My First MIT Mystery Hunt – Part 2

Click here for Part 1.

Friday Part 2

Back at home base, we still had an hour before the puzzles would be released.  We didn’t really know what to do with ourselves after we had done introductions, but luckily Todd had brought a book full of fun and simple word puzzles for us to play together.  It was a great way to warm up our brains and get everyone talking and laughing.  It also reminded me that there are a lot of ways to make a puzzle!  I was happy to get a few of the answers right, and it gave me a little bit of a confidence boost before the Hunt started.

Finally, the countdown timer approached 1:30pm.  Thirty seconds left!  Twenty!  And then!  We got an e-mail from GC saying the launch would be pushed back to 2:00pm due to a new bug.  Womp womp.  Thirty more minutes of fun puzzles and distraction!

But before I knew it, I checked back on the countdown timer and it was less than a minute until 2:00!  Finally, the Enigma Valley Investment & Loan corporate intranet was hacked and open, and six shiny puzzles revealed themselves.  This was the “zeroth” round, a preface to the Hunt proper with its six full waves of puzzles.  There was a flurry of activity as the group decided which three puzzles would go to Los Altos, and which three would stay in Boston.  One puzzle clearly referenced locations on MIT campus, so it went to Boston and the rest were divvied up randomly as far as I could tell (but likely toward certain players’ strengths and preferences).  Glancing through the puzzles, one called Open Secrets caught my eye, so I claimed it for my table.  It was a PDF that had a handful of different ciphers and codes, three of which I already recognized!  My tablemates Jeremy and Liz and I made quick work of finding the rest, with some help from the rest of the room identifying the ones we couldn’t find.  We figured out the first catch of the puzzle, and Todd helped us make the leap to the final answer.  Success!  It felt great!  What we didn’t know was that this “zeroth” round would be the quickest and most positive solving experience we were likely to have for the rest of the weekend.

With all six answers completed, as well as the meta, we gained access to the main COINHEIST page, where the puzzles of Wave 1: Danny Ocean awaited.  The wave was loosely casino-themed, with one puzzle for each member of the Ocean’s 11 team (though the content of the puzzles did not link to the characters) and a meta that I do not understand and cannot explain.  At this point it was a little more difficult to find the right puzzle to claim or join, until someone said out loud, “Does anyone know anything about Japanese TV?”

One page of the puzzle
One page of the puzzle

The puzzle was called You Should Be Listening, and it would come to take up many, many hours of my time.    The puzzle consisted of 9 drawings (hand-drawn) of anime characters.  Each drawing included six characters, all from different series, but posed in a thoughtful way (looking like a promotional image, with good composition, etc.).  At the top were two sets of boxes, sometimes with Japanese numerals in a box or two on the left, and Roman numerals in a box or two on the right.  Our work in the beginning consisted mostly of trying to identify each character and series, and at some point the Los Altos team had made a vital realization about the poses.  It quickly became apparent just how little current anime I’m aware of, as I could only identify 15 of the 64 total characters.  I was able to help a bit more later on with my knowledge of Japanese language (though I made a crucial rookie mistake at one point), but ultimately I didn’t help much on this puzzle despite my efforts.  Mike helped out for a good chunk of time as well, and we made some progress on the mechanism, but we missed a few vital elements and eventually Los Altos was able to solve it.

Warning: This next section will contain full spoilers from the Casino Lobdell event and puzzle, with no spoiler tags.  You’ve been warned!  (Though it would take some work to recreate this event/puzzle for personal enjoyment.)

You Should Be Listening was the only puzzle I saw until time for the first event of the Hunt at 7:00pm, “Casino Lobdell.”  This event required two nicely-dressed members from each team to bring themselves and a drink to the Casino Lobdell in the student center.  Nobody else seemed to want to go, and I had brought a suit for another event, so I changed clothes, grabbed a soda, and headed over to the student center with teammate Matt.  I was pretty excited, especially when we arrived at the “casino” and found all the other team members dressed up, and a row of green Blackjack tables set up, complete with costumed dealers.  Swanky!


We approached the sign-in desk and were given $20 in chips.  We were told that one team member could play, and the other could observe.  I had been nervous about having to actually perform well in a card game for the event, so I was relieved that only one of us would have to play, and happily gave the responsibility to Matt, who turned out to be quite good at Blackjack.  As soon as we walked in, our drinks were taken from us to help form the bar for the night.  The only unusual thing we could spot right away was that, in addition to chips, each dealer had three stacks of napkins to hand out.  At that point, there was nothing else to do but start playing and see what happened.

The invitation to the event had mentioned counting cards and taking notes, so Matt played a few rounds, and I tried to find any patterns in the cards being dealt.  There weren’t any cards missing, there didn’t seem to be any repeating sequences, and the dealer didn’t seem to be doing anything unusual with the cards on purpose — we were stumped.  After a while, I was brought a complementary drink (a martini glass full of water) from one of the waitresses.  On the bottom of the glass, there was a sticker that read “A♣ = A.”  A-ha, so our goal for the night was to collect card-letter associations and presumably decode a message.  Matt remembered another note in the invitation about tipping your dealer, and found that he received a napkin whenever he did so.  Inside the napkin was another sticker like the one on the bottom of the glass, with a different card and letter.

