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!
There were a few things I disliked a bit about this year’s Mystery Hunt:
- Story – I know the hunt was based around a piece of literature, so I feel a little silly saying that I thought the narrative elements of the hunt were too wordy. The last thing I wanted to do when I opened an exciting new batch of puzzles (especially the first batch!) was read a wall of text. On top of that, being apparently unfamiliar with a lot of Alice and Wonderland characters and plot elements, I found it a bit tough to keep the rounds clear in my head and understand what was going on. I felt like last year’s hunt was much easier to understand at a glance. (Then again, I guess being confused/overwhelmed fits with the Wonderland theme!)
- Event(s) – I only went to one event this year, Cards Against Humanity, which turned out to essentially be “mandatory fun” until enough time had passed and a solution phrase was handed out. After last year’s enigmatic casino game/puzzle and exciting Thomas Crown recreation, sitting and playing a card game I don’t really like, with a lot of references I didn’t get, with no stakes whatsoever was a bit of a bummer. I can understand the sentiment of wanting teams to unwind and have fun, but I don’t think it needed to feel so disconnected from the rest of the hunt as to make me feel like I was wasting time and energy. The CAH concept itself was really cute, and the cards themselves seemed like a great platform for a puzzle, so I was actually pretty disappointed when there was nothing there to solve. I heard great things about the other events, so I guess I’m just complaining about this one.
- Character Interactions – Again, I only did one character meet-up for this hunt, so I can’t speak for the rest, but it essentially boiled down to standing and listening to a character talk until they said the Phrase That Pays. I think when I go do a special investigation or interaction like that in a hunt, I hope to have a fun story to tell my teammates when I get back, not just “The character said some weird stuff, and then told us the answer is xyz.”
Although I thought these areas were the weaker elements of the hunt, I know that these types of things definitely take a back seat to solid puzzle development and running the hunt smoothly. They just happen to be the types of things I really like in a puzzle hunt, so I’m going to be more critical of them than the actual puzzles.
There were also some differences in my personal hunt experience compared to last year. Most noticeably, my energy levels were totally unpredictable. I think this was due to the pacing of the hunt and the types of activities I did. This year, I seemed to go on a lot of errands around campus, starting very early in the day on Friday. By Friday night, I was already feeling exhausted and wondering how I was going to make it for the rest of the hunt. Unlike last year’s hunt, however, this year’s hunt had a lot of peaks and valleys in our team activity and progress, so there was always something around the corner to provide an energy boost. Last year was more of a continuous steady stream of mild energy (as we struggled through the slog of tough puzzles), while this year had a lot of highs and lows.
One more thought on all of those errand activities I did. Since we moved to the West coast last year, I’ve been wondering if I should start joining the remote team in California instead of flying all the way out to Boston. They have comfy-looking furniture down there, and lots of food and snacks, and seem to always be having a good time (solving our puzzles out from under us). But I think I realized this year just how much I like doing the tasks that require running around campus, and how the puzzles and puzzle-solving aren’t that important to me. It feels worth flying out to Boston for the stuff I like, but I’m not sure it feels even worth flying down to Los Altos if I only get to do the puzzles.
As I mentioned, we had some team discussion after the hunt about our thoughts on winning, now that it seems like a very real possibility for us. As I’m sure is the case with most teams, there were a lot of mixed opinions on the subject. I’m not sure how I feel about it myself, but I couldn’t seem to stop coming up with puzzle, theme, and event ideas during my flight back. We’re one of the smaller teams out there, but we’ve got some serious puzzle writers and event designers on our roster, and I think we would do a fine job.
And now it’s time for the traditional sappy part of my hunt re-cap! I had another awesome time with Left Out and still consider myself crazy lucky to be a part of this team. Everyone is so nice and smart and competent and considerate and awesome and FUNNY. While writing this post, I couldn’t go ten lines through the hangout chat without cracking up, especially during the Runaround. (There is definitely a LOT of value in having half of your team observe remotely and offer snappy remarks intermittently. It’s great for team morale!) It’s awesome to come away from the hunt each year feeling like I am definitely on the best team. The best team! No drama, great solvers, lots of friends, everything is awesome. And this year was even better since we added Phil and Summer to the team!
In closing, I had another pretty great Mystery Hunt six months ago, and I plan on doing it again in another six months. A huge thanks and major props to Alice Shrugged for putting on a fun and practically flawless event.