2018 MIT Mystery Hunt

My third MIT Mystery Hunt with ✈✈✈ Galactic Trendsetters ✈✈✈ (also see: 2017 and 2016, writing with Random in 2015). It was a good hunt with a fun theme, solid puzzles, and extraordinary production quality, marred only by a fickle unlock structure and a handful of unnecessarily involved extractions.

Since we had been told the hunt would be smaller than past years’ (now a controversial statement since the coin was not found particularly early) and we didn’t particularly want to win (yet), part of our team temporarily split off this year to hunt as Teammate. Based on our Discord channel, ✈✈✈ Galactic Trendsetters ✈✈✈ had 75 people this year, including remote solvers and people who dropped in and out.

A short description of the hunt structure: This year’s hunt theme was Inside Out, the Disney movie about anthropomorphized emotions. This was revealed through a kickoff that demonstrated the hunt’s extraordinary production quality, in which we watched the unveiling of the Health & Safety hunt, first directly, then in the Control Room with the emotions of a distraught hunter (Miss Terry Hunter) and a lot of beautiful memory orbs and scenery. After Terry’s emotions became overwhelmed in response to the theme, we had to help her emotions to allow her to complete the Health & Safety hunt. The intro round took place in the Control Room; we had to solve 34 regular puzzles and five metapuzzles (somewhat overlapping, with some regular puzzles belonging to more than one metapuzzle) to help each of the five emotions get back to the Control Room. The rest of the hunt consisted of recovering memory orbs from each of four Islands of Personality, each of which had its own theme and meta structure, and which we could choose the unlock order of.


I think this is the right video for this year.

I love the music and the animation. The music video spells out the central conceit somewhat explicitly, but I think the lyrics by themselves have a hint of ambiguity — is it a harmful addiction that you just can’t escape from, or an essential part of your identity that you just can’t deny?

What parts of me can I just not deny, huh? Unfortunately 2017 is also the year I decide my online presence should probably be a little more professional, so you might have to read between the lines a bit.

Thoroughly Stripped

CSAW CTF 2017 Finals (Forensics, 200 pts)

Woo, first CTF writeup. I got the opportunity to participate in the 2017 CSAW CTF finals with Don’t Hack Alone.

Dumped by my core, left to bleed out bytes on the heap, I was stripped of my dignity… The last thing I could do was to let other programs strip me of my null-bytes just so my memory could live on.

We are provided with a core dump. Examining the flavor-text and the dump, we notice that the dump has no null bytes; we conjecture that they have been stripped out.

Next, we examine the hexdump and look for any clues. There are a bunch of ASCII strings, but they look like normal debugging symbols. One thing that jumps out is that there are a couple fairly convincing regular striped patterns that become vertically aligned if you display 20 bytes in each line. Once we do that, we notice the following section. (This dump is from xxb but xxd -c 20 thoroughlyStripped is quite sufficient.)

Hello, Again

And here we are.

This is the first post on this blog after I migrated off WordPress for a static solution.

At first, I wanted to set things up on Amazon Web Services (AWS), which was an adventure. There are lots of online posts about how to do this, but Amazon’s services change quickly and there was often outdated information. For instance, Amazon had a wizard that led you through setting up a static site, which I clicked on. It helpfully handled a lot of grunt work, but now I was out of sync with all of the guides. Oh well.

I think things are confusing partly because there are four AWS components all interacting to make a static site happen:


I guess I lied in my penultimate post.

I’m planning on migrating my primary blog (again), off WordPress to a static site hosted somewhere. I might just throw everything onto GitHub Pages, or might follow any of the zillions of tutorials on how to host static sites off a cheap Amazon S3 bucket — I haven’t decided yet, but no longer having to rely on the free part of freemium services is fairly liberating.

Why? Lots of small reasons.

Me and Facebook

tl;dr: I don’t use Facebook much. If you want to contact me, I would prefer nearly any other mode of communication. I am also going to stop autosharing posts from this blog onto Facebook. RSS readers are great; get yours today.

Recently I checked Facebook and it said something like “You’ve added N friends this past T units of time! Thanks for making the world more connected!” and I just couldn’t any more. Facebook friends are not friends. Dunbar’s number is around 150, maybe double that if you want to stretch it; humans cannot handle that many human relationships. Facebook’s siloed ecosystem is the opposite of connected with the rest of the Internet.

That is one of many reasons I pretty much don’t use Facebook any more. This is not new, but I’ve never formalized it. Also, I figure others might assume otherwise since I still do have an account and still accept friend requests and post sometimes. Thus, I’m writing this post.

Here are all of the reasons:

Taking a Step Back

There’s some point in the decline of a blog’s activity at which you just can’t apologize with a straight face for not posting any more. Only ironically.

I brainstormed reasons why I’m not blogging. It took a while for me to find a reason that felt right, but I think it’s mostly the concern that I don’t have anything important to say, and I’m just spamming people’s inboxes or Facebook feeds. I make fun of my perfectonist tendencies, but they haven’t gone away and have been exacerbated by how public this blog feels now. There’s also a general feeling permeating life that I should be trying to present myself professionally to people, because like a diamond, the Internet is forever.

I guess January is puzzles month

And it’s not even January any more.

(Thing negative two: Thing zero, which is at the bottom of this post, contains two puzzles by me. Skip there if that sounds interesting and text walls don’t.)

Thing negative one: I abandoned this blog (again). The last month has been a mess and much of it is political stuff of the sort that I’m the worst/slowest at writing about.

Thing one: I was on-site for a second MIT Mystery Hunt.

The More Things Change

It seems to me like lots of people want this year to be over. Among all the other things, 2016 is also apparently the year I totally abandon this blog and put off certain planned posts by several months.

I guess this is what happens when you take five technical classes at MIT. The extracurriculars aren’t helping. And the fastest and most confident writing I do is still reactive, when there’s an externally-imposed deadline or when “somebody is wrong on the internet”. This blog isn’t.

Oh well, time to make up for it in 2017.

What happened this year? I’ll start with some serious categories:


This is two days late and it’s not even the post that was supposed to be here. That will have to wait until I’m less hosed. ESP just finished running Splash, our largest annual event in which thousands of high school students come to MIT’s campus, and MIT community members (mostly) teach whatever they want to the students. This was the first big program I participated really deeply in as an ESP admin, and it has this way of eating you alive and spitting you out full of joy and immersion in life but devoid of energy and buffer zones for finishing other things by their deadlines.

On a similar note, thanks for all the birthday wishes from everyone everywhere. I’m sorry I haven’t found the time to respond or sometimes reciprocate. This made my day, and probably last couple of weeks too.