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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 25th, 2013 03:07 pm (UTC)
Nice things
Since this seems to be the unofficial Hunt discussion board, and since so far I've only posted negative things, hopefully it isn't too bad form to post my overall impressions here too.

It really pains me to see posts from Sages describing this Hunt as a "disaster" and making it sound full of regret. Do I have things I could criticize about this Hunt? Sure. (And I'll write them down and send them to Tetazoo if they ask for feedback. I can post them here too if Sages want, but I'd rather stay positive.) But that doesn't mean I didn't really enjoy it!

The overall theme was great. Despite my team's (RoboPop) inability to make headway on most metas, the structure was interesting and clever. As a whole, the Hunt had a strong and consistent sense of humor.

The first round was just right. All the puzzles were solvable, even by a team like ours where many of our core local members can't come until after work Friday. Our team reserves a room in the basement of Stata which is only available starting around 5:30PM, so we usually have another room for the first few hours of Hunt and then make the move. We called in 1248 literally as we were finishing packing up to move --- so that's basically the most perfect round length ever! (I think we had similar timing on History.) I personally enjoyed Changing States a lot.

Megamix: I really liked the idea of a "[color] album" themed identification puzzle, even if I could only get halfway through it.

Uncharted Territory: "Sit down and crochet this thing for a while" was a nice break from being stuck on other puzzles.

This Page Intentionally Left Blank: Great puzzle. Good for a few people to work on in parallel, a lot of little "a-ha"s, cute concept.

CrossWord Complex: I didn't work on the crossword half here, but those who did enjoyed it, and figured out how the pieces fit together. And then seeking out the trivial loops (once I realized we were talking homotopy in CW complexes, not knot theory) was fun! Really! And reading the solution gave me warm memories of the homology I once knew.

Treasure Island: Trying to solve this was fun. I don't know why we kept hitting dead ends. If we felt like there was any possibility that we could have ever made it to the Ocean meta level (this was the only Ocean sub-meta we fully unlocked) I would have written a program for it or something.

Sam's Your Uncle: This ate one of my friends for something like 36 hours. It was definitely a compelling puzzle! Unfortunately, despite realizing from the title that there was probably something British involved, we didn't quite get the main twist, and just spent a day very slowly getting optional clues together. But, y'know, fun enough that we didn't give up for a huge amount of time.

Missed Connections: Short and sweet. Exactly what we needed Saturday morning.

Jigsaw Puzzle: People seem to be complaining about this on this post, or saying it was too much for small teams. Well, while it wasn't my thing personally, it was incredibly popular on RoboPop. It was a straightforward task that anyone could work on at any point when making no headway on other puzzles. It was probably the puzzle that made the most progress in the wee hours of late Friday night. And we did solve it.

Call and Response: Nice puzzle. We didn't solve it, but we really should of. Reading over solutions, one theme seems to be that Sages really liked "the two words have the same length, extract matching letters" and our team rarely tried that. (Dear Abby had the same problem for us.) Good to know :)

Dessert Party: I liked the semi-collaborative nature here: you definitely needed to share with other teams to get all the information, and then you could choose between secretive solving or group.

Lost in Translation: I didn't work on it but it sounded like those who did loved it.

De-coins: Definitely excited some folks on our team. Scavenger hunts are nice when you're stuck.

Time Conundrum: Now that I see the call-in page, I don't consider this puzzle to be semi-broken for not-super-organized teams. And even without the RED HERRING, we solved it and had a great time. Maybe my favorite Conundrum-style puzzle yet (though it's really more of a logic puzzle than Conundrum).

[more in next comment]
David Glasserdavidglasser on January 25th, 2013 03:07 pm (UTC)
Re: Nice things

Cone of Silence: Now I realize that I never saw the completed project of our team's and want to. They certainly laughed a lot while making it.

Halting Problem: Probably my favorite puzzle of the Hunt. The fact that one of them computed a number that is currently unknown (R(5,5)) and the double level of insight needed for Erlang ("this is a prime factorization algorithm!" .... "and this is RSA-768!") were great. And what a fitting answer.

