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Coinheist 2013: Mystery Hunt Writeup - The Revolution of the Moon
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Fri, Jan. 25th, 2013 10:38 pm
Coinheist 2013: Mystery Hunt Writeup

There has been much whinging across the internet regarding the most recent hunt and its late finish.  To me, most of it sounds like, "but Hunt is supposed to be hard and frustrating for OTHER PEOPLE, not amazing solvers like me!" and the unnice part of me can only think, "welcome to my world."  I am sorry some people didn't have fun, but much of the complaining seems like a few individuals overgeneralizing their experience and taking it excessively personally.
I found this hunt less frustrating than most I've participated in, myself.  It was too large to see it all, but that is always true.  This year I never spent six hours looking up Encyclopedia Brown stories only to discover that that was the entirety of the "puzzle".  It didn't feel like the only thing standing between us and having all the puzzles solved was an army of elves.  Nearly every puzzle was intellectually challenging, which I much prefer (in RP terms, "high damage, low hit points" scaling.)  Every puzzle I did solve was satisfying.  I only encountered one puzzle that I thought was inelegant and many more that were very nice.
(Side note: I suspect the only way to even the playing field between very large teams and medium-sized teams is a smaller hunt with stricter gating and a similar difficulty level to this.  Even then, all the very good solvers could form one uber-team, but I think that is less likely given the dynamics of solving.  Note that this comes into direct conflict with "make the hunt newbie-friendly and accessible": I don't think it is possible to achieve both aims at once without writing two hunts.)
So it was too many puzzles for the time allotted and some repeated dynamics; I still think there are vastly worse crimes in hunt construction.  This hunt left me sated and was enjoyable all along; I appreciate that.  Once we figured out that other people also weren't chewing through metas and it wasn't going to end on Saturday my team was upbeat and positive well into Monday.  Last year I was pretty disappointed when the hunt ended so early (I am motivated by competition and the "we're all winners!" solution isn't particularly appealing to me), so I was glad to see a hunt that did fill the time allotted.

[Specific Puzzle Details]
Uncharted Territories
I did the quilting puzzle, the first time I think quilting has ever come up at a hunt.  I also conveniently had a crochet hook in my Backpack of Holding.  I did muck up one corner slightly (one of the red triangles was rotated wrong), but it was obvious what it was so I didn't worry too much.  Unfortunately we interpreted the "E" from crochet as a "Q" and then assumed the "I" from the knitting pattern was probably a J to give us rank and suit.  It took someone else coming along to figure out we'd well over-thought it and extract the answer.
Treasure Island
I didn't solve it, but I had fun trying.  Other people who could effectively take advantage of the letters completed it after I went to bed for the night.
Hap[p]y Days Are Here Again
When I woke up, other people had done all the work and given up in frustration.  I corrected a couple of minor errors (the title is It's A Man's Man's Man's World rather than It's A Man's Man's World as we had in the spreadsheet), noticed the title giving me the exact extraction mechanism, got the solution, called in BLAIN and then stared at it for another twenty minutes before getting the answer.  This is definitely the most effective I've been solving on my own.
Jigsaw Puzzle
The eight hours I spent putting together the photos with my teammates were both very fun and reminded me I ought to buy jigsaws to do at home.  I can understand people's frustration with scale, but I thought it helped push us in different directions than the typical puzzle-assembly "get edges, look for features, deal with the rest later".
Dear Abby
Two people had figured out most of what was going on and asked if anyone knew Shakespeare, so I jumped in.  I can both recognize iambic pentameter and know of the existence of, say, Troilus and Cressida.  It was in confirming the quote from that that I realized the letters were specific soliloquies, but it wasn't a necessary observation to complete the puzzle.  It did make it easier to confirm that it was right and to fix the one error we had in our chain.  I don't know how I made the jump to the extraction mechanism, but I do know it may be the first time I've recognized a letter pattern during hunt (dyslexic puzzle solving is sometimes ... different.)  The whole thing took us about two hours I think and was a nice, well-constrained experience.  We didn't have a ton of people awake, so I was planning on going and doing the scene myself with silly voices, but I recruited one other team member to come along and we ran in circles a bit.
Trochee Etc
I tried this, but I found a different link than the one the specified and gave up.  I did at least find the account, though after I had drawn out the color-coded map of the counts (see http://blog.xkcd.com/2011/02/04/trochee-chart/).
At this point, I should have gone to sleep, but the beds were full.  Trying to sleep the next day when it was light out and loud failed, so that was about the end of my usefulness.  At least I was aware of this, having figured out that sleep is unoptional the year before, but it is something I can improve in the future.
Loss By Compression
The Very Wrong Path I took this year was in regards to Loss By Compression, because I kept wanting it to have something to do with lossy compression.  I do feel guilty, since some other team members were going down the path of "look for answers with first letters that make something useful", but it was being incredibly unconstrained and had, at that point, produced WITH followed by gobbledygook.  At some point I got ROTAT N PAIR LTR UE FR RASTR MP, but luckily the resulting raster map was pretty obviously useless and eventually I gave up on the whole thing.  I'm still not entirely happy with "count minus Is and Os" as the enumeration: I'd have been much happier with "count of unique letters in the word".  Still, this was a far shorter black hole and easier to walk away from than my Very Wrong Path of the year before: perhaps I am learning after all.

