Deanna (dr4b) wrote,
Deanna
dr4b

MIT Mystery Hunt 2016

ERMAHGERD! MERSTERY HERNT! MAH FRAVIT TERPIC!

Just kidding, I don't think that even factored into this year's hunt. But that said, I wonder if I'll outdo last year's entry on length. Probably not, since we didn't finish this year.

If I was going to sum up this year's hunt with a meme, it would be more like...

yunoanswer


Anyway, last year I was coming to Boston with my boyfriend Chris who hunts with another team.  This year I was coming to Boston with my fiance Chris who hunts with another team (he self-nominated for promotion back in April by buying me a Medieval Madness pinball machine and an engagement ring, so I approved the title change).  Honestly, it didn't change that much, aside from that I felt more motivation to hang out with his friends this time than last time.  More on that later.

I flew in overnight Weds->Thurs.  Didn't sleep on the plane at all; I read Redshirts on the redeye (say that 3 times fast) so I could have some meta with my meta (and later discovered John Scalzi was at Arisia).  So the first thing I did at Google Cambridge was nap for 2-3 hours.  The second thing I did was kibitzing my friends playing Pathfinder over lunch.  The third thing I did was find, but chicken out on, the new fire pole in the office.  The fourth thing I did was real legit work for several hours.  By then Chris had shown up in town and checked into the Kendall (he doesn't believe in redeyes) so after I finished up some meetings at 6pm, I went over as well.  In the lobby I ran into Linda and Brent from Left Out and Chris and Melina and Galen from That East Campus Team With A Different Snarky Name Every Year (aka Alice Shrugged) and talked puzzles and Googles for a while.

Unlike last year, this year Chris went off to Thursday dinner with Metaphysical Plant and I went off to dinner with rhysara and her team Left as an Exercise to the Reader instead.  This was mostly because I completely did not see Sarah at all last year so we figured pre-hunt dinner was a good idea.  Also, I really do like getting to hang out with other teams and learn about how they operate and meet other cool people.  I met up with them in Building 26 and we walked over to the Cambridge Brewing Company, where of course, we promptly ran into Left Out in the frontmost big table.  Then on the way to our table we ran into a table full of Death and Mayhem.  And then we had a big table as well, and there was another big table of nerdy-looking MIT students behind us (but they turned out to just be MIT students, not a puzzlehunt team).  This is also where I found out that Fitbit was a sponsor, because Sarah's boyfriend gave us all Fitbit pens and showed off one of the graph paper books.

In the morning, I ended up getting Kendall breakfast with a whole bunch of people from Plant, because after all these years, their entire team seems to have the exact timing down for "how late can we wake up and still eat bacon?"

I went over to Building 1 to meet up with my actual team (Up Late) and unload stuff from cars, as we bring over a fridge and printer and tables and a ton of stuff.  Something funny: I had brought a Cardboard for Eddie because he asked me for one, so I gave it to him then.  (Cardboard is one of the projects I work on at Google.)  I did not, at the time, know that we were "sponsoring" the hunt.

Worried about not getting seats in 26-100, I convinced my team members to go over there at 11:40 or so, which turned out to be a good idea, as the doors were still closed and the hallway was packed with a bazillion puzzlers.  Kresge was under renovation, so that's why opening was being done in 26-100 and 10-250, and while they claimed it wouldn't just be a stream of the other, we sort of wanted to be in "the room where it happens", so to speak.  (I was wearing a Hamilton t-shirt that I got a lot of compliments/envy on.)

I went up to chat with Josh Weaver for a bit.  Josh also works on Cardboard and he hunts with Plant.  And he told me that it was secret until kickoff but that we were donating 1000 Cardboards to Hunt and there would be a Cardboard puzzle in the hunt somewhere.  Of course, because he didn't want to be spoiled on the puzzle, he had no idea what or when the actual puzzle was (but bizarrely one of the guys I work with closest on the Cardboard team had created the APKs for it, even apparently submitting a fix for them that morning).  But at least this prevented me from having a heart attack when they mentioned it in the kickoff, at least.