We continued this way for a while, and I started trying to take more thorough notes of the cards being dealt.  Eventually, we realized that there was a string of cards that was looping somehow.  Or several strings, actually, as the waitresses brought out newly-shuffled decks that went to the bottom of the dealer’s stack.  After some more note-taking, I was able to tell Matt what all the following cards would be.  Well, “able” is a strong word.  More like I “attempted” and some of my attempts succeeded, while others failed miserably.  In the end, I don’t think my incompetence set us back too much, but I think my teammate was about ready to kick me out of the table and do it himself!


By the end of the night, we had collected two cards for the letters A through F, as well as T and W.  We also received a poster where all 52 cards were represented, half on top and half on bottom, in a seemly random order.  Something was seriously missing.  Much trading among teams commenced, but no further progress was made.  Some people thought it might be about music, but no clear path revealed itself.  We headed back to home base quite confused.

Later on, we received a message from APH with some of the “patterns” she picked up at the casino, which matched some of the notes I had taken on the cards the dealer was dealing.  I had assumed that the only purpose of counting the cards was to win faster and get more clues, but apparently there was more to it.  I hadn’t taken enough detailed notes to get us very far with the decryption, and we had to wait until APH sent a full account of the cards dealt before we could brute-force our way through deciphering the many missing letters, with much help from Todd and Chris.  It took some time, but eventually we ended up with some quotes and notes about war.  The poster we had received finally made sense — it represented two hands of cards playing the game War against each other!  We tried just taking the winning card between the two hands for each iteration to spell something, but it was nonsense.  I had my moment of shining brilliance when I suggested that if it were a real game of War, we would need to loop back around and go through the cards again.  The rest of the team made the proper leap, that we actually needed to play out a game of War with the predetermined decks from the poster.  Luckily, Dan Ben had brought a deck of playing cards (smart!), so we dealt the hands out and Matt and I played the game, making sure to reclaim our own cards first as one of the decoded messages had instructed.  It was very exciting!  And it was a “bloodless victory” as predicted by the message – there were no “war” rounds.  Finally, Matt won, and it was time to decipher the new deck.  Matt flipped through each card, Todd referenced our code sheet, Chris entered the data in the spreadsheet, and I watched excitedly and took pictures, including this sweet action shot (check out that card falling!):war

Finally, (and it was quite late at this point) we had a message: “MAN WHO COULD PART THE RED C” and then a bunch of gibberish.  I wondered if maybe the C was significant (perhaps subconsciously remembering Post Hunt 2011’s “bottom of the c”), but we quickly determined it was just because they had already used all the Es and As.  We called in MOSES and it was correct!

This puzzle was kind of a roller coaster experience — very exciting at first, then confusing, then frustrating, then somewhat satisfying, then REALLY exciting and fun and satisfying!  But kind of stressful overall, since it really felt weird to leave the event without an answer (and to feel like we were missing such a huge chunk of vital data).  I wish I had been more diligent in my note-taking and not underestimated the puzzle.

To give some idea of the scope of the Hunt so far, the first wave included 11 regular puzzles, 6 meta puzzles, and 1 meta meta puzzle.  By the end of Friday night, I had only even seen 2 puzzles from the first wave!

From this point on, times and puzzle waves will start to get a little fuzzy.  I’m not 100% sure what the method of puzzle release was, but at some point I think we started getting new puzzles based on elapsed time, and not how many puzzles we had solved.  I’ll try to give my best account of what happened when, but it’s all pretty much a blur!


Tune in Monday for Part 3: Saturday!

4 comments on My First MIT Mystery Hunt – Part 2

  • Ben de Bivort

    “I’m not 100% sure what the method of puzzle release was, but at some point I think we started getting new puzzles based on elapsed time, and not how many puzzles we had solved”

    That’s right – Back in the day, to open a new wave, you had to solve the preceding meta. A few years ago, a time-triggered opening mechanism was added so that all teams would see all puzzles by the end of the hunt. The general idea is that a few leading teams open new waves by solving metas, while the rest of the teams get them on timed release. This year, everyone got time-released waves.

  • Greg

    I’m enjoying your recount, Natalie! So cool!

  • Matt

    I would never have thrown you out and tried to do it alone! Your note taking was invaluable. I thought we worked together brilliantly!

    Also, those were Ben’s cards. 😛

    Glad you had fun!

    • clavicarius (author)

      Well I’m glad you could actually play Blackjack! I would have been completely hopeless! =)

      Hrm, I knew they were Ben’s and would have sworn I wrote Ben. I blame the lingering Mystery Hunt haze, mixing up my three-letter names that end in n. Nice catch!

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