Substance Abuse
I didn't do anything but sit and play the role of the Coding Duck, but it was great fun to watch solved.

White Magic
This was another one I over-thought because I was over-tired.  I really wanted this to be elemental correspondences, and half the humors worked too, but of course then there's the debate over whether Earth or Air is in the North and either worked with the clues given and I could never quite make it work.  It took at least a half hour after someone mentioned the magic square before we tried it and then I felt silly.
50/50
I regret that I crashed half way through scraping data for 50/50.  Initially I looked for statefulness, and then I thought that maybe it was a magic eye.  It was actually a magic eye in my sleep deprived state, but not of anything useful or recognizable.  Then, because I would have felt silly afterwards if the answers came out and I hadn't tried it I called in HEADS and TAILS, but I think that would have been a different hunt.  I'd lit upon 7 as the first level with regular repeats at a reasonable sample size but hadn't gotten enough data to get info out of it yet.  I liked the idea a lot and wish I'd solved it, but then I slept for ten hours instead and woke up when it was nearly Tuesday.

Analogy Farm
While I didn't help solve it, I wanted to note that this puzzle elicited significant glee in the room as it was solved.  Hopefully at some point the dynamic puzzles will be available so I can give it a shot.

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dcltdw
dcltdw
This is a test of the Mugar Omnimax Theatre.
Sat, Jan. 26th, 2013 02:14 pm (UTC)

Is this similar to "WoW raiding content should be easy enough for my raid group to do, not confer advantages to losers-living-in-parents-basements who play one iota more than our group, and absolutely impossible for casuals-who-are-probably-part-of-a-minority-group who play one iota less than our group" meme?

Glad you had fun. :)


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sylvanstargazer
sylvanstargazer
Beth
Sat, Jan. 26th, 2013 05:10 pm (UTC)

Why, yes! Casual vs. Hard Core is the same everywhere (and I am still part of a group that is smaller than usual, intends first and foremost to have fun, pretty much all get my feminism jokes, enjoys excessive challenges and does better than one would expect given our size and level-of-taking-it-seriously but is never at the very forefront of raid progression.)

Some of it is also clearly different puzzling styles. There were more puzzles that required coding this year, or pulling up signal processing software instead of trying to manually force them. On my team I'm one of the worse coders so we didn't have a problem with, say, the fractal word search (iteration 169 was important at one point). Some people who are Puzzlers don't want to have to use outside tools or scripts to solve things, and I can understand that, but many of their puzzles become trivial if people do and then the hunt ends on Saturday.

I mean, some of the puzzles *were* excessively hard and enormous and there *should* probably have been half as many puzzles. But unlike many people, I didn't miss the 2/3rds of puzzles that just feel like busywork. I suspect the right way to do it is have the first half of the hunt be fun and accessible and then have a runaround followed by another 50 puzzles that are wicked hard and you have to solve to win.

Edited at 2013-01-26 05:12 pm (UTC)


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davidglasser
davidglasser
David Glasser
Mon, Jan. 28th, 2013 07:08 pm (UTC)

We (RoboPop) had the exact same interpretations for Uncharted Territories. (Didn't help that the most clear letter was the K.)


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Derek Kisman
Derek Kisman
Derek Kisman
Thu, Feb. 7th, 2013 09:19 pm (UTC)

I agree. There seem to be two types of comments across the web: "I liked this puzzle" (opinion), and "this puzzle is broken" (fact). It's rare to see comments like "this is a fine puzzle but not for me", or "this is a fine puzzle but it stumped us". It especially stands out when somebody's swearing up and down that a puzzle is completely broken/unsolvable/terrible, while somewhere else another person comments about how much fun they had with exactly the same puzzle. ;) Jigsaw is probably the most common love-it-or-hate-it example.

Of course, there's also a lot of legitimate criticism; our Hunt failed in many ways, and several of the puzzles had serious issues (or shouldn't have been included at all). There are lessons other running teams need to learn from us. But the "whinging" really obscures them.

I've been wondering whether this is just a symptom of the puzzle hunt community "growing up". Hunts aren't nearly as rare as they were a decade ago (there are quite a few online every year). Encodings and flavortext and clues and "aha"s and red herrings are becoming standardized; the lustre and thrill of the unknown may have worn off. People who used to have the patience to try anything and everything to solve an inscrutable puzzle - expecting failure but savoring victory - are now veterans who feel there's something wrong when they can't solve a given puzzle. I'm guilty of this, too.

Videogames evolved from being brutally hard (often truly unfair) challenges where failure was common to today's AAA games where the focus is more on the "experience" than the challenge, and everyone is pretty much guaranteed to see the whole plot and the ending if they keep playing. I wonder if that's where puzzle hunts are heading...


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