2022 MIT Mystery Hunt

Sixth year hunting with ✈✈✈ Galactic Trendsetters ✈✈✈! As last year’s writing team (previously: 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, writing with Random in 2015) we had one final responsibility: running the traditional How to Hunt workshop shortly before this year’s hunt. I didn’t play a huge role in that, but I lurked and reminded myself some things about how new puzzlehunters think about puzzles, and I wrote Yet Another Puzzlehunt Spreadsheet Tutorial after casting around and being not entirely satisfied with the puzzlehunting spreadsheet tutorials I found. I think I actually understand ARRAYFORMULA now.

And then, before we knew it, it was Hunt again.

It’s really nice to get to solve Mystery Hunt again, and especially nice to do so on a team that was fairly actively trying not to win. GT generally tried not to add too many members this year, with some affiliated folks splitting off or hunting with other teams. During the hunt itself, we avoided backsolving puzzles that people were enjoying forward-solving, and encouraged people to be more confident before guessing answers. We ended up with a >50% guess accuracy1, much higher than some of our past participations, and at least for the puzzles I participated in that took more than a few incorrect answers, I think they were all reasonable guesses or honest mistakes (VALLICELLIANA is difficult to spell) rather than attempts at short-circuiting.

Personally, I did the hunt as part of a roughly 10-person west coast contingent who met up in real life (and who all tested negative for COVID shortly before or after arrival). I think I got roughly three times as much sleep as I did during the 2020 hunt, when we won, and I felt freer to hop onto puzzles that were greatly oversaturated with solvers, such as A Number of Games and How to Install a Handle, or to try less hard looking for extraction steps after doing the fun meat of a puzzle. I think a lot of team members took a similar approach; based on our solve log, we solved no metas between 3am and noon (ET) on either day, and generally had much starker dead zones of activity in the mornings than in past years.

This year, after the Star Rats prologue hunt (which is pretty unprecedented as far as I’m aware, and really speaks to Palindrome going above and beyond), we learned during kickoff that Hayden Library had disappeared due to an attack on Bookspace, the interdimensional space connecting all books and their characters and worlds. We traveled into Bookspace to investigate the damage, fix it, and finally figure out how to get home. All the early puzzles were named and usually themed after a children’s book; each of the later rounds was themed after an entire genre of books, which made for wonderful and well-executed theming that was also diverse across the hunt. ✈✈✈ GT ✈✈✈ solved the final puzzle at 7:29pm on Sunday, solidly after HQ had formally closed but while they were still receptive to informal chatting. Given the ways we had slowed ourselves down, I felt the hunt was just about the perfect length.

Non-spoilery highlights:

  • There were a lot of great puzzles, but I think I have no trouble naming Sorcery for Dummies as my favorite non-meta puzzle — among the ones I worked on, and putting aside the fact that the puzzle thematically involves vanquishing a dragon, of course. (Notably excluded from consideration is Lists of Large Integers: I’ve heard people I expect to have similar tastes to me generally liked it, but it was unlocked and solved while I was asleep.) I have had a soft spot for interactive puzzles for just about forever, but have never been great at articulating why, and this will go very high in the list of examples I use to try to explain it.
  • Curious and Determined has multiple very cool steps and might well have displaced Sorcery for me if it had a slightly nerfed final step (I would suggest solvers solve the puzzle as if it had “→ (4 6)” tacked onto the very end, though of course I don’t have any testsolves to evaluate the consequences of such a change).
  • How to Install a Handle was very funny. I don’t know how to express this. 99% of the solve process is somebody stating something on voice chat and causing everybody else to crack up. For ✈✈✈ GT ✈✈✈, it was likely the most jumped-on feeder puzzle of the entire hunt (only possibly surpassed by the final few metas, when no other puzzles were useful).
  • I didn’t think too much of Once is Happenstance during the hunt, I think partly because I experienced the puzzle weirdly due to starting only after many other solvers had abandoned it, and partly because superficially the flavortext and presentation felt a tad clumsy to me. I just can’t convince myself that the optimal presentation for this puzzle uses four different non-grayscale colors. But aesthetic quibbles aside, I think everything in the puzzle does work together really well, and makes for an enjoyable solve with a fantastic punchline.
  • I didn’t contribute anything to ❤️ & ☮️, nor do I think I could have since I know nothing about the subject matter, but I have enough of an impression from cultural osmosis and caught enough cross-talk and links exchanged by others to appreciate the hilarious construction vicariously. I am glad that the puzzle taught me about the work that’s the centerpiece of the puzzle, which is stuck in my head now.
  • You Took the Fifth: An Ace Attorney puzzle! Maybe? I won’t say too much here to avoid spoiling, but as a big Ace Attorney fan I was proud to contribute a lot to this puzzle’s solve.
  • Among metas, the second round’s metameta, The Ministry, was very neat. I have a bit more to say in the spoiler section, but not that much. I think it doesn’t need my praise.

And now for the spoilery recap. I’ll just focus on some highlights instead of giving a comprehensive blow-by-blow of our progress through the hunt, but one theme I am realizing as I write this post is that we skipped a lot of cluephrases when solving. Heavy spoilers ahead!

And that’s another year! Thanks to Palindrome for a beautifully-themed hunt, and congratulations to Teammate, whose online puzzlehunts the last two years have been incredible. I know I’m not alone in being very excited to see what they’ll come up with next year. See you then.

  1. I’m counting Plot Device partials — you know the ones — in neither the numerator nor the denominator, but can count other partials as Incorrect and still arrive at an accuracy >50%.

  2. I made up this term but I basically mean it as the opposite of a tank in the “MMO theory of puzzlehunts”: a glass cannon is somebody who has very low endurance for gruntwork.

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