My First MIT Mystery Hunt – Part 3

Click here for Part 2.


As Friday became Saturday, players started tapping out to get some sleep and our team size dwindled.  Our team website had a place to sign up for sleep shifts, hoping to keep at least 4 players awake at all times, but the division of the spreadsheet cells didn’t really lend themselves to signing up for appropriate blocks so I skipped it and figured I would just play it by ear.  I had even entertained the idea of going to bed really early, like between 8:00pm and 10:00pm, and returning at 3:00am or 4:00am.  Instead, of course, I got totally caught up in the puzzling and lost complete track of time.  By the time I actually felt like I wanted to go to bed, I was one of the “at least 4 players” left awake!  So I decided to go ahead and stick it out until we were relieved of our duties by the earlier sleepers.

At this point, I think everyone’s brain was feeling pretty fried.  Luckily, we had acquired a few less thought-intensive puzzles.  One of these was the aptly-named “Jigsaw Puzzle,” a behemoth of a thing which consisted of a large plastic bag filled with hundreds of cut-out pieces, none bigger than an inch or two, that could be reassembled into a number of large square photos of signs and other objects with text on them.


Nina and Ben had taken the helm on this one earlier in the night, claiming a corner of the room with the pile of pieces and using scotch tape to form the photos.  I spent a bit of time helping out and happened to be around as we realized the first key mechanic of the puzzle — that each assembled photo would still be missing a piece in the end, and the letters that would have been on that piece would be the data of the puzzle.  A massive jigsaw puzzle where the missing pieces are the key, truly evil!

While the jigsaw was relaxing on the brain, it was taxing on the body, involving lots of hunching over and crouching down and such to sort the pieces.  (I happened to catch a glimpse (or was it a photo?) of another team assembling their jigsaw across several tables.  Ah, what luxury, to have tables in excess!)  Luckily, Todd and friends had cracked enough of the puzzle Missed Connections to send Ben, Nina, and I on a hunt around campus seeking out specific rooms, features, and letters.  It was a good chance to stretch our legs and rest our minds simultaneously, and I got to see a lot of MIT campus for the first time!

Finally, people started trickling in from about 6:00am, and I headed back toward the Kendall with Todd and Chris sometime after 7.  For those who aren’t familiar with the MIT campus, most of the buildings are connected, either directly or through a series of underground tunnels, so you can get most places without ever going outside!  Todd brought a copy of the campus/tunnel map, and about 10 minutes later we somehow surfaced right around the corner from the Kendall!  Todd and Chris went on to their hotel, saying they expected to be back at the Hunt by around noon.  I said probably not to expect me back before 1:00, but to text me if lunch was being ordered.

I had intended to go straight to bed, but I had forgotten about the Kendall’s fabulous-looking breakfast buffet.  I didn’t even take my coat off, I just went straight for the food.  Breakfast will always beat out sleep for me, and this one did not disappoint.  I got to the room around 8:00, just as Dan was heading out.  Unfortunately, I woke up Will and Shelly who went ahead and left as well.  I had been wondering how sharing rooms would work when everyone would be on different sleep schedules and coming/going at odd times.  The policy seems to just be to do your own thing and hope you don’t wake anybody up!  Maybe if we had a larger team, we could split rooms according to sleep schedules?  Ah, maybe too intense.

I had been a little bit nervous in general about sleep during the Hunt because I’ve recently developed this problem where I get extremely anxious on nights where I know I need to get good sleep (before a long drive, or when I’m only getting a few hours), and that anxiety compounds the longer I’m awake.  It’s this awful cycle of being conscious of my attempt and failure to sleep, which continues to keep me awake.  Luckily this wasn’t a problem at all during the Hunt.  I think my body bossed my mind around and said “Look, there’s no time for this second-guessing crap, I haven’t slept in over 24 hours.”  I’m also a ridiculously light sleeper, but thanks to earplugs from Kearby’s thoughtful roommate, I barely heard Nina when she came in, and then didn’t hear her at all when she left a few hours later (which was madness, she barely slept the whole weekend! Teach me your waaays).

I woke up around noon or 1, and really wanted to get back to the Hunt, but I knew I could really use some more sleep.  So I slept some more, and made it back to the Hunt around 3 or 4:00pm.  Nina had solved the jigsaw, and that’s all I remember that had happened.  One nice side effect of a slow and tedious Hunt was that you never had to worry about missing anything exciting while you were sleeping.

