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The Longest Now

Mystery Hunting, 2013: Pulling off an epic Coin Heist
Friday January 25th 2013, 7:50 pm
Filed under: Aasw,chain-gang,indescribable,knowledge,meta,Uncategorized,zyzzlvaria

Mystery Hunt 2013 pitted teams against Enigma Valley to rescue the Hunt coins from a vault.

As usual, it was full of some of the best puzzle ideas in the world.  Moreso than usual, in fact: it was epic by the Hunt’s own standards – the largest hunt ever produced, with 150 puzzles, most roughly half again the size, complexity, and difficulty of traditional Mystery Hunt puzzles.  The variety of clever ideas in both individual puzzles and meta structure was impressive, alternating between rewarding and confusing.  Some puzzles realized a beautiful concept that other teams (including Codex and Metaphys) had considered when writing previous hunts, but not pulled off.  Some were built around a conceptual encoding whose very idea was  beautiful — an infinite cryptogram, a fractal word-search, purely group-theoretical encodings, a puzzle tracing out Feynman diagrams, a regular-expression ‘crossword‘, a Chaotic language-evolution analysis, a real-life Enigma puzzle complete with figuring out how to properly construct your own machine… a safe door you had to get around by climbing through ducts… a life-size Laser Maze worthy of its own Zone.  The heist team we recruited was brought to life in character, including Indy, Maxwell Smart, and Ernő Rubik.  The parts that fell together were ridiculously awesome.

And there was a focused effort to make an longer hunt, targeted at large teams that could parallelize most puzzles as soon as they appeared. Some puzzles were designed to be the largest puzzle of that type you’d ever done: a 2000-piece non-interlocking [jigsaw] puzzle, a 50×50 paint-by-number, a 26×26 cryptic, a music-identification puzzle with 263 clips. All of the methods used in the past decade to make hunts more elaborate – novel puzzle types and meta concepts, increased puzzle size, adding additional extraction steps – were tried, sometimes in a single puzzle.

The organizers got a bit carried away with all of this. Unintentional pitfalls that make hunts run long showed up as well: some unpolished puzzles with confusing or unclued extractions, metas with many blind alleys, events that produced hard-to-decipher clues, single hard puzzles serving as a bottleneck to a round.

Common refrains from puzzle reviews: “If it had been two or three steps shorter, I would have counted it among the best Hunt puzzles I’ve seen.”  “We got stuck on the third aha, and further answers didn’t help us much.”

In all, the Hunt would have run into Tuesday without intervention, twice as long as its authors intended. By 2am Sunday, HQ started to send out hints. By Sunday night, serious hinting and free answers began. Somehow Sages managed to do all of this in a way that felt fair to all competing teams.

Codex was at half-mast this year and not fully engaged, but we still had a good 80 active participants, including many talented first-timers.  And, most important, we all had a great time and much-needed break from the far less polished puzzles of life itself.  Thanks to all who joined in this Hunt, and especially to those who ran two additional events – the Intro to Hunting session on Thursday night (designed by Mikalye and run by cScott “meteoric” Ananian, Andrew “the answer” Lin, and Molly Millions)  and our commemoration for Aaron on Friday.

Some of the other Hunt reviews and recaps:

Reviews by hunters:
I prefer puzzles (Eric Berlin, Palindrome)
GashlyHunt Tinies and  Favorite Puzzles (cScott, Codex )
Thank you, Sages! (Emily Morgan, Codex)
Storify timelineHunt of Epic Proportions (The MIT Tech)
Clavis Cryptica | Part 2 (Clavicarius, first time hunter, Left Out)
The First Aid Kit Is Not A Puzzle (Ben Smith, Left Out)
The year the Hunt ate Cleveland (Whom‽, Metaphys Plant)
The year the Hunt won (Mystery Fish, Metaphys)
Changing how we think about end of Hunt (Leech, Metaphys)
Too Big To Solve?
 &  The Year the Mystery Hunt Broke (Thomas Snyder, Luck, blog | Wired)
Wrapup Part 1 | Part 2 | The Nature of “Hard”  (Phil Sandifer)
A (Scathing?) Review of the 2013 Hunt (zandperl, GUT of Love)
zlfgrel uhag erpbzzraqngvbaf and fave puzzles (shaunagm, Codex)
Reflections by the organizers (Manic Sages):
The Hunt we wanted and the Hunt we had  (Karen Rustad, rdctd)
On hosting the Hunt on

Quick personal summaries of puzzles:
Andrew Greene | Neville Fogarty | Aaron Dinkin | C.Scott
Sniffoy | Curtis |

Suggestions for significant changes:
Having a team beta-test the full Hunt a week earlier (as is done with smaller Hunts)

Videocasts by C.Scott, Death from Above
Eric Berlin’s Spaghetti warmups.
GUT | Flat Luigi | Call Me, Maybe | Dấu Tích Hoàng Tộc Map of past coin locations

[…] Edit: Here’s a great round up of discussions by SJ. […]

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