Analogy Farm: I only tried this for a few minutes, but the hoard of puzzlers giggling in a corner for an hour sure liked it!

Security Theater: Generally fun (though it took us surprisingly long to figure out the rule for the respacing rows). Definitely appreciated the "checkpoints" during the decoding (spelling messages midway through).

Git Hub: Did we solve it? No. Did I assume there was something clever that I was missing that I'd kick myself for not noticing when I saw the solution? Yes. Was I right? Yes. Nice puzzle, I should have just drawn the graph like I kept considering.

A Regular Crossword: Loved it! A good example of a puzzle that's fun, unique, and slightly challenging without really needing any aha moments. Ahas are great, but some puzzles can just be "here's a new puzzle form I made up, solve it!"

Season Changes; No One Ages: Another easy late-hunt puzzle that made it feel like we still had something resembling momentum.
(Anonymous) on January 25th, 2013 05:48 pm (UTC)
Re: Nice things
Thank you! It's really nice to hear about some of the puzzles you did enjoy :-)
Mikey Gemengee on January 25th, 2013 05:53 pm (UTC)
Re: Nice things
Oops, that was me. Wasn't logged in.
(Anonymous) on January 25th, 2013 07:37 pm (UTC)
Re: Nice things
Hear, hear! I loved so many parts of this hunt. It had more enlightening and beautiful and eye-opening parts - from some of the puzzle types themselves to aha!s involved - than in any I can remember. Many will be remembered as great puzzles for a long time to come. Some will hopefully spark their own new type of puzzle. Thank you to everyone who brought those ideas to life. It will be fun to see how they all get classified in the great puzzle archive in the sky.

Thank you also for the sheer amount of work you put into puzzle-making. This sort of herculean effort with quirky extractions (and ambiguities left for the puzzler to resolve) might have been better suited to an [even more massively-parallelized] ARG than to Mystery Hunt, but it leaves us all with a full year's worth of puzzles to work through.
(Anonymous) on January 25th, 2013 07:20 pm (UTC)
Jigsaw Puzzle
I just wanted to say that our team really liked Jigsaw Puzzle too. I thought it was crazy, but people jumped all over it when it came in the door. I think part of that was that people at least knew what to do. Now, I'm sure it could've been smaller and had the same effect, but I do hope whoever stuck it into the Hunt hears that it made a lot of solvers happy. I get how competitive teams would find it a waste of manpower. But there's a place for simple, but long puzzles like this, if it's a form people like. Apparently for something like 10 people on my team, jigsaw qualifies. So, thanks, Sages.

-Henry, Death from Above
fuurei on January 25th, 2013 08:49 pm (UTC)
Re: Jigsaw Puzzle
Thanks for the positive comments about jigsaw puzzle. Just wanted to say that they really made my day.

- Yuri (one of the authors)
rlangmit on January 25th, 2013 09:15 pm (UTC)
Re: Jigsaw Puzzle
People at Up Late seemed to really embrace it as well. And it made for a nice visual with all the pieces on the floor!
(Anonymous) on January 25th, 2013 09:19 pm (UTC)
Re: Jigsaw Puzzle
I think the idea behind it was great. But even though I think we solve it close to "optimally" (thanks to the concept being suggested by motris and other shortcut inspirations we derived from lack of tape - we only finished about 2 of the full puzzles and by the end just 3 pieces from a puzzle was often enough) - it still took about 20 man hours I'd guess. A lot to ask.

I agree completely with the "nice break from other puzzles" and camaraderie comments. I just wonder if the same thing could have been accomplished with 36 6x6 or 25 5x5 puzzles.

- JJ
fuurei on January 25th, 2013 09:33 pm (UTC)
Re: Jigsaw Puzzle
Yeah, I think in retrospect 6x6 or 5x5 would probably have been a more reasonable size for the puzzle. (And that would've cut down a lot on the construction time, too! :) ) I think the goal was to have it be comparable in size and difficulty to a relatively-challenging single-picture jigsaw puzzle, which a smaller size would likely have done just fine.

(I personally didn't contribute to the size decision, as I am a very inexperienced puzzler and first-time puzzle author.)