The next puzzle I remember working on was Ex Post Facto, a curious crossword where we had to place the words without any number or orientation clues.  A group of us figured out the clues collaboratively, but it was mostly Todd’s work (in a spreadsheet tab we took to calling, eventually without batting an eye, “Toddland”) that got the grid filled out.  Todd, Dan, and Ben worked out the next mechanic of the puzzle, something that would have never occurred to me, and we worked it out to get what was essentialy a TAUNT.  Ugh.  We were still pretty far from the answer, but we didn’t know that yet.  (Could have used a Clever.  Too Clever. here for clarification…)

Was this the night I started working on Will Ruin Your Life [I’m Feeling Lucky]? (Another puzzle I would understand mostly, do a ton of data look-up for, and ultimately not solve.)

Was this the night we all had fun making the first bit of progress on Mashup?

Was this the night we all started chipping away at Analogy Farm?  (This one’s for you Snooze!)

I’m pretty sure at some point Saturday evening or afternoon was when a couple of teammates walked in a dumped 14 bags of various herbs and spices onto one of the tables for the identification-based puzzle, 11 Secret Herbs and Spices.  They were promptly banished to the other room when the wave of spice smell hit the rest of us all like a brick wall.  I passed by the group working on this one out in the hall hours later, and their sinuses had basically been destroyed.  I felt bad for them, but not enough that I wanted to trade places with them.  There’s got to be a better way to make a scent puzzle!

Thanks only to the timestamp on the photo I took, I’m able to remember that by midnight Saturday night, we had finally solved our first super meta (meta-meta), which happened to be on the second wave.  This revealed a new feature of the Hunt — the Obstacles.  For each wave we completed, we would need to go do a training course on how to bypass a different element of the bank vault’s security.  The Obstacle we unlocked was the Safe.  Six of us headed down and over to the “training facility” where the atmosphere was kind of eerie and it was hard to tell if the staff were acting in some sort of enigmatic character.  (I later decided it was just that they had been there since Friday, and had probably only seen a small handful of teams).

We were given a document that explained we’d be unlocking a simulated safe lock, and that a post-it note with the phrase “HOT LAVA” had been found near the actual safe site.  We were taken to a room and supervised as we tried to crack the safe, which was cleverly implemented as a USB dial peripheral hooked up to a combination lock application on a computer.


The lock used letters on three different sets of tumblers, with some layers blocking the ones below.  I tried to help take down the letters as we found them, but my brain proved to be scrambled eggs, and it was much faster to hand it over to the people who already understood how tumbler locks worked.  They quickly cataloged the letter sequences on all three tumblers, predicted what we would need to do to spell out “HOT LAVA”,  executed it, and then practiced a few more times in case we made it to the endgame and needed to be able to unlock another safe.

The obstacle was fun, and we looked forward to doing the other ones.  I think eventually we solved the first wave meta and a group went to the Guards obstacle, which they said was a sort of maze/movement puzzle that involved tracking the guards’ movement and staying out of their line of sight.  The used real people as the guards, so that sounds like it was fun!  Apparently there was also a sweet laser maze, but we didn’t manage solve that meta.


That’s about all for Saturday, but a quick update here on the structure of the Hunt.  Ben confirmed that we were getting new puzzles based on passage of time, since we weren’t solving them fast enough to unlock them manually.  The Hunt also had an “options” system, where 100 options could buy any puzzle answer (except metas).  I don’t remember how we were supposed to be getting options before, but on Saturday, they started giving us a certain number per hour, and that rate kept increasing over the duration of the hunt.  By Sunday, we determined we were solving more puzzles by sitting around than by actually working to solve them!

Tune in Wednesday for Part 4, which might be a super-post because this is taking too long.

One comment on My First MIT Mystery Hunt – Part 3

  • Jen

    Wow. This all sounds TOO intense for me! O_O Though it’s tedious, I kinda would’ve liked to work on the massive jigsaw puzzle, haha. Geez, puzzle creators are so crazy to me! How do you/they do it! It’s something that boggles my mind, like composing music.

    “Breakfast will always beat out sleep…” haha high-five!

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