Before I forget, I need to talk about the Mystery Hunt!
The 2017 Hunt was a lot of fun. This year, I was solving on team Palindrome, with the official name “TOO LONG NO LOOT”. With the last two years being on Luck, whose focus is either to win or to run the Hunt, this was a change of pace, as Palindrome’s official philosophy is “We Play For Fun”. However, when the official roster of everyone that was on Palindrome was sent on the group email, I was stating very confidently that we had to win. There was simply no way we could lose with the talent that the team had.
I arrived in Boston at noon on Thursday with the purpose of actually going to sightsee the city before Hunt began. I got to walk a lot of the Freedom Trail, although Old North Church wasn’t open at the USS Constitution was WAY too far away for me to do it. I had blisters on my feet for the rest of the weekend, but I’m glad I got to see the sights.
Hunt began on Friday at noon, and this year’s theme was role-playing games, with a D&D knockoff called “Monsters et Manus”, a pun on the school’s motto. This is one of those themes I assume most teams have early in the theme vote, since there’s so much you can do with it, but other teammates come up with something else and then go with that. D&D was inevitable, and 2017 was its year.
Hunt can be found here (with solutions): Monsters et Manus
Puzzles were very well written, and I enjoyed solving. The other 80 people on Palindrome that were solving on campus were in two rooms, and everyone was humming all throughout Friday. A puzzle would get unlocked, and there was people zipping through a Google Doc to figure it out. It was amazing. The sad thing is that since we were in two rooms, sometimes that made co-solving harder, and I tell ya, if we were all in one room, we probably could have shaved 3 hours off of our final time.
The story I keep bragging about is the Economist Meta round, which after solving “Upon Reflection” and getting its answer, I was sure I knew how the meta mechanism worked. Sure enough it would be, and after a couple more answers was solved, we had our answer. At Closing, there were extra tokens that teams would receive for solving a meta available, and I was able to get one, which was my coin for the year, as our team didn’t receive the metal one.
Oh yeah, Palindrome solved the Hunt, and fast. It was projected that we were solving a meta every hour, which for a Mystery Hunt, is absurdly amazing. Everyone in the room could feel that we were solving these puzzles quickly. It’s hard to know how or why, as most of us figured that since there’s more than 200 eyeballs looking at these puzzles, of course they’re going to get solved quickly, how could they not?
There was certainly points during the Hunt where we thought we were going to win. People could feel it. And we were close. Team Palindrome beat the final meta challenge, and then did the runaround, where we found where the coin was hidden around 5:30am Saturday morning. We started the Hunt just a mere 16 hours before. Although we had solved the Hunt faster than any winning team had ever done, we came in second, as team Death and Mayhem found the coin at 4:23 am.
A huge congratulations to Death and Mayhem, who certainly were well equipped to win. According to some charts, D&M had about 160 people total on their team this year, and I believe a large number of them were on campus. Some of them were folks I knew on Team Luck, and some of them were folks I’ve known through the other puzzling activities I do. And like that, the 2017 MIT Mystery Hunt was done for me.
So, I went back to the hotel, slept until 2pm, and then asked myself “What am I going to do for the rest of the weekend?” I moseyed back over to our team’s HQ, and there was people solving some of the puzzles we had not finished during our 15 hour sprint, and I soon left to go get some food with some folks. I had three consecutive meals and three restaurants, a pizzeria, a diner, and a second pizza place where I did not order anything because I already had a small pizza and French toast. After all that, there was a party at a Palindrome member’s house in Somerville, and good times were had by all. On Sunday I went to the Museum of Fine Arts there in Boston, went to the Boda Borg escape room simulator-thing in a suburb, and played some trivia with some friends after the Cowboys had lost (still upset about that). Monday was Closing, and I eventually made it to the airport. But the real question is, how did this happen?
This screenshot comes from the Wrap-Up show, and it shows two main pieces of info: the size of the team (represented by the size of the circle), and their finishing time. By noon Saturday, a total of 6 teams had finished the Hunt. In the modern era, the fastest Hunt ending was 10:27 pm Saturday, for the 2012 Producers Hunt, so around 34 hours. Six teams this year had finished it within 24 hours.
So, I think there are some big philosophical Hunt questions that are going to have to be asked.
1) Do I go to sleep?
This year, our team won in around 16 hours. I was awake for all of it. Two years ago, I took a power nap in the breakout food room, and continued until we won, but this year, there was no need for a nap.
Team Palindrome was looking to win this year, and maestro Eric Berlin had already been arranging for people to take a midnight shift, where they’d go to sleep in the evening on Friday, and come back in the wee hours so that the team can have a chance at winning. As a result, there were some team members who were in their hotel rooms sleeping when the Hunt was won. I don’t blame them, since how could they know, but now the questions I have to be asked about the future.
