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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.
screwdestinyscrewdestiny on January 23rd, 2013 09:40 pm (UTC)
I definitely agree with the length of individual puzzles being too long. This is my first time doing Mystery Hunt (I was with Team Palindrome) and while the variety of puzzles was great, a lot of them involved what felt like "busy work." I'm the novice of novices, so I'm not sure if that's normal. Even reading the solution for Bottom of the Top (which we were on the right track for precisely because of the title hint, but didn't have time to do) makes me wonder why exactly Manic Sages didn't realize logistically their hunt was too long:

"The title of the puzzle is intended to help solvers narrow down the list of potential songs to listen to. All songs in this puzzle were #1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100
during the 50 years of that list's existence, narrowing down the search space to only about 1000 songs. :-) On Saturday night of the Hunt, before this puzzle had
been released to anyone, it became clear that another very long puzzle was... um... unnecessary, so I added a list of years that each of the songs could be found in,
which further narrowed the search. Another helpful feature of the puzzle is that the songs were given in alphabetical order by title"

It really took until Saturday night to realize we didn't need a puzzle where after you'd gotten the gist, you had to listen to songs where every 1 out of 33 was one that you needed? It's not a puzzle at that point anymore, it's me listening to songs on Rhapsody, failing to adequately distinguish the bassline, and entertaining the notion of downloading them and running them through Audacity before deciding my efforts are better spent elsewhere.

The traveling puzzles were also big time commitments. With Highlight Reel, at least all the doors were inside and on campus. But the Cambridge Waldo and Square Routes puzzles, which required you to either know Cambridge like the back of your hand or travel around from the locations that you did know and hoped you spotted the ones you didn't on the way (in the dark and/or cold, with a phone or laptop beside you) were logistical nightmares for our teams and while we made it a good faith effort to Google Map them (although I'm pretty sure the square dancing puzzle asked you to record things you couldn't see without actually being there), we'd pretty much decided it was just Too Much.

I expected to be super frustrated yet having a great time and while that was COMPLETELY TRUE (no jokes, I have so many wonderful memories), things like the above just stood out as "...really, though?"