MIT Mystery Hunt 2015 Recap – Part 1

It’s been a week since the 2015 MIT Mystery Hunt ended, so now it’s recap time!


This year’s Hunt trip started on Wednesday for me. I had been wanting to play 5 Wits Adventures out in Foxboro since I heard about it a few years ago, but it’s far enough out from the Boston/Cambridge area that I’d have to get a rental car to make it out to play. Luckily, I’ve been working on developing a company (which doesn’t quite merit its own blog post yet) over the past year with a couple of puzzling friends and Mystery Hunt teammates, Summer and Phil, and the three of us visiting 5 Wits for research purposes seemed worthy of an early flight and a rental car this year.

Summer and I couldn’t get in from the West coast until evening, so we all planned on arriving in Boston on Wednesday and scheduled our 5 Wits trip for Thursday afternoon. We also roped Todd, Chris, and Matt into our plans and the six of us were reunited at a hotel by the airport by Wednesday evening. Originally we had also scheduled a room escape game for Wednesday night, but a heating problem at the facility meant we had to reschedule for Thursday. That left us with no plans for Wednesday, so we decided to make a night of it. Summer had found an intriguing bar and restaurant downtown near the room escape, so I drove us all over in the large minivan with only one close call with another vehicle and zero run-ins with pedestrians (despite their best efforts).

The food at the restaurant was pretty darned good, and the servers were extremely helpful, pointing us in the direction of a nearby karaoke place at Summer’s request. We had done karaoke on our Decathlon trip as well, but this turned out to be a very different experience. The place in California had been a total dive bar where singers went up one at a time and you had to wait a pretty long time before your song came up. The place we found in Boston was completely empty in the main stage area, but they had a number of private rooms available (with unlimited free Cool Ranch Doritos!), so we ended up in one of the rooms where we could peruse the digital song list, add applause sound effects, skip songs that turned out to be busts, and generally sing about 5x as many songs as normal. We had a blast singing goofy songs and enjoying the nonsensical background videos playing for most of the songs. They even had a bunch of k-pop songs, which made me resolve to learn how to read hangul before the next time I do karaoke!

Todd killing it Karaoke fun for all

We didn’t leave until the place closed at 2:15am! Luckily we didn’t need to be up very early the next day.


Our 5 Wits tickets were for 1:15pm, so we planned to leave for Foxboro at 11:00 and grab lunch at Patriot Place at noon before our game. On the car ride over we played the guessing game Botticelli, which quickly passed the time. Our plans were going well until lunch took way too long to get ordered and it looked like we were definitely going to be late for 5 Wits. Thankfully, the 5 Wits staff were super accommodating, and kindly rescheduled us twice over the phone. It probably helped that it was a Thursday afternoon and everything seemed pretty dead around there, but we still appreciated that they were cool about it.

The 5 Wits facility was impressive, with facades to the left and right for each of their games, Espionage and 20,000 Leagues, a gift shop, and an event space on the upper level. They had a place for coats upstairs and kept my purse behind the front counter for safekeeping. When it was time for our game, a staff member gave a humorous MC-style announcement over the PA system calling us down to the lobby (despite the fact that we were the only customers in the place). That set a fun tone for the start of the game.

5 Wits from above

We played the 20,000 Leagues game first, which opened in a room mocked up to look like a Jules Verne museum (this is when we started working out that 20,000 Leagues was also the theme of the Mystery Hunt!). I won’t go into too much detail from this point on so as not to spoil anything, but the experience involved the host verbally prompting us to explore each room and solve a few interactive puzzles to unlock the next room. The rooms were decorated with extreme detail and felt highly immersive. The set dressing felt Disney quality, and the puzzles were fun and dynamic. There were more than a few moments where we were blown away by the special effects as well. On top of all that, our host was a hoot. We left the 20,000 Leagues experience completely impressed. Summer, Phil, and I were particularly relieved that our teammates had fun since we weren’t exactly sure what the experience would be like, and our friends had adjusted their travel schedules to join us.

Our Espionage game was next, and while it was still enjoyable, we all agreed it was a bit lacking compared to the 20,000 Leagues adventure. Although this game seemed to have a more compelling objective, the execution fell short for us. The interactive elements were also showing their age, with a few buggy switches and one puzzle element that was flat-out broken, leading to a strange pacing and plot issue. The puzzles themselves didn’t feel as bulletproof as the other room. Despite its flaws, Espionage still had some pretty jaw-dropping moments.