So yeah, kickoff.  We were introduced to the 2016 MIT Muttstery Hunt, which started off as a (vaguely) normal skit about how this was going to be a big dog show and how the Best in Show would go to the best dog, and... suddenly the skit got weird, with glitchy slides and other weird things happening.  (Spoiler: The theme for this year's hunt was Inception.  I haven't seen the movie, so I have no clue whether I should have figured that out from the opening skit or not; I assume weird glitchy reality is part of the dream stealing going wrong?)  It sort of ended abruptly and we headed back to our headquarters.

Well, each team was supposed to send a representative to Lobby 10 to get some things, notably a Fitbit book and 10 Cardboards, so I hung out with my team waiting in line for that.  And that was pretty exciting.  Eddie and Ryan picked up the Cardboards, and Eddie was like "...you didn't know, did you?" and I was embarrassedly like, "...no, not until 5 minutes beforehand!"

garzahd and I went to the student center to grab lunch; I got Subway and he got something else in the food court, and we came back, and we wolfed down our lunches getting ready for the hunt to start at 1pm!

And then 1pm came and THE HUNT WASN'T STARTING BECAUSE LUCK'S WEBSITE WASN'T WORKING SADFACE.

Well, this meant we had an hour to kill before Hunt would really start.  So, the bad part was, no puzzles for an hour.  The good part was, it gave me a chance to show off Cardboard to my team!  The really silly thing is that I hadn't even brought my Nexus 5 that I usually demo Cardboard stuff on because I didn't think I'd need it over the weekend.  Oops on me.  But, enough people had Android devices that I was able to get them to download the Cardboard demo app and Cardboard Camera and to try them out.  So that was fun.  Seriously, people were enjoying playing with Cardboard and trying out VR, and I was really happy about it.  I even went out and took a Cardboard Camera VR shot of Killian Court.

(Unfortunately the actual Cardboard puzzle totally sucked.  So that was really disappointing.  And people didn't even want to keep their Cardboards afterwards.  But that's beside the point.)


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Kickoff skit

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One of these names is not like the others

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Getting Cardboards in Lobby 10

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My teammates trying out the Cardboard demo app


The first puzzles did come out to us at about 2pm, and we basically got all of them in The Dog Show round. There were 5 sub-rounds to it, whistle, obstacles, ribbons, tracking, obedience, plus ten extra answers without puzzles (still wondering what was up with that... did they just cut the puzzles or need more for the meta or what?  I guess the idea was supposed to be that the Dog Show round would be the quick intro for power teams and might be the entirety of the weekend for small teams).  While I know that usually we get a very small number of puzzles and unlock as we go, having the whole first round was kind of nice in some ways because it meant everyone had something to work on, rather than 30 people staring at 3 puzzles.

I pretty quickly got into two puzzles basically -- I worked on Off The Leash and (identification for) Dog Food.  Dog Food involved a whole bunch of videos from a Japanese Youtube show called Cooking With Dog... well, it was in English, but all about making Japanese food.  You had to figure out which episode and ingredients by looking at pictures of Japanese food, so basically, I got called over to Alisa every minute or two to identify things, since I taught in a Japanese junior high school for several years, I can recognize something as "oh, that's nikujaga" pretty quickly.

In the meantime, I was really banging my head against trigrams with Pavel for Off The Leash.  Pavel sent me a birthday greeting in trigrams last year, so it was fitting that we were sitting there with Hangouts audio trying to get through this one.  My first thing I did was count up the number of enumerations and compare to the number of trigrams.  I immediately noticed there were 219 letters in the trigrams (73 * 3) but that if you enumerated the words, there were 252 letters.  So, that was 33 more letters.  We knew that the flavor text said they were "missing their lead", and so we figured out that there were 33 words, each missing the first letter.  Pavel put in trigram boundaries and then we spent the next (seriously!) 2.5 hours solving the puzzle.  It was pretty fun but pretty frustrating at the same time (well, not really frustrating so much as this feeling of "why aren't we solving this faster").

Something else my team was trying this year for the first time: Regular "standup meetings" of sorts.  Since the hunt started at 2pm we had one at 4pm, and one at 6pm, and then they ended up missing 8pm and did 9pm instead, and I think the second day they mostly didn't bother, although maybe I was just on so many runarounds that I don't remember them happening.  The idea of the meetings would be to sum up things for everyone who might not hear details otherwise.  IE, which metas to focus on, which events coming up, things we really needed like a dog costume and clothes from other colleges and MIT IDs.  In the end I think email communication mostly dealt with a lot of those functions, so I dunno.

