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.

 

Pre-Hunt:

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.

Thursday:

Since I was flying out from the West coast this year, I didn’t make it to Boston in time for our team’s traditional dinner at Legal Sea Foods.  With two flights and a two-hour layover, it was about 9:30pm before I made it to the Kendall to drop off my luggage.  Phil was thoughtfully keeping me updated on the group’s location via text, so I grabbed a parfait from Au Bon Pain and headed to the Marriott lobby where games were apparently being played.

There, I found Todd, Corey, Phil, and Will playing an interesting co-op card game called Hanabi.  Hugs were exchanged, and I sat and watched the rest of their game play out while I ate.  After that, Corey bowed out and I joined in a new game called Love Letter.  This game had beautiful artwork and some fun mechanics that revealed themselves as we played.  Lots of laughs already, which is one of the perks of doing anything with Todd and company.

After our game ended, we visited the other table of Left Outers, which included Matt, Asher, Chris, Craig, and Summer.  (I knew Summer and I were going to get along when the first thing she said to me was that my hair looked cute.)  We all chatted there for a while, I made some poor exhaustion-fueled incomprehensible jokes, and then we all parted ways to get some sleep before the big day.

 

Friday:

I didn’t sleep great on Thursday night, shifting over three time zones and having accidentally slept some on the plane ride.  But I still managed to get up early enough to enjoy breakfast at the Kendall again with Dan, Phil, and Will before riding over to MIT in Dan’s car and unloading supplies to our classroom.  As I vowed last year, I arranged to have a Swiffer mop ready to clean up our classroom’s floor a bit before we arranged all the desks and chairs.  There turned out to be a lot more than just chalk dust on that floor, and I wonder if I might have been better off not knowing how nasty it really was. (But I did feel a bit better about putting my stuff on the floor after I had cleaned, even if I only made a dent in the dirt.)

We arranged our tables similar to last year, with one more pair of tables to accommodate our slightly larger team.  And as usual, by the time we had the room arranged, our computers set up, and had figured out internet and printer access, it was time to start heading to the kickoff!  On our way, we made the traditional stop at the student center to buy copious drinks (a tradition I admittedly don’t understand, as our classroom is always full of drinks).  Then we headed to the location for this year’s kickoff, an auditorium right next to the student center.  GC staff told us we would need to wait in the lobby until the “conference” opened.  The lobby was pretty empty when we arrived, but it quickly filled up with fellow Mystery Hunters.

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Todd and Phil had brought the team flags used in The Famine Game cornucopia with plans to hand them out to teams who happened to be at the Hunt.  This was a fun way to see some familiar faces from our Game.  Tyler stopped by and said hello, which was way better than our brief introduction last year.  Everything about this year’s Hunt already felt a little more relaxed and familiar.

Before long, the auditorium doors were opened and we were allowed inside.  Rock music played loudly over the speakers as we found a spot for our team to sit.  I noticed a few other teams had large signs to help teammates find their seats, and I was thankful (and not for the last time during the Hunt) that our team was small enough just to organize by phone.

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After a while, a woman went up to the podium on stage and read from a book.  The microphone wasn’t on, but we deduced and confirmed that she was reading the end of Atlas Shrugged, thus introducing the team running the Hunt (the team whose name is the entire text of Atlas Shrugged, thanks to an absent character limit on last year’s registration form).  The microphone came on during her last few sentences, and then she welcomed us to the conference and introduced the main speaker, John Galt.

Galt gave a presentation about puzzles, and how we needed to have more consciousness (meaning less sleep) to handle them, or something like that.  Curiously, his presentation was interrupted part-way by a mysterious voice and a familiar smiling face on the slides.  An actress playing the Cheshire Cat appeared on a balcony above the stage, revealing the true theme of the Hunt — Alice in Wonderland.  She explained that the Jabberwock was scaring creatures from Wonderland into our world, and that we needed to find them lure them back, as well as defeat the Jabberwock.

The kickoff wrapped up shortly after the true theme was revealed, and we were instructed to pick up a bag for our team at the table outside.  In addition to log-in information for the Hunt website, we received some promotional materials from Hunt sponsors and a first-aid kit which, this year, seemed to contain a puzzle.  When we logged on to the Hunt website, there were already three puzzles posted!  This was a big shift from the planned hour (and unplanned half-hour) of downtime between kickoff and the start of the Hunt last year.  Suddenly, our room was a flurry of activity as people started sorting through the tile puzzle that came with the medical kit, building a sudoku, and identifying celebrities.

With over fifty players and only three open puzzles, things felt pretty saturated.  Instead of trying to hop on a puzzle, a few teammates and I took to inspecting the graphics on the website.  Each open puzzle was represented by a playing card on a hand-drawn map of MIT at the top of the page.  The cards also had dotted lines extending from them which lead to question marks.  A few of the cards were really close to our classroom, so Dan, Phil, Chris and I decided to print out a map and go check them out.

