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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.
David Glasserdavidglasser on January 24th, 2013 03:04 pm (UTC)
Yeah, reading the answer to Megamix is frustrating. Not only did Rob know that many of the songs were so rare nobody would have heard of them (and lyrics were un-Googleable for, eg, Gravy and Mr. Capon-E) ... but if I am interpreting the answer extraction correctly, you literally needed every single one to be correct to do the calculation? Given the difficulty of identification, I don't think I would have ever guessed an extraction mechanism that needed that much precision (as opposed to individual resistors giving letter values).
Foggyfoggyb on January 24th, 2013 03:30 pm (UTC)
The pisser to Megamix is that Charles Steinhardt, one of the other members of Manic Sages, wrote a relatively straightforward song=resistance color as part of a practice warm-up. Had the "The ____ Album" connection been dropped, this puzzle could have been made much more solvable.
rlangmit on January 24th, 2013 06:30 pm (UTC)
Agreed as someone who spent way too long on Megamix before buying it with our first options. We ended up getting all but three songs and even guessed (correctly, it turns out) the color of a missing one in order to produce a reasonably round resistor value.

I guess maybe we could have used the same logic to find the two missing songs in resistor 4? But we still weren't 100% sure what we were doing. There was silence at the end of that track, possibly indicating a missing song ("How about you add another electronic band"), and we could only really make out five songs anyway. We thought it would be great if all the resistors added up to 1 MOhm ("Megamix"), but we were already greater than 1 MOhm with the first 3, so...no.

Anyway, it just got to be too frustrating. The fun part was figuring out the colors and the resistor diagram. That should have been enough.
ze top blurberry: driftingztbb on January 24th, 2013 09:37 pm (UTC)
I think straight-up identify-the-song as a *difficulty* element in a puzzle should be considered dead, in the same way that finding a single line somewhere in Shakespeare's collected works used to be a reasonable puzzle element and isn't any more. Either there's enough of the song to Shazam it, or the song is well enough known that someone in the room gets it easily, or else the song is obscure and the clip is short and the puzzle becomes unsolvable.

If someone wants to write a puzzle where identifying the song is actually part of the challenge, there's now a real burden on the author to come up with a novel and interesting twist that makes the identification difficult but not impossible. (The bass lines puzzle was a noble attempt at this, though ultimately a swing-and-a-miss -- thumbs up on novel and interesting, thumbs down on solvable.)
noahspuzzlelj on January 25th, 2013 03:58 am (UTC)
The bass lines puzzle is indeed a novel way to make IDing challenging, but note that the closest puzzle that I can think of is Hum a few bars was a very hard puzzle, even though there were only 16 songs and it was set up so that once you IDed one song the rest would be relatively easy.
(Anonymous) on January 26th, 2013 09:31 pm (UTC)
[Atlas Shrugged] solved Megamix with two songs un-ID'd after noting that the two X||Y parallel pairs that we had all the songs for resolved to a number that could be encoded exactly in resistor notation (i.e. requiring no more than three decimal digits and an order of magnitude), which left only a single color possibility for the remaining un-ID'd songs. So, having guessed the extraction mechanism (which we got primarily from the page layout), it was possible to backfill at least one song per block of six.