Let's see, I can't remember entirely what I did between 4:30pm (when we finished OTL) and 7:30pm (when we got pizza) although I spent at least some of that time solving Something For Everyone, since apparently I was one of the only people around at the time familiar with NPL flats. We solved that at about the same time we got pizza.  I also helped identify stuff for the Dogged Pursuit puzzle, and I looked at metas with people.

We unlocked the Rip Van Winkle round around 8pm, despite that we hadn't actually solved the Dog Show meta.  I helped identify cities for On The Road ("hey, that's Philadelphia, I'm from there... isn't that Baltimore or DC or something with the corners?") and then Rick and I went off to the 9pm event, which was Adventures in Dreamland.

Adventures in Dreamland was an improv event combined with Battleship.  They had a 10x10 grid of letters for Battleship, and said there were 6 3-length ships hidden in the grid, and that we'd get Battleship guesses based on being able to identify words being clued in improv sketches.  Thing is, improv participation wasn't mandatory, and ship space guesses was pretty much based on wherever Craig decided to ask people for guesses, so... somehow where we were sitting we never guessed and never volunteered to act things out either (though Linda from Left Out was sitting across the aisle from me and she participated in one of them).

I don't know exactly what the cards said (there was a word they clued and maybe some improv skit characters intended on it, since some people went up and were like "uh I don't want to be any of those").

The first skit, cluing the word "mother", had one guy being badgered by the other two, one asking for milk, one yelling things like "YOU DIDN'T GIVE ME MY Y CHROMOSOME".  People got to guess 10 battleship squares after that for the word "mothership".

The second skit, cluing the word "censor"... I don't know exactly what they were doing but basically they were trying to do something and then kept bleeping themselves.  (Maybe they were trying to get past "sensors"?)

The third skit, I don't remember what they did but they were cluing "steward".  By which point I was already calling up a list of "*****ship" words on my phone.

Linda was in the fourth skit, cluing "marksman".  "I have three boys in MY class who do that and their names are Matthew, Luke, and John."

For the record, also, this didn't follow normal Battleship rules as ships could touch each other.  BUT.  There were going to be 7 skits total, but after the 4th, this (below) was the state of the board, and I said to Rick, "oh, the answer is 'underwater mortgage'," and we left and went back to HQ.

IMG_6682 copy

The next timed thing I recall is that we went on the Dog Show runaround at 12:30 in the morning.  (YES WE SUCK WE KNOW DON'T GET ME STARTED.  Just kidding, kinda, but I was really shocked when I learned from devjoe's entries and the overall answer spreadsheet Jeremiah posted to reddit that the Dog Show round was solved in less than 3 hours by some teams.  We were the 15th team to get there.)

Before that I don't know, I worked on some puzzles.  I worked more on On The Road with people -- identifying the streets in Philadelphia from the answer grid, go me -- and I stared at ASCII Characters trying to work out the things being charaded (we were really hung up on the pool and doctor one for a whiile) -- and then The Fire Swamp came out and I was like OH MY GOD IT'S A TOMTOM LET ME AT IT and proceeded to solve the 7x7, 8x8, and 9x9 grids while Pavel and Mike finished the 6x6.  I was SO EXCITED and then we went off to do the Dog Show runaround.  I expected it to be done by the time I got back, but extraction's a bitch.  Pun intended.

That said, I really really enjoyed the Dog Show runaround.  We took something like 8 people on it, which seemed like overkill, but it worked out okay as this was meant to be a "hey, welcome to the rest of the hunt" activity anyway.  (I think at least the first few teams got to it and had nothing else unlocked to work on, at least Chris told me that's what happened with Plant, since I was like "YOU went on a runaround?  What?" and he said pretty much the whole team came.)

The runaround told you to take a path around campus, except that about a quarter of the words were replaced with the word "dog" instead.  (Actually, to be precise, 104 out of 387 words, so 26.87%.)   So a sentence like "Continue dog, passing three dogs on your left, and, chained up, several more dogs to your dog. You'll emerge again under the dog." would really mean "Continue forward, passing three boats on your left, and chained up, several more boats to your right.  You'll emerge again under the dome."  Since we hunt in Building 1 this was a corridor in building 5 that our team knows all too well.  Or sentences like "Enter the infinite dog."