After searching an empty courtyard, getting blocked by construction, and going up and down several flights of stairs without finding anything card-like, we decided to head back to the classroom (though Chris went on his own tour around campus looking for more).

By the time we got back, a few (maybe all three?) of the opening puzzles had been solved and new ones opened up in their place.  Dan was working on one called Upstairs, Downstairs which seemed to require confirming or denying specific information about locations around campus.  Doing another “go-see” around campus sounded fun, so I went with new teammate Chen up to building 33 to check on a clue.  I brought a basic map of MIT campus to help us get there, but it was still a little tricky!  MIT is truly a labyrinth, and that’s kind of fun in its own way.

At the Stata Center, we went directly to the staff for help finding a specific room by its name, but since we didn’t have a room number, nobody seemed to have any idea what we were talking about.  After a bit of searching on our own, we were able to find what we were looking for, but Chen cleverly noticed that the clue text was contradicting itself.  With a little Googling, we found another room on the second floor which seemed to match the conflicting part of our clue, as well as the mechanic of the puzzle.  I called Dan to relay the info and we headed back to HQ.

After we checked back in, I went across the street to the student center to grab some lunch.  We had decided that everyone would fend for themselves for lunch on Friday, and since I was expecting a bit of downtime between kickoff and the first puzzle, I hadn’t gotten anything yet.  It seemed like a good idea to go get some food before I got wrapped up in another activity or puzzle.

When I got back to the room, I tried to help out with a neat puzzle in progress called Sneaky Fox, but by the time I gotten up to speed and solved my portion, the rest of the group had figured out the answer.  I’m glad I got to see it anyway, since it was a neat concept!

The puzzle Ring Around the Music seemed appealing, so I brought that one up and started layering the elements in Photoshop.  Phil, Chen, and some others joined in, and we found some interesting patterns, but we never made it to the a-ha.

At some point, a teammate walked in and presented the puzzle they had just picked up from HQ called Black and White, which consisted of one jumbo-sized word-find (about 3 feet square), accompanied by a micro-sized one (about 2 inches square).  That was the last I saw of it, as it was solved in the other room, but it was very funny to see.

At around 4:30pm, we solved the meta for the Spades puzzles, which included Ring Around the Music.  Chris informed me that the mechanic of the meta revealed that the answer for that puzzle would be the collective name for an animal that started with the letter G, so we started searching through the possibilities.  We both really liked a BAND of gorillas since it fit with the music theme, but it wasn’t right.  We wanted to try one more, and I liked the way a TROUBLING of goldfish sounded, so we tried that and it turned out to be right!  I solved a Mystery Hunt puzzle, haha!

Each new puzzle that we unlocked appeared as a playing card on the MIT map, replacing the questions marks from before and extending the dotted line path around campus.  Someone on our team found one of the cards in a hallway, which turned out to be a big poster with a QR code.  The code stated that we didn’t have access to that part of the Hunt yet.

For each card suit meta we solved, we had to send a few players to have an interaction with a character from Wonderland (I think we were luring each character to a rabbit hole?).  At about 5:30pm, we had solved all three suit metas and unlocked the “MIT Runaround,” which was a sort of mini-runaround to hit all the playing card posters around campus.

Before we started that, Phil and I went to do a character interaction with the White Queen, which corresponded with our team unlocking the White Queen puzzle round.  We had to bring her a red herring as a gift (ours was in the form of a printed photo).  The White Queen was very confused, saying things backwards and complaining about the Red Queen always getting her way.  Phil dutifully took notes, and we returned to our team with a message from the Queen, which I believe unlocked the puzzles for that round.

At some point between all of this, we also worked for a bit on a cute puzzle called Operator Test and made some good progress.  I also took a quick look at a funny one called Now Let’s Create Melodies and contributed maybe one piece of data.

After that, we were ready to get people together for the MIT Runaround.  For the third time in the Hunt so far, I volunteered to do some running around!  A GC member had brought us poster with a new QR code, and scanning it gave our instructions.  We needed three teams, one for each card suit (hearts were not represented).  Todd, Chris, and I took spades, and the big QR code told us which spade card on the map to start with.

When we got to our first card, we scanned the QR code and received a rhyming clue instructing us to find something nearby, very much in the style of a Ravenchase hunt.  We fumbled around with this first clue for a long time, searching up and down the hallway until Chris finally spotted what we were looking for.  Solving that clue sent us to the next spade card which had a clue in a similar style.  We had a much easier time with the rest of these once the first one confirmed what we were supposed to be doing.