We left 5 Wits feeling glad we had made the trip out to play. One word of advice to anyone thinking about playing — consider buying out the tickets for your time slot. This game runs similarly to most room escape games, where each time slot runs 10 players through and your group may include strangers if you only buy a few tickets. We did a bit of research before playing and found that most negative reviews of the game were due to children running around, screaming, pressing all the buttons, and generally hijacking the experience for any adults in the group. After playing it ourselves, we agreed that it would have been a total bust if we’d had to play with anyone else, especially eager children. There were only 6 of us, and the puzzle/activity distribution felt perfect for us. The tickets are already cheap ($22.99 for a combo ticket that gets you both games), so even with a smaller group it doesn’t take much to buy out the slot. Even though our game was during non-peak hours, we were glad we didn’t take our chances.

Summer drove us back to Cambridge and dropped everyone else off at the Marriott, then the two of us continued on downtown to return the rental car. Summer got us a fancy Uber back to the hotel, which we both appreciated since it had started snowing and we were a good walk from the nearest subway station. We got back to the hotel just in time to join in on a game of Tiny Epic Kingdoms, where Summer and I teamed up and naturally crushed the competition, despite our exhaustion at that point.

Our room escape had been rescheduled for 9:00pm that night, so we opted to grab some Chipotle for dinner rather than risk another timing snafu with a slow sit-down restaurant. Due to the timing of things, we unfortunately had to miss our traditional team dinner at Legal Sea Foods all together. Todd taught us another hilarious guessing game he picked up from NPL Con that involved taking turns forming the words of a question. Todd knows all the best games for passing the time and making people laugh!

After dinner, we took the subway back downtown and walked to the address of Escape the Room Boston; an unassuming office building. The door was locked, and there was no obvious signage anywhere, so we stood around in the cold for a few moments trying to figure out what to do. Finally, someone interpreted the inconspicuous paper sign taped to the door, which read something like “ETR: Dial 100 on keypad.” Assuming ETR stood for Escape the Room, we rang up the number and were greeted by a staff member who buzzed us in. This incident was affectionately referred to as the “door puzzle” going forward, but I’m personally losing my patience for ambiguous signage for room escape games! I’d be more forgiving if any other aspect of the experience had that particular flavor of mystery, but everything is marketed in a very straightforward and accessible way, so why the confusing signage? Why not a nice-looking poster that might double as an advertisement and not make customers think they’re in the wrong place or think for even an instant that they’ve been scammed?

Anyway, everything went smoothly from that point forward. While waiting for our time slot, we happened to meet another group of Mystery Hunters who were playing the 9:15 game. I think a few of them played the Famine Game as well. We also anxiously awaited the arrival of our unknown teammates. Since we had only bought 6 tickets, 4 strangers would be joining us. I’ve had hit and miss experiences with stranger teammates, so I was a little nervous. Once they arrived, we only made a little bit of small talk before it was time for our game to start. When we got in the room, however, it became clear we had nothing to worry about. Our teammates were super sharp and total team players, and produced a lot of the a-has we needed in the room.

The game itself was pretty standard, with an office theme and the basic swath of lock boxes and puzzles that solve to combinations. There was one pretty neat interactive puzzle that I didn’t help solve, but that looked impressive. The staff didn’t enter the room, and hints were handled in a nice, non-intrusive way. Our team escaped in 36 minutes and 11 seconds, despite one small error in one of the puzzles, making it my fastest escape yet!

Escape the Room Boston

We escaped!

The room was pretty solid, but a little unremarkable. The host talked about how they’re hoping to develop some more immersive rooms in the future. Hopefully they’re still going strong a year from now and we can enjoy their new rooms before next year’s Mystery Hunt. Maybe we’ve got a new pre-Hunt tradition in the works!

After the game, we made our way back to the hotel and decided to call it a night so we could attempt to get a solid night of sleep before the Mystery Hunt started the next day.



The Genius: Black Garnet, Coming Soon!


I’m breaking my long bout of blogging laziness to bring you important news: The Genius is coming back for Season 3 on October 1st. That’s next week!

The subtitle for this season is “Black Garnet,” which conjures up all sorts of thoughts about potential betrayal and trickery. Will there be some new type of garnet introduced that has a negative effect, so players will be trying to get rid of it? Could it be some sort of hot potato for Death Match candidates? I’m glad the mechanic of the black garnet (assuming there will be one) hasn’t been revealed yet, and I’m looking forward to finding out what it is.