I say there has to be a tipping point. When we were solving, one dude who was walking around the room commenting was saying that after we finish the main map on the screen, that’d there be another entire map behind it. He claimed we were probably about 1/3 done with the Hunt. I didn’t call him out right then, but that was hogwash.
At that point, we had solved at least 125 puzzles and metas. There was NO WAY this year’s Hunt had 400 puzzles in it. I haven’t done the math on this, but there seems to be around an average of 130-160 puzzles in a Hunt. Taking the lower end of this, take 130. 75% of 130 puzzles is around 100, and I say that’s the new tipping point. If your team has finished 100 puzzles in DAY ONE, then I think you should think about staying up. There were times where I felt if we had a couple more folks looking at puzzles we might have solved them faster, but how could we have known this year’s Hunt would be shortest on record?
2) Is this a new era for Mystery Hunting?
Some discussion on Saturday involved asking if from now on, winners of the Mystery Hunt would be a spectrum, where some people would win early Saturday, while some would win early Monday?
This is where I did some research. The following is the winning times in each Hunt since 1994 (which was listed as ending Saturday afternoon). This data reflects rounding times up to the nearest hour, and stating the Hunt begins Friday 1pm.
In the modern era (2000/Oz until now), the average winning length has been 46.6 hours. Collected data for this chart can be found [here].
This year, a bunch of teams won, and the writing team reported that a bunch of teams who play each year but don’t finish got the opportunity to finish this year. This was met with lots of cheers, and everyone walked away from the Hunt satisfied.
The first two teams who won however probably totaled around 180 folks on campus who hung around because the Hunt was over. The MIT Mystery Hunt is an investment, not just of the time and resources of the writing team, but for folks traveling to the event. I heard some people grumbling about how they’re not sure if they can justify in the future spending money on flights, 4 days of hotels, and possibly skipping work if they compete in a 16-hour event.
I think there is some truth in that. People attend the Hunt because they know it’s a weekendful of puzzling. When you don’t get a full weekend, I don’t blame someone being annoyed. I enjoyed all the extra time, and I got to go see sites, hang out with folks, and play escape rooms and trivia, which is fun for a grad student without a full time job, but I don’t speak for everyone. The balance of how long a Hunt takes will be weighed in the future.
Before this year, the fastest Hunt was the 2012 Producers Hunt, which was followed up by the behemoth 2013 Coinheist Hunt. In the words of that year’s art producer:
First, last year’s hunt was around 100 puzzles long, and it ended early. We heard lots of whining about the early end. So we thought that this hunt needed more puzzles in order to last until Sunday noon. In the early Hunt structure conversations, some individuals vociferously argued that the Hunt needed to be around 180-200 puzzles long, or else it wouldn’t be long enough. Arguably, this shifted the Sages HQ Overton Window in terms of what we thought the Hunt required–people retorted that 135 was enough, not that we needed to *lower* the number back to 100.
How long will next year’s Hunt be? It’s a coin toss.
3) As a writing team, do we make it harder?
I think this year’s metas were easier. It’s hard to know, when you have so many people looking at puzzles, and you have people like Foggy Brume and Eric Berlin solely essentially working on metas, but they seemed easier. Palindrome was often able to solve a meta using just a handful of answers, and we were able to steamroll some rounds like “The Broken Bridge” with just 4 answers I believe.
The metas are the crux of the event. They determine how fast you could win. The “problem” this year was that individual puzzles determined how you unlocked other puzzles in other rounds, while solving a meta automatically unlocked other puzzles. Because we were able to solve a meta in 4 puzzles, we were able to unlock other puzzles, which means we could backsolve other puzzles, which means it was a cycle of unlocking and backsolving, and that’s how I believe we progressed so quickly.
I believe next year’s metas will be trickier, only as a way to make up for this year’s simpler metas. Understand, this year’s metas were very well written, but were they tough as nails? Probably not. However, I do believe if we are to see a return to the 46 hour average, the metas will be harder.
4) Should we cap teams?
Doesn’t matter. Small teams finished the Hunt within 24 hours too. Sure, it helps to have a bunch of folks, but at the end, it’s quality over quantity. It just happens some teams get lucky in both fronts.
Congrats to the writing team for putting on an amazing Hunt. Between the website, the puzzles, and the events we got the abbreviated forms of because we finished so quickly, there’s no doubt everyone had fun.
Congrats to Death and Mayhem for winning, and I look forward to seeing what you all get to put on.
And thanks again to all of the great teammates on Palindrome. I hope I get to play with you all next year, and I do hope I get to see you throughout the year at the various puzzle events we all attend.
Because I’ve learned that the MIT Mystery Hunt is a place…
…jurer rirelobql xabjf lbhe anzr. Until next year MIT!