January 26, 2007

Hunting and gathering

As many of you know, I was on the team that ran the MIT Mystery Hunt this year. All the puzzles are now online, so this is an opportune moment for me to point you to puzzles I wrote or cowrote, and recommend some other puzzles that are well suited to home solo solving.

The Hunt this year had a sort of Faustian theme, except that Faust knew what he was doing, and we tricked teams into selling their souls to the devil by persuading them to "take the easy way" of finding the coin. Teams did indeed find the coin after solving five puzzles, but they didn't get to keep it -- the devil pocketed it and sent them on their way to learn more about being evil. In the course of learning how to be evil, teams eventually discover how to defeat the devil and regain their souls (and the coin, if they were the first ones to do it).

I wrote two puzzles from the main part of the hunt, both in round 8:

Recounting Former Glories

Both are pretty difficult. Recounting Former Glories is more time-consuming than punishingly hard, but the final "aha" in UN-Speakable thwarted most teams for quite some time. Overall Hunt winners Dr. Awkward cracked the puzzle in about an hour and forty-five minutes, but most teams that solved it took over eight hours to do so.

There were also seven "Sin Events", where teams were told to send some number of people to solve a live puzzle. Recaps of these are online, and the puzzle content of some is solvable at home. I cowrote two of these: Lust (my originally-rather-vague idea, refined in group discussion with the team, and cowritten with Dan Katz) and Wrath (Mark Gottlieb's idea; he came up with the puzzle structure and provided rough sketches of most of the cartoons, and I drew all the cartoons and designed six of them, adding some cheap gags in the process). The Wrath cartoons show up rather pixellated in their resized form on the web page, so you may prefer to view them as individual links (read the web page first, though):

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Teams got notches on their "Evilometer" for completing sin rounds and solving rounds; once they were sufficiently evil, they were given the opportunity to enter Hell by solving a campus runaround. At the end of the runaround, they were given a packet of puzzles. It turned out to be completely impossible to derive a final answer from any of these puzzles, although some are "solvable". For some recreation of the full effect, I suggest working on each puzzle as long as you can before opening the link to Part Two (which teams earned for getting sufficient notches on the corresponding Sin Meter, achieved by solving puzzles associated with each sin). I wrote two of these:

Crossword: Part One, Part Two
Spot the Differences: Part One, Part Two.

Other puzzles from the Hunt that I recommend:
Clash of the Titans, a brilliant variation on Skyscraper puzzles
Episodic Disorder
One, Two, Three, Shoot!, based on "Rock, Paper, Anything", a game some college friends and I invented a long time ago, which I introduced to the NPL at some point. Original write-up is here, after a set of suggestions for groups of three things that could defeat each other in a Rock, Paper, Scissors stylee.
The Case of Southeast Jerome's Trip to the End Zone, a reasonably straightforward, if challenging, logic puzzle
Black Bed
Thinking Outside the Box
Pyramid Scheme, a 3-D cryptic
The Usual Suspects
A Midterm Progress Report to the Enron Board of Directors, July 2000, which I actually don't have any recollection as to how easy or hard it is to solve, it's just funny.
Captain Red Herring's Buried Pirate Booty, a brand-new, very cool Minesweeper-like type of logic puzzle. Particularly highly recommended.
The Joy of Accountancy, a very cool Kakuro variation
Negative Ad Campaign, which takes a lot of prep work to solve, but is quite funny
Embezzler's Quest -- more comedy. This was a pretty funny hunt, I thought.
Hang 'Em High
Two Out of Three Ain't Bad
1 - 1 = 1
Puzzle Editing

Feel free to poke around the archives as well -- you might be interested in different puzzles than I am, and there are a hell of a lot of puzzles in there (har har).

Posted by Francis at 08:56 AM
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