On Friday morning, I got up early to continue what is now my tradition of helping prep our team headquarters for the hunt. I met Dan at the Kendall and we talked escape games for a bit before we drove over to MIT with a carload of snacks and supplies that Dan had bought the day before. (I also got a sneak peek at a fun surprise — Dan had made awesome custom buttons for everyone on the team to use as name tags!)
Mike, Ben, and Will were the other early birds in the room, and I sent Ben and Will on car unloading duty while I got started cleaning the room. This year I decided to try a simple broom and dustpan instead of a Swiffer, but Dan went ahead and got me a micro-fiber kind of mop as well! Luckily, none of the tables and chairs had been brought into the room yet, so I could sweep the whole place without having to drag the tables around. Sweeping first was definitely the way to go! Ben helped me mop, and then I decided to go ahead and do the same treatment on our breakout room as well since it sounded like we were going to try to use it more this year.
Right as I was finishing up, Phil, Summer, Todd, Matt, and Chris arrived. Matt finished the mopping for me, then we all went to the student center to grab drinks and breakfast. I got a breakfast sandwich and a Naked juice, figuring that a big enough breakfast meant I could just skip lunch.
Back in the room, we got all of the tables and arm-less chairs we needed (thanks to a generous donation from Grand Unified Theory of Love down the hall) and got everything cleaned and situated. I was seated at the “Todd pod,” which included me, Summer, Phil, Matt, Chris, and Todd. We didn’t have too long to get settled before it was time to head out for the kickoff.
Kickoff was in the auditorium again this year, but it was pretty crowded by the time we got over and not great for socializing with other teams. On our way in, we noticed many of the GC members wearing steampunk garb, which matched the hunt invitation this year and our suspicion of a 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea theme. We claimed some seats inside and waited for kickoff. We even started a mildly successful wave!
At last, kickoff began with the infamous Dr. Nautilus (and her assistant, “Julie” Verne) excitedly explaining her most recent discovery — magnetonomic force, created by objects called “magnets.” The doctor told us that a huge store of magnetonomic force could be found at the bottom of the ocean in the form of the nautilodestones. We were then tasked with travelling to the bottom of the ocean, by way of submarine, to retrieve the stones. MIT Mystery Hunt 2015 was officially “20,000 Puzzles Under the Sea!”
The format and progression and hint systems of the hunt were thematically explained, and teams were dismissed with instructions to grab a swag bag on the way out. We headed back to the room and examined the contents of the bag with the bit of time we had left before the first puzzles were released.
The bag included an official Mystery Hunt t-shirt which featured an ocean scene and some obvious jigsaw puzzle shapes. I cut the pieces out in Photoshop while others attempted the paper and scissors route, but we quickly decided that we were missing too much more of the puzzle to make any progress. (This assumption turned out to be incorrect, and I wish I had spent a bit more time trying to work with the pieces!) We also spent some of the post-kickoff time doing brief introductions around the room, which helped bring my attention to a few brand new members of the team.
Soon, the first wave of puzzles were released and we divvied them up between East and West. The Todd Pod took a video puzzle called Loony Playhouse Actors over to the breakout room and set to work. This was a cute puzzle and we had a good time working it out. We had it solved and were back in the main room in no time.
Next, we picked up a complex puzzle about rooms and doors called Beth, but before long an MIT-specific puzzle had been identified and I volunteered to join the away team consisting of Mike, and new players Niall and James (I think?).
The puzzle, Back on the Move, simply linked to a Twitter account that appeared to be posting random photos from around the MIT campus every minute or so. The photos were extremely vague (a blank wall, the floor, etc.), but a few gave a rough idea of a location. We decided the best first step would be to try and determine where the photos were being taken and see if the route was drawing a path from a bird’s eye view.
As we followed the photo stream, we noticed that some photos were posted too quickly. It would be impossible to reach some locations in the 30 or 60 seconds between photo uploads. With not much else to do, we kept trying to find the latest posted photo and “catch” whoever was posting them. We had a couple of exciting races through the halls and in between buildings (which actually left me with a bit of wind burn on my hands!), knowing we were just a minute or two behind them. But each second that passed took our mark farther away until we were effectively back at square one.
We heard (from another team?) that there were actually four agents walking around with cameras and tweeting to the same account! That explained the impossible time stamps on the photos. By then, we had also noticed that a few landmarks had been posted more than once through the photo stream, so we decided to split up and stakeout two different locations that had been repeated, hoping to catch an agent walking its route. Niall and I went up to a hallway where she knew to find an aerial photo of some airplane runways. So we sat and waited. And waited. And waited.
At this point, the Twitter stream had stopped uploading any new photos. My phone had been getting spotty Wi-Fi coverage during our entire journey, so at first I had chalked it up to a dead zone in the hallway. With a little more investigation, however, I found that other Twitter streams worked fine. Eventually, I found that the puzzle had been moved to a new Twitter account after exceeding the upload limit for the original account. Still, by then over 20 minutes had passed we hadn’t seen anyone with a camera come through our hallway.
We got a call from Mike that they had seen one of the agents and obtained a letter. Shortly after, we got another call saying that the puzzle had been solved. Apparently, the team back home had already determined that the answers for this round were all themed around the number 9, and were on the lookout for an answer related to 99 Luftballons. When Mike’s team got one letter from an agent, that implied a 4-letter answer and was enough to get them to NENA, the artist who sang 99 Luftballons, and the correct answer.
It turned out that the four agents weren’t walking along paths, but were just walking randomly. The objective was simply to catch up to each agent and take note of the letter written on their hats. I wish we’d had more of a chance to pursue that idea!
That excursion had taken about an hour and a half, and I was feeling a little useless having offered no real value as far as finding locations around MIT and frustrated from battling with an unreliable wireless signal the whole time. I joined Summer and Phil’s group in the breakout room hoping to be helpful, but it wasn’t in the cards. They were working on Spongebob, one of the Aquatic Acquaintances puzzles, which, unbeknownst to us at the time, all relied on answers from previous puzzles. Without making that connection, we just floundered (heh).
There was much more luck to be had back in the main room with the School of Fish (mini puzzles) and Pod of Dolphin rounds. We seemed to smash through Ready Set Go, The Cat’s Meow, A Short Transmission, MiT MYSTERY HUNT, Rid Fill, and It’s Play Time. It definitely felt weird to crush so many puzzles so quickly, but these smaller puzzlers were definitely enjoyable and brought a rare feeling of momentum to the hunt.
As if the School of Fish puzzles weren’t fun enough, at about 11:40pm, GC brought us a delightful surprise. Tune in next time to find out what it was!