Also, we were being dogged by some guys from Luck.  The first time we saw them we thought they were just another team possibly out on the runaround, and so I was like "Dog?  Dog dog dog?" and they replied "DOG!  DOOOOOGGGGGG DOG."  But then we saw them again in basement 7 and it was like "hey, it's those guys again I MEAN YO DAWG!  I HEARD YOU LIKE BASEMENTS".  So at least it was confirmation that we were going the right way.  Eventually we got to Lobby 13 and met a guy in an elevator.  I think he was supposed to be Lucky, but this is embarrassing that I paid so little attention to the plot that I have no idea.  (In our kickoff in 26-100 we had a guy saying "what the hell is going on??" as things got weird, and so I get the impression this guy played that character in the 10-250 kickoff.)  He told us to keep watching the videos and to call HQ if we wanted to go anywhere and do anything weird, and things like that.


I recorded the elevator encounter and posted it to Youtube so the rest of our team could see it -- at the time I had it unlisted but unless someone from Luck tells me there's a good reason not to, here it is public.

Also he gave us a coin!  Wheee!  I guess this is kinda like the "hey, you achieved SOMETHING" step of the last few hunts, where smaller teams that at least solve the first round will get something like a deck of cards or a treasure chest or whatever.

We came up with this plan of going back to our room like "HEY GUESS WHAT RYAN WE GOT THE COIN THE HUNT IS OVER WE CAN ALL GO HOME YAAAAY" except that when we tried to actually pull it off he just looked at us like "Nice try guys, now does anyone have any ideas for extraction on this puzzle?"


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"You will walk over a black dog and pass two wooden dogs on your left."

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"Pass the array of red dogs on your dog and end up standing in front of a long five-dog dog."

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"Go into the dog behind the shiny dog."

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Being dogged by some dog dogs from Team Dog.

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Our coin for finishing the dog show round.

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"Reenter the dog. Go forward through the dog, passing three dogging dogs, two grey waist-dog dogs, and four dog boxes, all on your dog."

Bizarrely, I feel like I got a second wind around this time (aside from the fact that for the next hour or two I kept inadvertantly substituting the word "dog" for other things -- like "Hey guys, anyone want to go to this study break and get some Red Dog?").  We also unlocked the Opus round at this point, hitting the "only 8 people left in HQ let's work on some stuff together" hour.

Rena and I filled out most of the grid for Crushed Petals pretty easily but we had some problems with the lower right, and we left that sitting for a while.  (We did come back to it at about 6am with Rich and Kenny and managed to get the whole thing filled out and then they figured out the extraction.)  I also spent a while with Matt and later Doug and Eddie trying to identify the correct letters in the sides of Roller Coaster.  Also, like many other teams in the hunt, I tried to get a damn answer besides Louis de Bourbon in the Rows Garden and failed.

Probably the most quintessentially "It's 4:30 in the morning" moment was me, Chris Lamie, and a few others sitting around Behind the Music.  Since there were only like 4-5 people around anyway it wasn't a big deal to keep playing the music trying to identify it.  Rena of course found cowbellsongs.com, which helped a ton once we figured out that the songs were alphabetical, since we could just listen and try to hear something in the letter gap.  ("It has to come between Evil Ways and Gold Dust Woman...")  Of course we also got the NATO alphabet words pretty quickly.  And then we painstakingly counted all the damn cowbells.  And that's when it was just like "okay, what?"  We couldn't figure out a way to convert the number of cowbells into letters or indices or anything else, and after another 20-30 minutes we were pretty sick of watching/listening to the video.  The dumb thing is, in several videos, the guy "missing" the cowbell threw off my count but I didn't realize it was consistent and in every video, especially since aurally I didn't hear him missing the cowbell.  Maybe there was still a drumbeat there?  Some people in the room never even saw the videos and were just listening, so I guess it's not their fault for not noticing... Later I heard that some other teams tried to index the number of times Jeremy said "CUT!" into song titles too.  Honestly, it was a really good puzzle in terms of being a music-identification puzzle that couldn't be Shazammed, and I was impressed that they had some people good enough to play those songs, but I feel really dumb for not solving it, I guess.  Chalk it up to 5am.