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Skirmos: Open Source Laser Tag

I was Googling “laser tag” the other day, trying to find somewhere local to play, and the link for something called Skirmos: Open Source Laser Tag came up in the results.  It turned out to be a Kickstarter-funded, Arduino-based laser tag gun, and it looks pretty sweet!


The gun has lots of cool features, including:

  • Glowing LED lights inside
  • LCD screen that shows important info and stats
  • Rumble vibration
  • MP3/Wave sound card

And the open source part means that you can program the guns however you like, making your own play modes, setting certain constraints, and probably a whole bunch of other stuff. I don’t know much about Arduino, but I would assume that the options are pretty much limitless for creative gameplay incorporating other Arduino devices. This photo on the Skirmos Flickr stream of a player capturing an objective from an object in the environment seems to confirm that idea.

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MIT Mystery Hunt 2014 Recap – Part 4

At long (LONG) last, here is the final installment of my 2014 MIT Mystery Hunt Recap. Keeping in mind that I only have the 2013 hunt to compare to, let me list some of my pros/cons about 2014.

Things I particularly liked about this year’s Mystery Hunt:

  • Smoothness – Everything seemed to be run extremely smoothly. The event started promptly (almost too promptly!), and there seemed to be very few hiccups.
  • Quality of Puzzles – I’m not the best judge of puzzle quality, but they seemed pretty darned good.
  • Funny Puzzles – I was crying laughing as we worked through The Most Dangerous Night.
  • Go-sees – There were so many puzzles that sent us around campus doing things. I did as many as possible and had a great time. For events like this, I’m of the opinion that the more stuff there is that requires you to be there in person, the better.
  • Pre-Kickoff – I never experienced kickoff in Lobby 7, so I’m free from all nostalgia bias. I really liked the atmosphere in the auditorium before the kickoff started. It was nice that there seemed to be plenty of space outside the auditorium to mingle with friends from other teams, and the music playing in the auditorium made it feel exciting somehow.
  • Pretty much everything!

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MIT Mystery Hunt 2014 Recap – Part 3

I woke up from my One Big Sleep at around 6pm on Saturday evening. I saw that I had missed a call from Todd, but a quick look through the Hangout chat seemed to indicate that I hadn’t missed out on anything too important (like, say, a Runaround). I got cleaned up, and used Hangout again (so convenient!) to check on the dinner situation, then headed back over to campus.

I’m reminded as I write this that when I had left for the hotel that morning, it had been pouring down rain. (My socks and shoes were soaked by the time I got to our hotel room.) When I headed back to campus that evening, I saw that the rain had changed over to snow and left an inch or so while I had slept. That was kind of fun, and sure made it seem like I had slept longer!

I got back to headquarters and found everyone pretty occupied by their current puzzles. Todd said he had called to tell me there was a puzzle about Japanese bands. I took a quick glance at it, but it seemed like the West coast had made most of the progress on it already. I kind of floundered around for a bit, trying to find something else to work on, but I was having trouble jumping into anything. Eventually, I ended up back on that Japanese puzzle, called 1! 2! 3! 4! 4649!

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MIT Mystery Hunt 2014 Recap – Part 2

In my last recap post, I had spent most of my Mystery Hunt so far running around campus investigating strange images, verifying data, and solving location-based clues. As Friday night became Saturday morning, my work got a bit more puzzle-centric.

It’s hard to remember exactly what happened when during those long hours of the night. We tackled a lot of different puzzles, and I’m mostly just referencing our Team Log to see what was released and when we solved it.

Solving Common Bonds opened up a few new puzzles, including one called Monster Potatoes. We figured out the first a-ha and started collecting data, but that was about as far as we got. (Little did we know that this would end up being the last puzzle our team would solve in the entire Hunt!)

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MIT Mystery Hunt 2014 Recap – Part 1

It’s that time of the year again, time for my multi-part MIT Mystery Hunt Recap Extravaganza!  I was thinking it wouldn’t be as long this year, but since this was a much more action-packed Hunt, it will probably be just as long, or longer than last year.  As usual, this is a play-by-play account of my personal hunt experience, meant more for my own future reference than any sort of reporting or entertainment.



