we were left to flounder around with trying to figure out whatever almost-Enigma you were using, and there are many variables to consider. Because getting even one of these variables wrong leads to gibberish, that is why this was such a nasty puzzle.
Derek KismanDerek Kisman on January 23rd, 2013 05:14 pm (UTC)
Hmm. I just went and tried it using the py_enigma package, and it worked fine. Script here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1dJqIJSxBxMrLjlQZ-SKFV2E856706FCGHqHkjqVhvAk/edit
It's possible you accidentally used the left-to-right permutation instead of the right-to-left permutation.

I suppose at this point you just didn't trust us any more, so you assumed the error was on our end. I've been there. :(
motrismotris on January 23rd, 2013 02:02 pm (UTC)
I've been sleeping so I failed to approve the comment for awhile (sort of when I woke up and saw hey I have 38 comments here now).

I look like I'm about to die when I'm solving but that doesn't mean my morale is low. I set a new personal record for solving by going 60 straight hours. I was productive over the whole time. I needed to stop and sleep Sunday night in a real bed so I left. And I was back at 10 AM on Monday going after Enigma and Indy and Blue Ox of Rubik. If I looked like I wasn't having fun, it's because this Hunt had only sparse moments of fun. But my morale to compete and solve never flagged.

ETA: Since I use "demoralizing personally" in the entry above, let me say that I do not emotionally like being unable to solve so many puzzles, particularly hard logic puzzles in reasonable time, given my skill at these things. Personal morale is distinct from competitive drive, and that is what you seem to be worried about for the team and that never flagged for us.

Edited at 2013-01-23 02:32 pm (UTC)