The Geek Olympics: Now With DRAGONS!

A couple years back, I wrote a post about the MIT Mystery Hunt. I called it “the geek olympics,” as this is an event for people with esoteric knowledge and a predilection for thinking very hard. This was my first year that I actually got to experience being part of a team in person, though, and we had a very friendly team indeed, so I felt a little less like a “cog in a massive puzzle-solving machine.” Also, we all had t-shirts (which I got to design!), so that was exciting too. Check out the few, generally blurry photos I took here. (Did you know Flickr limits free accounts to only three sets? Hmm.) Please feel free to post in the comments a link to your photos, or a link to your own blog post on the Hunt; thanks to Jordan for reminding me to blog about this.

Unfortunately, the puzzles were really, really hard. Don’t get me wrong—I love a good, challenging puzzle—but some of this stuff was downright unreasonable. This was the first time that a Hunt was put together by the group in charge, and I think they have yet to work out the kinks in their approach. [Actually, that’s not quite accurate; see comments below.] In some previous years, the Hunt has ended early because people solved so many puzzles that they found the hidden coin on campus—sort of the golden snitch of the event. This year, on the other hand, the Hunt ended kind of late, and the team in charge publicly encouraged people to call in and ask for hints.

For my part, I got to participate in solving two puzzles (answers here and here, but there were many more that I worked on that we failed to solve. This might sound frustrating, but honestly, it was more boring than anything else. The frustrating part comes days or weeks later when the organizers posted solutions, and I found out just how close I was—and just how ridiculous a leap in logic was required to go the extra mile.

Check out “Let’s Ask the Dead Guy,” for example: I actually created overlaid maps in Photoshop of every prisoner’s location at the times when the guard was alone, as the puzzle’s answer indicates. What I didn’t do was scale those images down for each floor and then stick them up in the opposite corner of the one the guard was in, as that’s not how vision really works. Had I done this, I may or may not have noticed that the prisoner locations roughly spell letters in a connect-the-dots fashion. As it was, though, this puzzle had tons of data that might or might not have been pertinent to its solution, and there’s not really many ways of knowing whether you’re on the right track as you work on it.

There were some very fun puzzles, though. The one based on the “subservient chicken” Burger King ad campaign saw a bunch of us around a table, feeding ’80s bands to a website to watch a guy (or gal?) dressed as a chicken and reenacting old music videos. That was solved more through brute force than through leaps in logic, but it was amusing and enjoyable all the same. Also, my teammates did a great job constructing things out of Legos for a scavenger hunt, including a tableau with kidnapping sharks and a very fearsome dragon.

The team that won has apparently run some good Mystery Hunts in the past [see comments below], so next year looks promising. I may not be in town to check it out, but I hope I can be.

Those t-shirts are awesome.

Member of the Midnight Bombers, here. Great post, so I thought I’d add a few things.

The team running the Hunt this year, Palindrome, has run two previous Hunts: Enigmatology in 1998 and the Hunt of Horror in 2001. Unfortunately, they had a lot of internal drama this year which led to a lot of problems with the Hunt.

I missed both the opening and the dance party, so I never saw your team T-shirts, which are, in fact, awesome. Also, your team name had a great effect on Hunt HQ (see this post and scroll down to “Awesome Stuff”).

Chuckie Chicken was a guy, specifically Trip Payne, who has given details about the puzzle.

As for us, we’ve only run one Hunt together (last year’s Hell Hunt), although several people on the team have constructed Mystery Hunts on other teams. Now, I must return to putting still more DRAGONS! into the 2009 Hunt.

Thanks so much for filling in the gaps, Tablesaw! Those are some pretty interesting links. (And thanks to both of you for complimenting the design. I largely voted for our team name because I thought it would be fun to design a shirt for.)

Also, now that I have a better idea of what actually goes into planning and running a Hunt (let alone winning one), I am going to operate under the assumption that I will probably not be involved in such a process in the immediate future. Therefore, someone please steal my idea and do a Lovecraftian theme for a future Hunt. There are investigators solving mysteries … secrets man was not meant to know … things that drive you mad at a mere glance … just like every other year’s Hunt! Thank you for taking this into consideration for the future.

You should email the team a link to this, if you haven’t already. My photos are here.

BTW, do you know how people are finding this post?

Not a clue. Do people just type “Mystery Hunt” into Technorati every couple days or are there actually people reading this blog who didn’t stumble here from Macuser?

I notice that you’ve shamelessly stolen my idea for a Lovecraft hunt and claimed it as your own. This would really only be hilarious for a substitution cipher problem with Cthulhu style plain text.

The internet is a physical manifestation of the universe conspiring to bring you whatever your heart desires.

I must want V1@GRA more than I ever realized, then.

Your idea? Them’s fightin’ words. Or maybe I just remember it as my idea because I can’t stop thinking about it.

Either way, you deserve credit for the clever team name. We are indeed all about the love.

I remember Jason, Tony, and Michael all talking about it at the same time (maybe Dan too?). Not sure who said it first tho. I’ve gotta look up this lovecraft stuff so I know what you all area talking about.

(It came up right around the time we all evacuated the classroom to chase down those strangers)

Oh yeah, I forgot to blog about that part. That was weird.

I turned around and saw two people crouching at the window, peering at me, maybe a foot away from me. When they saw that I saw them, they jumped away and ran, flapping their arms as they went. So I shouted, “Spies! After them!” (or something to that effect), and a bunch of us ran after them.

I’d like to say that the next thing that happened was very Lovecraftian, perhaps involving human sacrifice or at least a small orgy. Actually, though, they were walking by the time we reached them, and we were kind of out of breath from chasing them, so we invited them back to help us solve puzzles. I still have no idea if they really were who they said they were (students who were lost and unaffiliated with the Hunt), since their answer seemed to change a few times.

[…] Airplane tail branding, and lists of fictional robots. Jason has referred to it as the Geek Olympics, an event that he says could only be made more geeky by changing the name to “MIT Mystery […]