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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.
flatluigi: lizard guitarflatluigi on January 26th, 2013 07:13 pm (UTC)
Re: Alphabet Book, Shoephone Event, Thomas Crowne Event
A lot of us worked on Alphabet Book and filled in many many answers with no idea what to do with them - because we never worked out what the gimmick was! Flavortext would have been great here to point us in the right direction.

The major issue with the puzzle, however, is that even if we figured it out there's absolutely nothing to confirm right answers and debunk wrong answers. The *correct* solution to the puzzle gives absolute gibberish in the blanks, and when that's decoded the message in the blanks is *still* mostly gibberish ("????YPTLFZHPGTSZCEVOZTHRI??????" is a hell of a thing to see after making the leap of faith to decode the blanks).

Apologies, but it was unfortunately one of my least favorite puzzles in the hunt and it was flawed basically throughout.
Scott HandelmanScott Handelman on January 26th, 2013 07:33 pm (UTC)
Re: Alphabet Book, Shoephone Event, Thomas Crowne Event
I guess I sorta *can* comment on the actual solving of alphabet book, because after reading the solution, my fears were basically exactly what you experienced. Some of the letter likenesses were huge stretches, and there was basically zero confirmation.HOWE TRUSS? I can guarantee you that no bridge said to have a troll under it was ever built with a Howe Truss, a 19th century American invention. A BARNACLE doesn't look any more like a D than any other letter. There's a heck of a lot of author mind-reading that has to occur on the solver's part to get to the final answer. It's a cute idea, but the decision to make the clues more ambiguous was a mistake.

A question for the author: after it passed and went back to make it more difficult, was it tested again? Was it tested again twice? In general, I think anytime the decision is made to make a puzzle harder, that should completely wipe out the first testsolve as if it had never happened.
(Anonymous) on January 26th, 2013 09:14 pm (UTC)
Re: Alphabet Book, Shoephone Event, Thomas Crowne Event
(Being a parent and well-versed with such things,) I loved the concept of Alphabet Book. Also thought the extraction was fine - recursing was one of the first things we thought of.

Had a bit of an issue with the souped-up-ness of some of the answers (Howe Truss among them). Thought that if difficulty needed to be increased (and I'm not sure it did), then that could have been handled by a slightly more obscure rhyme.

D and H were definitely among two of the last handful of letters for us to solve (I think F was as well).

- JJ
(Anonymous) on January 27th, 2013 10:14 pm (UTC)
Re: Alphabet Book, Shoephone Event, Thomas Crowne Event
Scott-- yes it was indeed testsolved after it was made more difficult, but it was not tested twice. (I think this was probably due to time constraints)

JJ/all--I think the less well fitting answers were a product of the constraint that each answer start with a different answer and my own lack of ingenuity, although I just generally had trouble finding answers I liked for "N". We went through a bunch of rounds of answer possibilities and both Barnacle and Howe Truss entered fairly late, and were not among my favorites. I am surprised by Fish Hook though so it's good to know that that wasn't as good as I thought.

flatluigi--I'm sorry it was so frustrating for you. Thank you for that feedback!