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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.
Dr. C. Scott Ananiancananian on January 24th, 2013 05:10 pm (UTC)
Poor kids
I'm actually starting to feel rather sorry for the puzzle writers on Sages. Their puzzles are being maligned because of decisions made by their editors. There are always overly complex and/or not-quite-baked puzzle ideas, but successful hunts have fantastic editors that make all the puzzles shine. Instead some poor kid writing his first puzzle for Sages wasn't given the necessary guidance, direction, or aesthetic sense, and now the Internetz are calling their hunt the worst thing ever. :(

There were some nice puzzle ideas in the Sages hunt. Just to pick two, 50/50 and "diagramless crossmusic" are both interesting innovative ideas buried by terrible editing.
noahspuzzlelj on January 24th, 2013 05:27 pm (UTC)
Re: Poor kids
So true, when I think back to my first few puzzle suggestions back in 2006 before the editors got ahold of them... There were certainly a lot of cool ideas in the puzzles I saw, enough to make an excellent hunt.
motrismotris on January 24th, 2013 05:41 pm (UTC)
Re: Poor kids
Indeed. The constructors are mostly blameless here. For first time Hunt writers, they had brilliant ambitious ideas and naturally took them to extremes. That my blog site became a flame war is something I'd like to temper as best I can. But editors and testers need to give the honest feedback to turn the ideas into functioning puzzles.

My biggest issue with this Hunt by far though is the apparent philosophical decision that metas need nearly all answers. Combatting back solving is not a good goal if it makes your Hunt unfinishable. This meta goal cannot work with puzzles of high difficulty.
Dr. C. Scott Ananiancananian on January 24th, 2013 05:43 pm (UTC)
Re: Poor kids
I would argue simply that "combatting back solving is not a good goal".
motrismotris on January 24th, 2013 05:47 pm (UTC)
Re: Poor kids
And I think if back solving is the worry, it is better addressed in the puzzle release side of things anyway. Every meta should be solvable with any 80% of the answers, and tested in this same way.
AJDdr_whom on January 24th, 2013 06:24 pm (UTC)
Re: Poor kids
...I can't tell whether you're using "backsolving" to just mean 'solving a meta without all inputs'.
motrismotris on January 24th, 2013 06:30 pm (UTC)
Re: Poor kids
I mean that some people think a bug of metas that solve early is that then the teams also solve all the puzzles by backsolving to do massive unlocking. I mean forward but early meta solving with typical back solving benefits. And my phone keeps adding a space in the word back solve that I do not like.
Dr. C. Scott Ananiancananian on January 24th, 2013 06:39 pm (UTC)
Re: Poor kids
Primarily. There doesn't seem to be much difference in practice. If you solve the meta, you will gain some information about the input puzzles. Whether this lets you back out the entire answer is often academic, since it's the solved meta which is important, not the puzzle.

When puzzles feed into multiple metas (as The Producers did), then solving one meta implicitly gives you information (a puzzle answer) which can help solve a different meta. That's just part of the price (or benefits) of a linked-meta structure.

Like I said, "combatting back solving is not a good goal". Just accept that metas should/will be solved without all their inputs and that solved metas will provide some insight into the component answers. It's easiest if you design your unlock streategy explicitly such that solving the meta is worth exactly as much as solving the component puzzles. Trying to prevent either form of backsolving is counterproductive.

In fact, if you view the primary goal of a hunt author as "preventing the hunt from becoming stuck" (as I do), then backsolving is a boon, since it allows ways around previously stuck puzzles. Linked metas then further that goal by allowing the solution to one meta puzzle to unstick another.
Re: Poor kids - dr_whom on January 25th, 2013 12:31 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Poor kids - cananian on January 25th, 2013 12:38 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Poor kids - dr_whom on January 25th, 2013 12:57 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Poor kids - cananian on January 25th, 2013 01:10 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Poor kids - dr_whom on January 25th, 2013 01:15 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Poor kids - dougo on January 25th, 2013 05:30 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Poor kids - brokenwndw on January 25th, 2013 07:31 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Poor kids - dougo on January 25th, 2013 07:43 am (UTC) (Expand)
受け継がれる意志: rubbish at thisdoctorskuld on January 25th, 2013 11:49 am (UTC)
Re: Poor kids
This is actually how we test-solved the metas in the 2012 with Codex. As a testsolver, I was usually given about half of the meta answers to start with, and if I got stumped, I'd ask the test-solving coordinator for another answer.

There are a lot of ways to make a solvable with 80% answers but make the puzzles individually un-backsolvable.
AJDdr_whom on January 25th, 2013 02:08 pm (UTC)
Re: Poor kids
That's certainly how meta testing worked for Plant as well (and was part of the inspiration for (and Meta testing!).
noahspuzzlelj on January 24th, 2013 06:01 pm (UTC)
Re: Poor kids
It's also possible tht the editors were just overworked. My understanding is that there weren't very many editors, and there were certainly a lot of puzzles to edit.
Dr. C. Scott Ananiancananian on January 24th, 2013 06:18 pm (UTC)
Re: Poor kids
Editing first-time puzzle constructors can be socially challenging as well: they've put N hours into constructing a puzzle, and then are told they need to go back and reconstruct it from scratch in order to make it better (which they didn't expect).... and then rinse and repeat that process several more times. Also, "I need an answer so I can start writing my puzzle" -> "I'll assign you an answer once you describe how your puzzle works" -> "How can I tell you how my puzzle is going to work until I have an answer?"
Andrewbrokenwndw on January 24th, 2013 07:51 pm (UTC)
Re: Poor kids
Yes. The internal social aspects of running a Hunt are hard to appreciate from the outside. Not doing that better may be my biggest personal regret from 2011-2012.
ze top blurberry: driftingztbb on January 25th, 2013 02:37 am (UTC)
Re: Poor kids
This is very true. For the hunts we wrote, we had someone with the official title of "designated asshole", and that was pretty helpful.
Re: Poor kids - Thouis R. Jones on January 25th, 2013 03:08 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Poor kids - cananian on January 25th, 2013 03:34 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Poor kids - Thouis R. Jones on January 25th, 2013 03:40 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Poor kids - brokenwndw on January 25th, 2013 03:52 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Poor kids - zotmeister on January 25th, 2013 05:14 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Poor kids - dr_whom on January 25th, 2013 04:16 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Poor kids - (Anonymous) on January 25th, 2013 11:46 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Dr. C. Scott Ananiancananian on January 24th, 2013 05:45 pm (UTC)
Re: Poor kids
Reposting a comment from a Codexian (you can take credit if you like), just in case the author of 50/50 is reading this thread:

"Ideas like 50/50 are the raw gems of hunt writing; the need to be cherished, nurtured, and made to bloody *work*. It's a real shame that they didn't."

Another Codexian wrote:

"I do feel bad for the writers, even those who wrote better puzzles. So
many of the puzzles from this year's hunt were probably never solved.
I know I would have felt very disappointed if one of the 1.5 puzzles I
wrote last year was not solved at all, but only purchased."