MIT Mystery Hunt 2009

This past weekend the east coast division of Doombot once again participated in the MIT Mystery Hunt. For those not familiar with the MIT mystery hunt, it is a weekend marathon of puzzle solving adventure where teams compete to solve puzzles in all manner of shapes and sizes. The prize of winning is the “reward” of running the event the following year. In addition to the geek factor of solving puzzles in general, many puzzles rely on knowledge of esoteric topics, decoding skills, and hour-after-hour of internet research. The 2009 hunt found me pouring over Battle Star Galactica quotations, corporate logos, Xbox live achievements, 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 Hunt: Now with Dragons.” I think of it as kind of a “Burning Man for Nerds.”

Our team, Grand Unified Theory of Love, isn’t so much about the competing side of things as we are about solving some puzzles and having a good time. We try to have a relatively small, close-knit group, and we take ample breaks for meals and sleeping compared to some teams that go 36+ hours without rest. This year our team jumped a bit in size, with about 25 people participating in person, roughly half of whom were new to the mystery hunt. I got to design a team t shirt, which was well received; sort of a sequel to Jason’s design from last year.

I personally had a great time this year even though I was sick, and I’d rate this as my favorite hunt so far (having participated the last 5 years.) This year’s hunt was themed on an interplanetary adventure in which we had to escape from Zyzzlvaria by rescuing Captain Blastoid and crew, (which could all be done by solving puzzles of course.) The puzzles were fun, and covered a wide spectrum in terms of formats. Though a few puzzles were frustrating or seemed to rely on crazy logical leaps, in general they lived up to my high expectations based on the quality of the last hunt run by the “Evil Midnight Bombers” in 2007. I also helped solve far more puzzles than I think I had ever been involved with (4-5, plus helping with interpreting clues for puzzles that had been all-but-solved.) In total our team solved about twice as many puzzles as last year which seemed pretty good given our laid-back demeanor. We unfortunately didn’t solve any of the “meta-puzzles” even when we had solved the majority of puzzles in a given round. (Meta-puzzles are puzzles that can be solved by combining solutions of grouped puzzles.)

I was really impressed with the quality of team work displayed by our group: for one event we were tasked with constructing a “spaceship” that would complete a variety of tasks, something I figured would not really come together due to the logistics of our team being so geographically isolated prior to the hunt. Not to be thwarted by geography several intrepid team members traded a flurry of emails in the days leading up to the event, each arriving with several component that were assembled Voltron-style into a spaceship capable of all the possible tasks we were asked to do.

In addition to the “here’s a picture/block of text/data set you need to interpret” style of puzzle there were several “make something” or “find something” type puzzles our team seems to really enjoy. In addition to the space ship, there was a scavenger hunt, “costume party”, “science fiction food bake-off“, and “compose a fictional national anthem” puzzles. I’m guessing the more competitive team skip or minimize the time they put into these types of puzzles but for us they were a welcome change up in pace and style from the other types of puzzles.

Our team packed it around 8pm sunday night, 56 hours after the hunt had started (though several hours short of the 63 it would run.) Hopefully fun was had by all and Grand Unified Theory of Love will be back in 2010. Congratulations to the team that won, “Beginner’s Luck”, I hope they run a great hunt next year!

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