19 January 2005

Hunting a Hunt

My 2005 Mystery Hunt experience was unfortunately marred by the fact that I missed the majority of the action due to my heinous flu, which appeared on Thursday and rendered me immobile for all of Friday and fatigued for all of Saturday. I nonetheless got in several good hours of puzzling that went a little something like this:

I arrived in 56-154 at around 1PM on Saturday which was already 24 hours into the hunt. I was equipped with my drugs, tissues, gatorade and thermometer to try to prevent myself from getting any sicker than I already was. In retrospect we were already hopelessly behind to have any chance of winning, but I didn't know that then. I started setting up my laptop (it took a little while for MIT's wireless DHCP server to give me an IP address) and someone across the room asked if anybody knew how to play poker.

I quickly started working on a neat little puzzle which consisted of a lengthy description of a poker game and not much more. A girl named Liz (I think she was a tetazoo frosh) had been working on the puzzle, googling for the obscure poker terms but I jumped right in without even glancing at my laptop. At one point, I mumbled "San Francisco busboy...so the other dude has Queen-Three..." and she was like, "How the hell did you know that?!" I blushed and said something about playing a lot of poker.

Anyway, we cranked through the puzzle and got the answer, which was a good way to start the day.I next got involved in this taxonomy puzzle that Josh and a girl (maybe named Caroline?) had been tooling on for many hours. It was actually pretty neat, but ended up generating a bit of frustration. I was diverted to stare at the Green Meta (the first of many times I did this) and Josh and Caroline had the aha! breakthrough for the taxonomy puzzle.

At this point I think I meandered among several puzzles, without much luck. I spent a few cursory minutes checking out cposs's progress on the pr0n puzzle and then went back to working on the evil Green Meta with Feldmeier. Within 15 minutes we had basically solved the goddamned thing but fell into the trap I remember from the Monopoly Hunt of trying to generalize aspects of one meta and force them onto the others. In this case everyone seemed convinced that we should order the puzzle solutions using the map, like the red and blue metas. Mark had the exactly correct idea (which had been previously examined by Anand and Zoz) but we just couldn't get the order to work. I could see the word "POWER" and since I knew we were looking for a super power I thought we might try anagramming the rest of the letters. The problem was that we had NILS plus one missing letter and the anagram server wouldn't take blanks. I had actually typed NILSA in and was about to search when I decided "Nah, I don't wanna bother doing this 26 times." Of course it turns out "A" was the missing letter and "SNAIL POWER" was the answer.

Eventually I wound up working on a really nice baseball puzzle with Erin and Amittai where we played a baseball game based off a scorecard using little slips of paper. It was fun and we did finally get the solution, which was satisfying. I wandered around for a little while more that night, but I was exhausted and still sick, so I went home around 11:30 PM.

The next day I drove back to Cambridge about 9AM and found a fairly small crowd awake and working. I tooled for a while with Amittai and a couple other people on this art-gallery logic puzzle. It would've been interesting but one dude had already been working on it for many hours and was convinced that the approach Amittai and I wanted to use was already exhausted. It was a shame because he was so insistent that we were wrong that I just gave up and left (not because I thought I was wrong, but because he insisted on standing there offering his critique). These things happen when people have been staring at the same pages for two days. Shortly after this it became evident that we had no shot of winning and I was suprised at how quickly that took the wind out of my sails. Besides, I had an appointment for some football later that day. I packed up my things and headed out.

It was a shame I missed so much, but I really enjoyed myself for the most part. I got to see a couple people I don't usually see, which was very nice. Plus the puzzles I worked on were nice in that they weren't obscenely difficult or obfuscated for the most part. Not to harp on this point, but it really underscored how far off we were last year in thinking everything was "too easy" and adding stupid extra levels to "fix" that "problem", which only left us with puzzles everyone hated. Now I will stop "using" these "quotation marks".

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