I think the last coherent thing I remember doing Friday "night" is sending in a "pitch" for Worldly Possessions, which gave us the phrase "Now pitch item one oh one", so I decided to pitch Google Cardboard as the 101st item on the "History of the World in 100 Objects".  (The solution says they had to schedule a time to do it but I just used the Contact HQ button to do it.)  I feel a little stupid for not keeping a copy of what I wrote, but I basically tried to parody the style that they had going on describing the other items in the puzzle, so something along the lines of "Eschew traditional reality for the virtual with this simple biodegradable viewer.  Ponder incomprehensible spherical dog arrangements from the comfort of your own classroom."

And then I went back to my hotel to sleep.  Note: The Kendall serves breakfast from 7-10am and I was there for it every day (Friday we woke up for it and Sat/Sun I was coming back to the hotel at that time).

Woke up on Saturday around noon.  As I was idly scrolling through Facebook, I noticed that Linda had posted a photo album titled "Left Out Vagabond Tours" or something like that -- clearly it was a photo scavenger hunt of some sort.  The photos were also labelled, and at least one referred to "someone with two non-MIT non-Harvard university branded clothing".  So, I emailed my team saying "If anyone else has some non-MIT non-Harvard stuff it would be great if you could bring it in today; we haven't unlocked this activity yet but there's a clear collegiate tourist thing we'll have to do later.  I have my Carnegie Mellon shirt with me so that'll get us at least one."  I don't know, is that cheating?  I feel like if they request teams to submit photos as a public Facebook photo album, they should expect that some puzzlers will see it. Same for if you have to tweet something, it's inevitable that some other puzzler will come across it.  It's not quite as bad as a few years ago on some road Game I was on where someone on a team ahead of us kept doing a Facebook checkin at each location and we were about 20 minutes behind them the whole way...

Anyway.  I woke up, got some Chipotle, came to campus, and heard that there was some kinda escape room event in Lobdell at 2pm, that we were supposed to send up to 3 people to.  I really wanted to go, but David and Alisa and Eddie were already planning to.  Well, since the Friday evening event had suggested one or two but didn't really monitor, I figured, why not, I'd just go along anyway.  It turned out that they were doing the "6 people at a table" escape room style thing, matching up 3-ish people per team.  But, it was being run by Jeremy and James and Jeremiah and Jasters and (huh, why is everyone I know on Luck starting with J?) so I just asked if I should hang out and they said sure, since inevitably some team would send less than 3 people and there'd be tables that could use an extra player.  And sure enough, that happened eventually; a team sent in 2 people so I got to fill a table of 6.  Even funnier, I was at table 17.  And moreso, Table 16 was half Plant and half Hunches in Bunches, both of which are Random spinoff teams (and 17 is like the "most Random number".  Oddly before I met Chris I would always use 17.4 as my random number, but that's beside the point).  My team was Control Group and uh... actually I forget what team the other two people at our table were from.  Oops.

We had 75 minutes to do a sorta somewhat standard-SCRAP-style thing -- a few puzzles to solve by going around the room to get data, which would give you a code to unlock the second room, which would have more data to solve the other puzzles.  There was kind of an Arnold Schwarzenegger theme going on around the room, although (AFAICR) it only had to do with one of the many subpuzzles.  The first few puzzles to solve involved a sudoku, a star battle, an N-tomino-with-stars, a Regions, and a crossword, with some transparencies.  I did the sudoku and the star battle, although actually extracting from star battle was hard because we had the pieces covering it in the wrong way (you had to solve the star battle most of the way, then use the tominoes to constrain the solution).

The second set of puzzles with the room... I really only did one puzzle for the rest of the time, which was a drop quote.  It wasn't a quote though, it was an equation.  So once I figured that out it was good because there were a lot of "plus" and "minus" words in it, but I did for a very long time have words like "inn" and "medians" in there instead of "men" and "indians".  I think James came by at some point and hinted me on that.  (They were really generous with hints; as Jeremy or someone said, "the point of this isn't to be assholes like SCRAP, we do want some of you to actually solve this thing")  I actually wonder if I should continue spoiling on this or if they may reuse the puzzles sometime.  Unclear.  Anyway, I had about a minute and a half left once I finished that -- time really went by fast!

Only 3 teams finished the whole thing, and none with a ton of time to spare from what I understand.  The final solution ended up being a huge number you'd get out of the smaller puzzle solve numbers, and then use the transparencies with them to reveal a message.  It was very clever and very SCRAP except it didn't piss me off quite as much even though we didn't finish.

