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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.
motrismotris on January 23rd, 2013 09:30 pm (UTC)
Well, not only did your team start large, but you merged to become larger during the Hunt. This is the negative reinforcement I choose to fight. I hope Death from Mayhem splits back to two somehow before next year.

Luck similarly got an offer to merge with another team during the Hunt (we turned it down, thinking among other things that it would be bad to either win or come close after doing such a thing).
(Anonymous) on January 23rd, 2013 10:14 pm (UTC)
I suspect you won't believe me but the intent was never to win the hunt. Honestly, we never thought we were higher than third, and that was after Sages came by to tell us that we were the only in contention team that didn't think they were in contention. It's not like it's ever been something we had to worry about before.

Also, why is everyone saying we merged during Hunt? We merged 2 weeks before hunt. At the time that the talks about merging started the Death e-mail list for the year was about 50, including several we suspected would not really be involved. Mayhem's reported number was 20-30. We were expecting maybe 100 which is large, but isn't that bad. By the Monday before Hunt we had 130 and realized we might have a problem, but it was too late by then. And by end of hunt we passed stupidly large.

I don't know why you care to fight this negative reinforcement or whatever it is. We had no particular desire to win, though I guess that may change. If everyone agrees that we had fun hunting together (and it seems to be leaning that way) we'll stay together and have fun. I'm sorry if that bothers you. Whether we win or not, I don't know. I suppose next year we'll have to talk before hand about whether we want the coin.

-Henry, Death

motrismotris on January 23rd, 2013 10:20 pm (UTC)
I was wrong on the timing and apologize. I thought it was mid-Hunt.

We were approached mid-Hunt, by another top three team, which is a real problem. I am very concerned when any team in the top three feels they should merge because they don't think they can finish Hunt. Teams that feel they are solving this bad come back next year with 10+ more solvers. This is the negative death spiral of Hunts of constructable size and Hunts of solvable size.

For example, in 2008, when we won Mystery Mystery, I never had any sense we were in front. But from the solving clock this was exactly the case. The lack of events, or signs of progress elsewhere, puts a team into a highly uncertain and uncomfortable state.

Or maybe, as others say, this is just some aura only my team has and every other team is all smiles with these puzzles.

Edited at 2013-01-23 10:25 pm (UTC)
(Anonymous) on January 24th, 2013 04:20 am (UTC)
I'm not saying we didn't have issues with some of the puzzles and the duration. The feeling is that it was too long, but I suspect we, on average, are happier with a longer hunt that many of the people here who seem to be happy with early sunday morning as opposed to late Sunday afternoon/early night.

I don't know that we would've merged if we'd realized it'd become a 200+ person time. Maybe, I just don't know. Neither team has ever been competitive before, we're not really used to this. Really, we just thought we were shrinking and wanted to grow a bit to have a chance to see all the cool things (Lasers!), that the top teams get to see.

motrismotris on January 24th, 2013 04:34 am (UTC)
See, in my "shorter for the overpowered teams world", teams like Mayhem or Death *would* get to see all the cool things by Sunday afternoon if they'd keep solving after the winner is determined.

I was sad I didn't get to runaround this year as I figured it was by far the most fun part of this entire Hunt. I worked forever to get more of the experiences that the first safe and guard trainings got us. This was the joy of the Hunt and the lead teams had to fight tooth and nail for brief exposures to the "heist" theme.
(Anonymous) on January 24th, 2013 11:39 pm (UTC)
I know that's the theory. I loved it when the change came around in the first place. But it turns out it pretty much only works for teams 2-5. Stay open until 6pm and you might get to teams 6-8 or so. Which is an AMAZING improvement, but still leaves not-so-good teams like Death and Mayhem (pre-merge), as having no chance. Death has tried hard the last two years to finish before HQ closed. We've never even made it half way. We're just not that skilled. Yes, that's our fault, and Hunt should not bend to suit the needs of our team. Though I really wish my estimates of ending up at a semi-sane 130-person size team had proven true. Oh well.
(Anonymous) on January 24th, 2013 01:23 am (UTC)
Mayhem basically had no choice but to merge -- we didn't have current MIT students any more.
motrismotris on January 24th, 2013 01:26 am (UTC)
Re: Mayhem
I believe we recruited two MIT students (or still had them), but that was our active, non-alum count this year. It seems an addressable problem without becoming a 200 person team.
Craig K.canadianpuzzler on January 24th, 2013 02:14 am (UTC)
We actually wound up with three MIT undergraduates and a grad student, but all of them were new to the team this year.
AJDdr_whom on January 24th, 2013 02:11 am (UTC)
Re: Mayhem
I don't believe Plant has any current MIT students.