My First MIT Mystery Hunt – Part 4

Click here for Part 3.


My intention at this point in the Hunt was to ride it out and stay awake until it ended, so again I was one of the few, the proud, the people who stayed up through the night and into morning.  I don’t remember much of what happened during the wee hours of the night, just chipping away at various puzzles I assume.  At one point, it was just Nina and me left in the room, so we decided to join forces and tackle a fun-looking puzzle together.

We chose a puzzle called Plead the Fifth, which looked fairly contained and manageable.  We managed to answer all the clues and then take one or two more steps forward, but, as usual, got completely stuck at the resolution phase.  Lots of data, no clue what to do with it!  But the solving had been fun up until that point.

When the sun came up, I took some photos of our empty classroom.  I wish I had made more of an effort to take more pictures when interesting puzzles were happening (like 11 Secret Herbs and Spices, or Uncharted Territory).  In this photo, you can see our Google+ hangout with the Los Altos team on the projector, as well as Jigsaw Puzzle pieces taped to the chalkboard.  You also get a glimpse of our table setup, which was 4 stations of two tables pushed together.



It seemed like people were a little slower to get back in this time.  Or maybe we just had fewer people overall since it was Sunday and people were already starting to head home.  We had gotten an e-mail at some point that said GC hoped the Hunt would end that afternoon, but it wasn’t looking good!

We had our last event of the Hunt, called Thomas Crown, scheduled for 9:00am on Sunday.  GC had said that each team would need at least two members to bring black suits for one of the events, and this was it. I had managed to fit a skirt and jacket into my carry-on, so I wanted to play if there were enough open spots.  Jeremy and Gabriel arrived and had both brought suits as well.  In the end, we were the only three who were awake, had suits, and wanted to play.

The event was in Lobby 7, conveniently close to home for us.  The organizers explained that we’d be recreating this scene from the movie The Thomas Crown Affair.  (I had never seen the movie, but looking at that scene now, it’s funny how much Lobby 7 at MIT looks like the lobby in the movie!)  The group was split in half (teammates staying together), with one half staying on the ground floor and the other half going up to the third floor, where balconies wrap around and look down into the lobby.

The ground floor players were given black hats and paper gift bags.  The gift bags acted as the briefcases in the scenario, with only two of the bags containing “money.”  First, the two players who got the money raised their hands so that the players on the third floor could take note.  Then, GC would start a song signalling the beginning of the round.  The players on the ground had to do what they could to mix up the players on the third floor and make them lose track of the money.  At the end of the song, the players on the ground would freeze, and the players on the third floor would make a decision and direct GC to the player they thought had the money.  If they were right, each team represented there would win 100 Options (used for buying puzzle answers)!  If the ground floor had outsmarted them, those teams would get the Options instead.  After one round, the groups switched places.  After two rounds, the groups were mixed back together and split up again.

The first two rounds were pretty straightforward.  The rules were that you had to keep your bag at all times, and you couldn’t run.  We were on the watching team first, and it was really easy to keep track of the money players.  We had a definite advantage going down to the floor after that, and tried all sorts of fancy tactics like switching clothing (our money player had a sleeveless dress on, so I gave her my coat at one point) and moving through the blind spots we had noticed from above.  But the watching team had no trouble picking out our money player.

For the next two rounds, they introduced a new rule — players could set bags down on the ground and then pick them up.  The first thing our group did was put a large group of bags in the middle of the room, and then block the view with our coats so it was hard to tell who picked up which bag.  We also did this on a smaller scale in little groups throughout the room.  By now, we knew that the bags with money in them were a little heavier than the rest, so when the song ended, I tried to sort of subtly mime my bag being a little heavy, and to my surprise, the watching team picked me!  Aw yeah!  It was probably not due to my terrible acting, but it felt good!  And when our team was watching, we were able to identify the money players pretty easily!

The next set of rounds introduced another new rule — bags could only be set down at the intersections of the big grid tile design in the floor.  The other team went first this time, and did some strange thing where they put their hats at some of the intersections.  I think it was meant to be a distraction, but it was pretty obvious which were hats and which were bags.