I should mention that phones were disallowed like they would be in a normal Escape Room Event, as were taking photos of posters/etc for the purposes of solving, but I asked some of the guys on staff if I could take a few for the purpose of blogging about it later and they said that was fine.  So here are a few, to give you an idea what it was like.

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Getting started at Table 17!
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People taking down some of the info from the posters around the room.
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One of the posters with info/sudoku/etc
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The "Second" room of info and posters
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Final solution during wrapup.

We got back around 3:30-4pm.  After a little while of looking over people's shoulders at puzzles, finally the Ysera round opened for us shortly after 4pm, and it had the Vagabond Tours puzzle that I had some pre-knowledge of.  At last I knew what had to be done -- a bunch of scenes around campus, with a bunch of particular aspects to the people in the photos (photobombing, jumping up and down with peace sign hands, wearing certain college gear, holding a map, wearing a fanny pack, etc... basically being tourists around MIT)

So, I was like "OKAY I'M DOING THIS!  WHO'S WITH ME TO TAKE SOME PICTURES!"

...and nobody responded in 1-134 since they were all heads-down in puzzles.

I went into 1-132, and Cathy H even had a dSLR and was sort of stuck on a puzzle too, so she volunteered to come with me.  Yay!  Then Chris Lamie offered his Harvard band blazer... and instead I just coopted him and his girlfriend Michelle to come along!  Hooray.  We gathered up a few props for the first few pictures we were planning to take (enacting playing frisbee on Killian Court, reading a book under a tree, a few things like that).  I also got a Boston University glove from someone on the team -- I actually don't even know who, but it was perfect since it qualified me and Chris to do just about any photo as he was wearing Harvard gear and I had CMU and BU stuff on together.  Funny thing: despite that a good portion of our team are MIT alumni, nobody on our team had MIT branded gear with them that day.  Eric was wearing a MIT 2010 shirt on Friday but he had left it at home.  Kim had a t-shirt from some MIT thing or another although it was unclear if it would count as "branded".

Team Luck were also giving out the Hunt t-shirts that had been kickstarted at 5pm in Lobby 10 (and selling the extras).  So, we ended up doing this weird thing where we took our first few Vagabond pictures (playing frisbee, sitting under the tree, in front of the great dome) outside then worked our way into 10.  Ian from our team showed up to get shirts around then too, which was really convenient since he could take our shirts and our props back to our team room.  After that, we worked our way all around campus to get pictures.  We went through the Infinite to get some of the shots by bulletin boards and bathrooms and whatnot, and out to Lobby 7 to get the seal and to grab some MIT maps and things.  While we were about to walk out to get a shot outside Building 7, I saw a guy walking up the stairs wearing an MIT sweatshirt and was like "HEY!  Nice MIT shirt, can we get a photo with you?"  Turned out he was on Alice Shrugged and was also doing the Vagabond Tour, so we traded: Chris and I took a photo with him in front of Building 7 and he got a photo with Chris and his Harvard gear in front of the MIT seal inside lobby 7.

We then went out towards the Athletic center, stopping for a photo by the student center as well.  On the way back we spotted a student wearing the least lame fanny pack I've ever seen.  So I was like "Your fanny pack is AWESOME!  Can I get a photo with you?"  We explained that we were doing the Mystery Hunt, which she had heard of but wasn't participating in, and took a photo, and that was cool.  Cathy was like "It's so useful that you don't mind going up to strangers like that."

We lost Michelle at that point when we got back into Building 7 because she had to go pick her mom up at the airport.  Onwards.  Our goals were to make it all the way out to the Kendall T stop and then back through Building 26 so we could eat cookies (Left as an Exercise had a "cookie social" at 5pm because one of their members baked 800 cookies for hunt which was Actually Too Many as opposed to An Awful Lot).  We walked by the Green building on our way out there, and also stopped in the Coop.  We weren't sure what we'd do in the Coop exactly -- we got a photo of Chris with a whole bunch of MIT-branded gear, but also, when we were trying to pose for a photo under some paintings of possibly former MIT professors on the wall, one of the store clerks was like "...can I help you?" and we told him what we were doing, so he went and found us the section with Noam Chomsky books, whom we could label as "an unsuspecting professor".  Then, sure enough, the T picture, and we chased down a shuttle bus to call it a tour bus, and we got photos inside and outside of Stata, and then we went and ate cookies!