I was really looking forward to returning to Boston this year with all of the knowledge I had gained from last year.  This included being more familiar with the structure of the Hunt, as well as being more comfortable with my teammates.  I was even more excited when I found out that two more people I knew would be joining the team — Phil Dasler and Summer Stevens.  I worked closely with Phil over the course of the Famine Game creation process and got to play with his team for Wartron Boston, and Summer was a part of my favorite Famine Game team, The Hunger Dames.  More friends means more fun!

I didn’t feel the need to do as much preparation this year, but I did skim over our team’s internal documents on roles/responsibilities and using our in-house puzzle cataloging system.

When we first started getting flavory e-mails from [atlas shrugged], I started to get a little bit nervous.  The theme was some sort of science conference, with lots of unfamiliar terms technical jargon.  I felt mostly sure that the “joke” was that it was all incomprehensible, but I did worry that maybe it was just going over my head.

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Puzzle Break #1: Escape from Studio D

I was pretty excited to hear that Seattle was getting its own live action escape-the-room game, called Puzzle Break, in November.  We decided to give them a few weeks to work the kinks out, and after hearing lots of rave reviews from fellow puzzlers, Nick and I bought our tickets for last Saturday.  We invited a friend whose puzzling experience was limited to one Puzzled Pint.

We picked up our friend on Saturday and found street parking about a block away from the studio where the game was being held.  Our friend told us this was a pretty hip part of town, and a good location for this type of event, in his opinion (lots of young people in Capitol Hill, and people who live downtown tend not to like to leave their neighborhood to go do stuff).

There wasn’t any signage for the event outside, and there were a lot of Studio D’s on that block.  Luckily, Nick had read an e-mail at work that said to be sure to enter the door with the right street number above it, and at that door we found a hand-written sign to wait in the lobby for Puzzle Break.  We were the first of our 12-person team to get there, but the others started to arrive pretty soon.

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Tuesday Round-Up

Lots of little bits of news floating about lately…  In particular, Seattle is flush with escape-style games!


NEW:  Puzzle Break Seattle 
There is a new escape game in town, and it’s called Puzzle Break.  Games started in late November and ticketing is available through the end of January so far.  Word on the street is that it’s really fun and well-run.  I’ll be playing this Saturday with Mr. Cryptica and a non-puzzling friend.


REG: Escape from the Werewolf Village to run in Seattle
And if you want even more escaping action, Real Escape Game has you covered with their Seattle debut in January!  Escape from the Werewolf Village was REG’s first US/San Francisco Game, which has since appeared in Los Angeles and will now make a brief run in Seattle on January 18th and 19th.  (Unfortunately for me, this is MIT Mystery Hunt weekend and I’ll be out of town.  But hopefully this is good news for the future!)


Puzzled Pint Now in London
First it was DASH, now London is the proud host of Puzzled Pint!  Londoners can now enjoy puzzling in pubs every second Tuesday of each month.  What city will join in next?


New 5 Wits Location Opening Soon
5 Wits makes cool interactive adventure games/shows that I haven’t gotten to enjoy yet, but maybe you can now that they’re opening a new location at Destiny USA in Syracruse, NY.  They’ll be opening new versions of their TOMB and Espionage games, along with two new games later in 2014.


Open Call from Ravenchase Adventures
Ravenchase Adventures is looking for new staff and interns with creative minds and adventurous spirits.  Check their Facebook page for more info.


Interactive Murder Mystery Film: Contradiction
Here is a Kickstarter for a film slash game that lets you control a cinematic murder mystery story.  Seems neat!


Are You Watching The Genius Yet?  Why Not?  Season 2 Just Started, And It’s Really The Best
Seriously, get on that.


The Genius: Rules of the Game


The Genius: Rules of the Game is a South Korean reality TV game show that pits players against each other in various games of wits and strategy.  The show debuted in April of this year, so it’s still super fresh, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is into smart TV.

The game starts off with 13 players, some are fairly well-known celebrities, others are simply bright minds, but all are selected for their particular talents and skills which might be useful in the game.  Each episode focuses on a different game, in a segment called the Main Match.  Many of these games focus on logic, reasoning, chance, and game theory, but all of them eventually boil down to effective cooperation and collusion with other players.  The end of each Main Match game results one player being marked for elimination.  This player gets to choose their opponent from the remaining players, and the two compete in the Death Match to determine who gets eliminated.

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