By now we had all sorts of crafty tactics, like putting filler objects in some of the bags (phones, papers, etc.), holding the bags a certain way, hiding the bags under clothes, creating diversions, etc.  It was fun to come up with new ideas, and even more fun that we happened to be on the winning team 95% of the time!

The new rules in the final round were that each player had to have two bags (one in each hand), and players had to keep moving at all times.  I decided to head back to the classroom before the round began.  I was having fun, but going up and down the stairs had made me feel a little lightheaded.  I was definitely feeling my lack of sleep!

Overall, the event was really clever and a lot of fun.  I think we had all been skeptical when they insisted we bring black suits to the Hunt, since it was kind of a hassle, but we all agreed that the game was a worthy cause for our trouble.  The effect of all the players in suits was really cool!  And the game itself reminded me of an idea I had, but thought would be difficult to execute (where one player was trying to blend in with a crowd of actors/extras).  So it was fun to participate in the kind of event that would be difficult to organize and experience otherwise.  It was also nice that this event was just for Options and not a puzzle.  It was a lot less stressful than the Casino event!

Back in the room, more teammates had returned, and we all sort of “mothed” around from puzzle to puzzle (Todd described the two puzzler types — the “maggots” who burrow into a puzzle for hours and hours and won’t move, and the “moths” who can’t stay on one puzzle for very long before flitting away to the next one).  At some point, I decided to work on the puzzle Dissonant Counterpoint (later renamed Diagramless Crossmusic) which provided nothing but a zip file of 263 audio clips, each 3 seconds long, each with two different pop songs playing at the same time.  I went to the other room where it was quieter (though all the spices were out on the table, so it smelled a bit unpleasant) to try and help identify all the tracks.  I was able to add a few to the existing list, and clear up a few incorrectly cataloged songs, but it felt like we were a long way from any real progress.

This was around lunchtime on Sunday, and I started feeling kind of grumpy.  It had almost been another 24 hours since I had last slept, and while I seemed to be fine mentally, and I didn’t feel sleepy, my body was telling me to sleep in other ways (fatigue when climbing stairs, irritable toward teammates, unreasonably emotional over trivial things, etc.).  It was a tough decision to make, because I really wanted to keep playing and helping the team, but I decided to go back to the hotel and get a nap until dinner.

I called Nick on the way and complained about things I needed to complain about, and told him some of the interesting things that had happened.  It’s always nice having someone to talk to, and to comfort me when I’m not feeling great!  I managed to get turned around on my way back and ended up adding about 5 blocks to my walk, but eventually I made it to Così where I grabbed some lunch before heading back to the room and taking a nice nap.

Since I had originally expected the Hunt to be over by Sunday evening, I had made plans with some local friends to get dinner.  I didn’t see any reason to cancel those plans since the Hunt still seemed far from over, I needed to eat, and I wanted to see them!  We met at a pizza place and had a nice long dinner and chat.  (I hadn’t seen one of them since my wedding three years ago!)  And the pizza was excellent!  Definitely a good call.

I think I made it back to MIT close to 9:00pm.  By then, our team was down to a small handful of people.  We decided we should all team up together and tackle one puzzle rather than try and make individual progress.  It was always a lot more fun to work as a group, especially toward the end of the Hunt when we had all been staring at things by ourselves for so many hours and nothing seemed particularly appealing anymore.

After trying out a few different puzzles, we eventually landed on World of Color, a Disney trivia puzzle that the Los Altos team had done about half the data work on.  A few of our teammates were big fans and seemed to be having fun identifying each clue.  When we had most of the data, we starting to crack the mechanic of the puzzle.  We were a little unsure at first, but that was mostly due to some incorrect answers we had.  Once we went ahead with our theory, things started falling into place and it was really exciting!  I think Los Altos might have beat us to the punch in getting the final answer, but we did the important part!  Haha.  It felt GREAT to work on a puzzle and then solve it at that point in the Hunt.  And I think we only worked on it for about an hour!  A great ending note for about half of the remaining team, who headed out soon after.



