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.

Allowing teams to choose their own unlock order was an interesting design decision. I think we unlocked the islands in a reasonable order for us (Games was an intense bottleneck, but we unlocked Sci-Fi very soon after, and so managed to get by; and I think it was helpful to have that much time to allow both of these islands’ metametas to simmer), but I know other teams that were hit a lot harder by the bottlenecks and might have had a less fun time. Generally, it seems that unlocking the islands adds a lot of variance to how well a team can do, since every island has a different unlock structure and lets you proceed at a different pace towards the rest of the islands, over which teams have little control and just have to get lucky. A commonly raised concrete example of a problematic scenario is the case of a team that unlocks the resource-consuming scavenger hunts in their last island. So ceteris paribus I’m not that big of a fan of letting teams choose their own unlock orders. On the other hand, I presume this choice freed up HQ resources and allowed them to pull off a lot of the great interactions in this hunt more effectively, so this tradeoff might well have been worth it.

We unlocked the Games, Sci-Fi, Pokémon, and Hacking Islands in that order. Our island unlock and solve times (when marked as SOLVED) were:

  • Games unlocked: Friday (1/12) 16:53:40
  • Sci-Fi unlocked: Friday (1/12) 17:11:14
  • (Control room solved: Friday (1/12) 22:06:59)
  • Pokémon unlocked: Saturday (1/13) 01:33:59
  • Sci-Fi solved: Saturday (1/13) 16:20:30
  • Hacking unlocked: Saturday (1/13) 17:13:24
  • Pokémon solved: Saturday (1/13) 23:01:14
  • Games solved: Sunday (1/14) 13:45:43
  • Hacking solved: Sunday (1/14) 20:36:23

Squinting at the wrap-up graphs suggested to us that we were the first team to have two metametas solved, although I’m not sure. It is worth noting that our first island was the third one we finished. After being stuck on the final Hacking metameta for something like six hours, we finished fifth.

The biggest personal thing that happened this year was that I took some advice I received last hunt to heart and was way more eager to work on metapuzzles with few answers. It helped that I wasn’t in an organizational role this hunt. The proportion of time I spent on metas and the number of metas I solved skyrocketed. But more on that after the spoiler button.

Puzzles I worked on and especially liked:

  • Flattery Will Get You Nowhere: Once we solved this I knew it was a contender for my favorite puzzle of the hunt. The degree to which the theme unified everything was beautiful.
  • Harsh Financial Scrutiny: Huge props for pulling off writing a puzzle on this subject, and making it fun. We were really stuck for a long time and the number of steps was slightly large, but it also had a very strong theme.
  • I’m quite fond of the structure of the Pokémon Island, which had metas that overlapped with pairs of evolution-related puzzles, all in a way that was important for the metameta. The reveals as we solved puzzles and unlocked evolved versions thereof during the hunt (e.g. one solver finally finishing Shoal Patrol after excruciating effort, and then unlocking Submarine Patrol) were super effective.

Puzzles I had strong feelings about:

  • Twitch Plays Mystery Hunt and Under Control: I think, and I am sure many of my other teammates think, that the experiences of solving these puzzles was the most enjoyable parts of the hunt (sadly, they are puzzles you have to experience live, so if you didn’t do them in the hunt it’s unlikely you’ll be able to have that experience). Unfortunately, I think both puzzles suffered from overly complex extraction methods. After completing the bulk of both puzzles, we had to “sidesolve” the first puzzle (combining some information extracted with the puzzle with meta information) and backsolve the second. If not for these problems with extraction, the puzzles would have been one of my absolute favorites ever in any puzzlehunt, so it’s really a pity. More in the spoilery section.

Puzzles I didn’t really work on but thought were amusing:

  • Mass Aid, Executive Relationship Commandments: I can’t comment on the themes without spoiling, but both of these puzzles were amazing.
  • Yeah, but It Didn’t Work; Lest You Be; and Voter Fraud: All of these are puzzles I’ve always wanted to write. They were all oversaturated with people working on them, though, so I didn’t participate in solving them.
  • The 10,000 Puzzle Tesseract: It was heartwarming to see this idea continue; I think this was even a better puzzle than the one I helped create in 2015. I raced a teammate to program all the words with some aggressively throwaway code, but we couldn’t figure out what to do afterwards and then I went to sleep.

    Its fate was still to be backsolved, unfortunately.
  • The Sci-Fi meta: I contributed just about nothing to this meta or anything on the island, but I was there when we figured out what the flavor was referring to, and both the realization that this was how it worked and that Life & Order pulled it off were mindblowing. L&O members wrote an answer about how they set the metas (spoilers, obviously) on the Reddit AMA; be sure to read it.

Just a quick list of puzzles I’ve heard positive things about, although I haven’t looked very carefully at them: Murder at the Asylum; Self Referential Mania; Naquadah Generator; The Lurking Horror II: The Lurkening.

An aside that I have nowhere to put: At some point while we were stuck, some members of our team was combing through the site for hints we had missed, and realized that the Games core memory was of a board game they didn’t recognize. They wondered if this meant anything, since the games meta was Catan themed and they could have easily just filmed a Catan memory. I guessed that it was Escape from Zyzzlvaria, a board game that was made up for past MIT Mystery Hunts. It was. This should give you an idea of the fantastic production quality and attention to detail through the entire hunt.

Another nice detail was the Activity Log, which enabled me to precisely reconstruct our overall path through the hunt — so, without further ado, the spoilery recap:

So, that was the 2018 MIT Mystery Hunt. I’m excited to hunt again with the Trendsetters next year and can’t wait to see what Setec will come up with for us. Time to get better at extraction.

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