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 wrongâ€”I love a good, challenging puzzleâ€”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 campusâ€”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 wasâ€”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.