Puzzle Training Lessons

Todd and I worked through a 2011 Mystery Hunt puzzle together yesterday as training for next month.  It was a lot of fun (thanks, Todd!) and we managed to basically solve it in about 2 hours.  Here are a few things I learned or at least noticed during the process:

  • As Dan commented on my original Puzzle Training post, solving alone is hard.  The puzzle we worked on was extremely vague from the start (two lists of meaningless words, essentially), and there were several moments when I felt like we were stuck enough that maybe we would give up, or go look at a different puzzle for a while.  Luckily, Todd never suggested anything like that, and we powered through it.  I definitely wouldn’t have lasted very long on my own!
  • Solving together is fun!  It was great exchanging ideas and splitting up the labor-intensive parts of the puzzle.
  • It’s okay to not know something, such as the definition or pronunciation of a word or name.  Nick and I talk sometimes about party games or other things that can put you in an awkward situation where you expose your ignorance of some seemingly universally recognized piece of pop culture or world trivia, and that’s always frustrating and embarrassing.  A weekend full of puzzle-solving with a group of really smart people is going to be full of moments like that, and I need to be okay with not knowing things I feel like I should know.
  • Sometimes my hunches are right, and sometimes they’re really wrong!  A few of the avenues I discouraged us from pursuing were indeed fruitless, but I also discouraged us from pursuing what turned out to be the big key/catch to the puzzle!  I seem to recall having done this before in other puzzles/hunts, and I think I need to be a little slower to dismiss ideas (especially when working with a veteran of a hunt as unique as the Mystery Hunt).
  • It’s good to be open and mention everything you notice about the puzzle.  I think I was a little self-conscious, not wanting to mention things that seemed really obvious, or that probably weren’t puzzle elements, or whatever.  Todd was really good about acknowledging everything I mentioned and helping me feel at ease.  His insight on something I mentioned (but that I thought was meaningless) ended up unlocking the puzzle.
  • Be thorough and be careful.  We missed one piece of the puzzle because we had two words mixed up in our transcription.  If you have said out loud “This doesn’t make any sense!” three or more times, there is a good chance you’ve made a mistake!   Todd — Also, looking back on it now, “graph” probably meant paragraph!
  • Mystery Hunt puzzles are complex!  The puzzle we solved had multiple layers and non-obvious steps.  It was the first complex/difficult puzzle I’ve solved in quite some time, which was satisfying and helped remind me that if I want to write good puzzles, I need to be spending time solving good puzzles.  I think it has also given me a much better impression of what the weekend will be like.

Overall, I think it was a great practice session.  I learned a lot, and I had a lot of fun.  Can’t ask for much more than that! =)

6 comments on Puzzle Training Lessons

  • tabstop

    2011 was video games, right? I usually read through all the puzzles afterwards, but I’m not getting any memories from this one.

    • clavicarius (author)

      Right, I was pretty vague in my description. This was Heard but Not Seen in the Katamari section.

  • Dan E.

    Yeah, which puzzle was this?

    • clavicarius (author)

      This was Heard but Not Seen in the Katamari section.

  • lahosken

    “Mystery Hunt puzzles are complex!”

    I concur with this statement.

  • Lance

    Basically, all of these things are true…

    Solving alone *is* hard–at least, for Hunt puzzles, which are designed not to be solved alone. I’ve been Mystery Hunt since 2000; I’m not one to be scared off by the complexity of the puzzles. Nevertheless, I’ve often looked post-Hunt at puzzles I hadn’t seen before, started to try to solve them, and given up–but it’s clear from the answer that what I really needed was someone else to bounce ideas off of. And solving together is indeed fun!

    Our team has learned, slowly, over the years, the hard way, that (a) all insights are worth mentioning because the other person might not think they’re obvious, and (b) all hunches should also be taken with a grain of salt, because it’s so easy to go down the wrong path.

    But overall, the Hunt is awesome. (Again: since 2000. 🙂 ) Hope you have fun at it!

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