fauxklore (fauxklore) wrote,
fauxklore
fauxklore

MIT Mystery Hunt

I am really behind on everything, but that shouldn’t be a great excuse for not writing. I decided it is easiest to do my catch-up in non-chronological order, so here is a write-up of the MIT Mystery Hunt, which is now nearly three weeks ago.

Mystery Hunt is a giant puzzle game, with a lot of teams competing to solve puzzles. The puzzles are linked via metapuzzles and you can usually solve some of the metas without solving all of the puzzles in the relevant group. That’s not a great explanation, but it’s hard to explain without playing.


The team I’m on is Halibut That Bass. The fish pun theme continues with things like one of our major tools for managing communication about puzzles being called Turbot and various roles in keeping things running smoothly being designated as Sea Snakes. I don’t really know all the team size statistics, but I’d say we’re on the medium size - about 40 people, with some teams having 100 or more. Obviously, the more people on a team, the more puzzles they are likely to complete. Out of 200 puzzles, we solved about 160, which put us in 19th place. There were only 5 teams ahead of us that (like us) did not actually finish the hunt. Our major goal is having fun and I’d say we succeeded at that. My only quibble with our teamwork is that we used phone conversations (within Slack) a lot, which have the disadvantage of not capturing information for people who come along later on, e.g. after the people who had been talking have given up.


Anyway, each hunt is written by the team that won the previous year. I’ll spare you the emojis, but that meant this year’s was by Galactic Trendsetters. The basic story they went with was that everyone was at a physics conference and the keynote speaker, Barbara Yew, did not show up. She managed to send a video explaining that she had entered a portal to an alternate universe, but she needed help in resolving anomalies there to create a stable portal to get back. While I have to admit this isn’t the type of storyline I find particularly compelling, that doesn’t matter, since it is really just a framing device. The part that was impressive is that they created an elaborate alternative version of MIT (The Perpendicular Institute of the World) and there was a Projection Device to maneuver around it. I can’t imagine how much effort went into building the whole thing. That said, I didn’t find it especially straightforward to use, as the mini-map feature of it that told you where you were didn’t always work for me (on a Mac using the Chrome browser). So I let other people do a lot of the exploring needed to find puzzles (which involved talking to various characters), though I did find a couple of them.


I should note that, in addition to puzzles, there were events, a scavenger hunt, and interactions, with the latter associated with the metapuzzles. There were also some physical puzzles, which involved mystery hunt swag people purchased beforehand (but did not open until told to). I bought the jigsaw puzzle There were also a piggy bank, t-shirt, and water bottle. You really only needed one per team, at least as far as the jigsaw went. (What to do with the jigsaw once it was assembled completely befuddled us, but that’s another matter.)


The most fun of the interactions was associated with the Athletics area and involved playing a game of Just One Word. I was less thrilled with the one for the Green Building, which was a giant game of Tetris. The one for the Students area had the group I was in having to create a song and dance and I contributed my choreography skills based on having seen The Spongebob Musical. I sincerely hope that wasn’t recorded.


I also was our representative to the bonus event, which had requested somebody who likes art. This involved people in a group having to draw a part of a picture, which was then assembled, with others having to guess what it was. I have to give myself props here because, just from the first little square I got, I realized my group’s picture was a photo of Transparent Horizons, a rather notorious Louise Nevelson sculpture on the MIT campus.


As far as puzzles go, you can go to perpendicular.institute and click public access to see many of them. (The Projection Device and puzzles requiring it don’t work on the public version right now.) The solutions are also available, via a link in the upper right corner of each puzzle. Some puzzles which I will recommend are Form, Got Milk?, and Bake Off. I heard good things about The The Emperor’s New Kitchen, but I haven’t done it yet. I will write about those (and a few others) with spoilers below.





Bake Off was probably my favorite puzzle of the hunt. The idea was to figure out a recipe from a set of instructions, but those started with growing (and/orprocessing) ingredients like sugar cane, wheat, eggs, butter, vanilla, etc. I am very knowledgeable about this sort of thing, though I admit I did have to look at a can of baking powder in my pantry to figure out why corn starch was part of this. Then we had to bake the resulting recipe, which was for pretty basic sugar cookies. Another person did the baking and a very fancy job of making them in the shape of our team emoji (a fish, of course) and topping them with blue icing.


Forms was one of the easiest puzzles I worked on. There were pictures we had to identify. I made the leap that each of the things that a picture pointed to had a FORMer name. I suspect that most other people would have had a different aha moment than knowing that Malawi used to be Nyasaland. Someone else had the inspiration to figure out how to extract the answer.


Got Milk? took us a while. But, as we were discussing it, someone suggested the answers could be cookies and once they suggested Milano, I realized that there were Pepperidge Farm cookies that fit each of the descriptions. Which went nicely with the title of the puzzle.


No I Understand You Perfectly was rather frustrating. We figured out that the two people having the conversation were confused because of words that mean one thing in Finnish and something different in Estonian. For example, “hallitus” is “government” in Finnish and “mold” in Estonian. But we got bogged down on one word pair and someone else back solved the puzzle before we could finish it.


An American in Paris was also frustrating. We understood what was going on. Namely, there were audio clips of someone speaking various languages badly and you had to figure out what they were saying and answer a trivia question. We got hung up on the clips in Thai (though I figured out what the answer had to be) and Tamil. It did get solved after getting some hints, but we spent ages talking about it. (And I went to bed before we finally got it.)


My greatest failure was on Fedex, because I am fluent in IATA codes (the abbreviations for airports) and, therefore, went mistakenly in that direction. At least one of my teammates had the sense to ignore me.


I feel less bad about failing at Everybody Dance Now. I made some progress in mapping out the positions of people after each square dance call. Alas, it turns out that it was actually hexagon dancing, which I admit to having never heard of before. By the way, I am no expert on square dancing, but I do know where to find explanations of calls. At any rate, this was completely diabolical.


There are various other puzzles I contributed something or other to, e.g. knowing that the nickname for Simmons Hall (an MIT dorm) is Spongebob SquareDorm. But I think I’ve written enough to give a sense of what the experience was like.




All in all, it was a fun time, despite some moments (okay,, hours) of frustration at times.

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Tags: puzzles
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