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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.
(Anonymous) on January 25th, 2013 07:51 am (UTC)
Oh, dear, and now it's been taken down in the time it took my laptop to crash and reboot. That's a shame.

One insider detail that it revealed: one contributing factor to the difficulty of many puzzles was that the Sages honestly believed that they weren't good solvers and had simply won 2012 by sheer force of numbers, so when a puzzle came back as what they thought was solvable by "average" people, they amped up that puzzle to try to aim it at above-average solvers' levels. I never felt more sorry for them than I did after reading that.

I was on the team who felt like they'd been laughed at -- it was on speakerphone, so the whole room heard it -- and when we tried to send an e-mail suggesting that the hinting they'd been doing could be more informative, the response didn't read well in our state of mind at the moment. I really wasn't convinced that the Sages were aware of how things were going.

The author of the article, Karen Rustad, is almost certainly never going to wade through the posts here to see this, but her article worked on me, at least. It's made it easier for me to set aside the frustrating aspects of Coin Heist and see the good aspects of it, and also to see the enjoyable moments that happened because I was at MIT at all.

And whatever state the team winds up in, someone from Manic Sages needs to bring back the lasers in a future Hunt. People won't *care* if it's a rehash if they get to play in a laser maze. It looked fantastic.

--Dart, Luck
lunchboylunchboy on January 25th, 2013 11:14 pm (UTC)
I don't really understand why that post got taken down -- all the comments on it seemed friendly even when they were offering critiques, so I'm not sure who was "upset" by it. As a Hunt constructor who's seen Hunts get out of control before (and they're kind of always on the verge of going out of control), I am generally inclined to be sympathetic, although I do vehemently disagree with the philosophical stance that "the Hunt feels over when the Coin is found and solving after that is no fun", since that leads to the problematic decision of "we should deliberately try to make a long Hunt." And once that decision is made (by however few people do the deciding) and the Hunt structure is designed, everyone is locked into that structure, and opting to simplify is just not an option, even if some constructors start thinking, "Uh-oh, this is getting maybe too big." The Hunt is a big, lumbering beast and once it gets momentum, it's verrrrrry hard to steer.
Andrewbrokenwndw on January 25th, 2013 11:38 pm (UTC)
I speculate-- totally on my own-- that because that post was one of the few so far to give a specific inside look at the Sages' process, people were mining it for data and extrapolating from it aggressively. I imagine that if (to reverse the situation) there had been a brewing flamewar about our art, and I was being used as a key information source, I would feel uncomfortable about that even if the direct comments I was getting were friendly.

I do hope that when the dust has settled a bit-- and certainly no earlier than they feel comfortable-- some Sages closer to their editorial process can give us a more complete picture of what it was. Maybe even after time has passed it will be hard to do that without people being unpleasant again. But there seems to be a consensus building about the Sages' editing and quality control process, and the community seems to be building it in the absence of real information. That seems worrisome, as does the suggestion that we should be learning lessons from this year in this state.
noahspuzzlelj on January 25th, 2013 11:47 pm (UTC)
My read was similar to brokenwndw's, that it reads like it was people on sages upset about the post that lead to the takedown, not people from solving teams.
Derek KismanDerek Kisman on February 1st, 2013 04:39 am (UTC)
I've only just pieced my psyche back together to the point where I can stand to read this thread again. Thank you for this insightful post. Yes, there is a lot of misinformation being spread about our processes, and the more it's repeated the more people believe it. I don't have the energy to go into more detail (and I'm trying not to get piled on again). But I will say that all the metas were test-solved lacking a reasonable number of inputs. We're actually not idiots, believe it or not!
motrismotris on February 1st, 2013 06:48 pm (UTC)
After some more time to reflect on the metas, I'd like to edit my prior commentary about them being unsolvable without all the answers. The problem was probably not the need for a lot of the answers. The problem, at least for my team, was that the frames themselves were hard to work through so by the time we got near some of the breakthroughs we ended up having all the answers since we had things to buy, but no solution yet for the meta. Perhaps another small point is that only a few of the metas were true Aha metas, and others like Feynman just took a lot of work. Without the three "practice" answers at the bottom there, we would have taken a long time to finally get the whole message from playing Wheel of Fortune.
Doug Orleansdougo on February 1st, 2013 09:08 pm (UTC)
I would have to say that the Feynman meta did have an Aha, because we (Central Services) never got it until wrap-up. :(
motrismotris on February 1st, 2013 09:55 pm (UTC)
Oh, certainly. Feynman had an Aha which we got early. And then hours of work to make use of any of it.
Karen Rustadkrustad on January 26th, 2013 12:16 am (UTC)
Oh, hey. Author here.

Long story short, some Sages were upset by the post, so I took it down, at least for now. Hopefully enough dust will settle that I can repost it in a month or two... there was a lot I liked about it, lots of other people (Sages and non-) seemed to like it, and I massively prefer (more) informed speculation. :P

I wasn't really expecting anyone to find it; I didn't think any hunters read my hardly-ever-updated blog!

Thank you for your kind words about it. :)
Cody B.: contemplationcodeman38 on January 26th, 2013 04:13 am (UTC)
For whatever it's worth, I came across your post via a Google Reader alert--as, I imagine, did quite a few other Hunters.