Sunday turned into Monday, and by then it was just me, Dan, and Ben.  My flight back home was at 10:00am, so I just planned to stick it out until time to go get ready.  After midnight, we had determined that GC was allowing teams to call in for hints!  I decided to call in for a starting hint on Trochees, Etc., a puzzle we had attempted a few times, but had made no progress on except that we knew it was about Etsy.  GC quickly got me on track, but I had to call in another hint shortly after to clarify some of the rules of the puzzle.  Dan had to explain what one of the concepts was, and then I spent the next hour or two or three doing some tedious data mapping.  I thought I understood the main goal of the puzzle, which I thought involved doing some searching until you found something that fit the stated criteria.  I called it in, but it was wrong!  I called for a hint and asked for clarification on why it was wrong.  The creator of the puzzle walked through it with me, and we determined it was technically right, but not what was intended.  The real answer was something that had been planted by GC.  Once I got on the right path for the real answer, with some guidance from Dan, things started getting funny.  I noticed some ridiculous things I had overlooked (or looked long and hard at, but never questioned the validity of).  It turned out to be a pretty cute puzzle, and not nearly as difficult as I had made it out to be.  I was able to solve it sometime after 5:00am, and that was a good way to wrap up my time at the MIT Mystery Hunt!  I went back to the hotel, had another delicious breakfast, ran through the shower, and packed my things.

During the Hunt, I noticed that I never felt sleepy or tired despite how little I had slept and how mentally taxing the days were.  You might say “oh, it was the adrenaline keeping you going,” but adrenaline-filled is not how I would describe this Hunt!  I’m not sure what it was, and I’m not sure I’ve ever transcended the need for sleep to quite the level I did that weekend.  At one point, I tweeted that I felt like I could stay awake for the rest of my life, and it really felt that way!  I started thinking about how much stuff I could get done if I never had to sleep again!  But the spell was totally broken once I was off of MIT campus.  As soon as I sat down on the subway, I could barely keep my eyes open,  Then on the bus, then in the airport, and then on the plane (which was nice, because I can rarely sleep on planes).

At my layover, I saw that the coin had been found and the Hunt was over, won by the team whose name was the entire text of Atlas Shrugged!  (They learned that the team name submission field didn’t have a character limit!)  As far as I know, Team Left Out stuck it out for the entire duration, in one form or another.

Nick met me at the airport in Richmond, and we had about three hours together to get dinner and visit before he was boarding his own plane to Seattle for a bunch of interviews!  It was hard to have been apart for five days and then have to separate again for another four, especially since I had been so occupied during the Hunt that I hadn’t really called or texted him much during the trip.  But it was for the best, and his trip went very well! =)

I took the car and made it home at 5:30pm on Monday, and an hour later I was fast asleep.  I woke up briefly around 9:00pm, thinking I should get up for a while, but then I fell back asleep.  Nick called me at 2:00am to tell me he had made it to his hotel in Seattle.  Then I fell back asleep.  I think I ended up sleeping for 15 hours!  And I dreamt about puzzles all night long, blarg.


That’s the end of my journey, but I’ll try to write a post tomorrow that sort of sums up my thoughts about the experience and my expectations and plans for next year.

4 comments on My First MIT Mystery Hunt – Part 4

  • Dan E.

    Dreaming in puzzle sounds like fun, until the first time you do it…

  • Larry Hosken

    “not nearly as difficult as I had made it out to be”

    Hindsight makes all puzzles easy :-p

  • Jen

    How incredible! Congrats on all your hard work and puzzle-solving! I would definitely be way out of my league at this hunt, goodness! The Thomas Crown sounds like so much fun, and nice that it wasn’t actually a puzzle – so cool to see how the rules changed between rules and how your team figured out creative ways to stump the watchers.

    • Jen

      oops, I mean, ‘rules changed between rounds’… sigh.

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