This little goose chase sent us all over campus.  At one point, we crossed paths with Corey’s group in the Stata Center.  They seemed to be working on a clue that was much tougher than ours had been so far.  After we solved our clue at that location, we passed by again and they were still working!  As it happened, they had just sent out a distress call to Left Out HQ hoping for some help in cracking their code.  Since we were right there anyway, we went over and helped out with some fresh eyes. (Well, Todd and Chris helped.  I took photos. You’ll learn why you don’t get to see those photos later in the post.)

They seemed to be on the right track, so we headed off to the rest of our puzzles, ending at the Green building where we struggled way too long with a weirdly-formatted clue.  After we finally cracked it, we headed back to our classroom where we had to combine our final answer with the answers from the other two groups.  This answer sent new players to “Hunt the Beast,” a.k.a. the Jabberwock, who informed us that the real beast was Alice herself!  *gasp!*

I was surprised when we returned from our runaround to find that it had taken us 2 hours and 15 minutes to hit all the cards!  We had a good time, and it was nice to solve some lighter fare with the location-based clues.  Alice Shrugged said that the opening round and mini-runaround we had just done was purposefully designed to be something like a condensed Mystery Hunt experience that the smaller and/or inexperienced teams could enjoy, start to finish.  I thought that was a really nice idea, and well-executed.

The new White Queen and Mock Turtle rounds had opened up a lot of new puzzles, so there was a lot to see when we got back.  Unfortunately, I became extremely pre-occupied with something else.  During the MIT Runaround, my phone had mysteriously restarted and then gotten stuck on the start-up screen.  No amount of button-holding or desperate pleading was able to get it back to normal.  I was able to get to a BIOS type of screen, but none of the options there were any help, except the system format option that I hadn’t tried yet.  A few posts on forums (okay, a questionable Yahoo Answers post) said that this sometimes fixed the problem and might not delete all of your stuff.  I knew my utility and fun levels would take a big hit if I wasn’t able to use my phone for the rest of the Hunt, so I was willing to take a risk.  I was also probably a little too emotional and frustrated with it at this point, and maybe should have just given it some time to right itself.

Anyway, long story short, I did a factory reset on my phone and lost everything.  Womp womp.  This was probably my last year’s missed-lunch-haven’t-slept-wanna-cry moment.  I got super bummed out!  I sent a quick e-mail about it to Nick, and he replied with a joke that cheered me up a bit and made me feel like it wasn’t such a big deal and that I hadn’t messed up too bad.  Then Todd distracted me with a fun puzzle that we worked on as a group (Common Bonds), and eventually I was able to forget about my phone.  Actually, the funniest part was that after the formatting, since everything was gone and all my settings and programs were wiped, it almost felt like it wasn’t my phone anymore.  It was such a pain to do anything (since every program would start in tutorial/set-up mode) that I stopped using it for a long time, and even forgot to take it with me two or three times when I left the room to go investigate a clue.  The irony is not lost on me!

Luckily, I hadn’t taken too many photos of the hunt yet (and I did post a couple of those on Twitter), so I hadn’t lost too much from the event itself.  And as Phil suggested, once I got home I found that a lot of my older photos were on my PC thanks to the usually-annoying HTC sync program that I’ve used a few times.  They only go up to August, but I haven’t left the house much since then anyway!

 

Friday night is a good place to stop.  Next time on the recap, I finally sit down and work on some puzzles for a while!

8 comments on MIT Mystery Hunt 2014 Recap – Part 1

  • Persona

    Still reading through, but I notice you should link to the archive version of the puzzles, the ones on aliceshrugged.com are behind a log-in barrier still and will likely die to link rot soon.

    • clavicarius (author)

      Ah, thanks for the tip! All updated now.

  • Steve

    I factory reset my phone in December trying to fix its wifi. Even though I backed it up three different ways beforehand, I was not able to restore any of the backups properly. A huge pain in the butt. My condolences on your loss.

    • clavicarius (author)

      This would have been comforting if I hadn’t gone ahead and read Dan’s comment =)

  • Dan E.

    Oh man! The next time your phone gets wedged in recovery during the MITMH (hopefully never again!) you should let me know!

    If it’s an android phone, the two main authors of that recovery mode are on your team! I’m one of them.

    • clavicarius (author)

      Oh my god, I’m sitting there scouring forums and Yahoo Answers while probably the #1 most knowledgeable person on the subject in the world is literally sitting right behind me.

      That is truly the magic of Mystery Hunt.

      • Dan E.

        If it makes you feel better… if your phone was booting into recovery mode, and rebooting it didn’t help, then probably factory reset was your only option short of lengthy, complicated heroics.

        • clavicarius (author)

          It was just getting stuck on the start screen, but I could boot it into recovery mode or something if held the right button combo.

          And that does make me feel better. I was definitely wanting to avoid making a big deal out of it and wasting anybody’s Hunt time (including my own) trying to fix it.

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