19 January 2006


One of several reasons that I extended my holiday break to nearly a full month in length was to make sure to be in Cambridge for MLK weekend and the Mystery Hunt. I had a much better time this year than last year (when I was so sick with the flu that I could only stay out of bed for a few hours on Saturday). I solved some puzzles, saw some old friends and generally had a good time. Unfortunately, our team pretty much sucked again this year.

Following Rhode's tradtion, I thought I'd list off a few of my favorite hunt moments:

  • Sixteen Blocks: clever idea for a puzzle, you get the lists of words from two players who played boggle and you must back out the arrangement of boggle cubes that allowed that game to be played. Unfortunately the testsolvers let it through without realising that there's a boggle backsolver on the web which can generate the layout in about 5 seconds. Josh and I did that so quickly that we didn't even look at the layout because it seemed too easy. After a few minutes I took the layout and confirmed by hand that it contained all the letters. I gave it to some other people working on the puzzle, explaining that if they were trying to get the layout we already had that step done. Turns out it was the only step, because when Erin took the layout from me she read around the grid, "THE ANSWER IS POTATOES"

  • The Cambidge AgentLocation puzzle was staightforward and simple, but fun to do. I think sometimes people try too hard to make the Hunt impossible. I thought PhysPlant did a good job of leaving a few openings early on in the hunt for novices to crank through some puzzles.

  • The Cambridge meta was pretty cool too. I especially enjoyed clueing TTY with "zephyr mode".

  • Blue Steel: Josh decided to bypass the solving stage of this puzzle and just ripped the diskette open to find the information "inside the computer".

  • Connect Four: probably my favourite puzzle from the hunt. We had a lot of manpower when it was released to us, so about 12 of us cranked it out in under half an hour. Just nicely constructed through and through, from the clue solving step to the answer arrangement to the final clue phrase.

  • Handbook Fragment: this puzzle was annoying as hell, but really satisfying when Josh and I defeated it at 6AM. It involved classifying grammatical mistakes in a writing sample and looking up the mistake code in the Mayfield manual of style. Made more difficult by the fact that the puzzle author did not appear to have much style to begin with.

  • Decode This: I was in the middle of this puzzle along with zoz and sbj when the hunt ended. It's another example of a well constructed puzzle in all phases. It uses the same scrambling/decrypting steps repeated 5 times, reducing the total size of the data by a factor of four each time. A 1024 character paragraph thus produces a four letter answer. I enjoyed it enough that I actually finished it at home with Laurie after the hunt ended. (On a side note, she got right into it and definitely should've been working on puzzles for the whole hunt.)

  • Space Invaders: this one was a lot of fun too, involving figuring out special rules for each sentence in a crazy paragraph. Some frosh (whose name I forget) was really good at this one and was totally psyched to figure out some of the rules. The best one was when some girl said, "This sentence seems to have all short words." Josh replied, maybe there's some sort of pattern in the word lengths. She started reading word lengths, "Three one four one five nine..."

  • The Kuala Lumpur meta used a very elegant method that we unfortunately missed until we had way more answers than we should've needed. Credit goes to Dustin for finally spotting it.

  • The Scrambler: another fairly straightforward puzzle that just required some grunging and a bit of general knowledge (not even much googling really). zoz and I basically did this one to chill out for an hour.

We'll get 'em next year!

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