Cookie social was technically IIF and LAAETTR, but since Central Services is around the corner from them, there were a few older guys from their team eating cookies by the time we got there.  I asked them all if they were professors.  (No, seriously, I did.)   Also, there were originally cookies that said "THIS IS NOT A PUZZLE" but by the time we got there it said "O SHIT IS A PUZZLE".

Full photo album is here on FB (public for now at least).  Some highlights:

042 Fanny Pack Photobomb Student Center
Fanny pack

021 -
Another interpretation of "someone holding an MIT map"

026 - Seal Jumping Harvard Two-Brand
Peace jumping by the Seal

059-Kendall
In front of the Kendall T stop

066 - Stata Cranes
Peace jumping in Stata

055 Chomsky
With an unsuspecting professor because who would suspect Noam Chomsky of being part of MITMH?


Also...
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The state of the cookies by the time we got there.

So we got back to our room around 6:30pm, and I spent a bit of time assembling the photo album, posting it, etc.  Despite my initial worry of "how are we going to get enough of these given our registered team size?", since we ended up hitting EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM in the end, that wasn't a problem.

Now trying to remember what happened for the next few hours.  I looked at the recently-unlocked Pam Ewing round.  Amy and I tried to start working on Girl Talk but got kicked out of the spreadsheet by the guys in Davis, so instead we printed out and started working on Puzzle Extravaganza with gfpuzz and Pavel over spreadsheets; since it had 8 mini-puzzles we were each able to start in on a few.  But, it turned out that there was some context to do with a newish RPG called Undertale that none of us had heard of.  So even after we'd solved some chunk of the minipuzzles (and gotten stuck on a few), we weren't sure what to do with them.

Sometime around 9:30pm Alex and I printed out Follow the Pipes, a puzzle from an earlier round that nobody had looked at and that I was excited about momentarily because I thought it was a transit puzzle, except within about 10 minutes we figured out it was NOT a transit puzzle.  Sad.  Also, LaVerde's was closing at 10, so I wanted to go over and grab dinner before they close (they usually close like 11pm during IAP).  Unfortunately they closed the deli early!  Doh.  So I ended up grabbing a chicken salad wrap off the shelf and Alex got some pasta thing and we ate stuff there.  Talked about living and working in other countries and all kinds of random stuff.

Got back, worked on puzzles with people.  Unfortunately it was mostly at this point the task of "We've had this thing open for so many hours, we have all the data, how can we get an answer from it?" in so many puzzles; I was hoping to have some insights, but something I think I realized from this hunt is that there are definitely puzzles where if you just go look at the data set without looking at the entire puzzle from beginning to end, you're going to miss some things, especially if you assume that the data set is correct.  Judging when to actually start over can be difficult.

Around midnight there were two things happening: another Red Bull social and also, another TA recitation section for Student Simulator.  We'd been listening to Ryan rant about Student Simulator for a while since he'd gone to lecture twice and still wasn't sure how to solve the part of the puzzle about Theory Pig.  (Note: Our team, like many others, also has several MIT Physics PhDs on it.)  So -- I got my Nexus 9 out and headed over to classroom 13-3101 with Jett and Amy so that we could broadcast the entire damn thing to our team over Hangouts.  UNFORTUNATELY while the whole team could easily see what was going on on the blackboard, they couldn't hear a damn thing the physics "TA" was saying because she was talking into the board.  Oops.  On the other hand Amy actually took notes.  (I think our team solved this sometime Sunday afternoon with the help of a "TA" that came by to hint at it, to be honest.)

IMG_6523

We also ran into more Luck people in the lobby, who basically said that we were at the point where, if our team wasn't a front-runner, we could probably ask for hints and we would probably get them.  I was like "We're at least 9 hours behind Left Out if not more, so I assume we can't possibly be a front-runner."  But we generally didn't ask for hints until Sunday afternoon from what I understand.

I think the next major undertaking I did, after a few other various attempts at looking over people's shoulders to help them cajole their data into better places, was trying to validate our data for Field Scribe, since as I said, I was starting to not trust our data on anything.  Basically, this puzzle has 29 small square photos of things in the Infinite Corridor, from the basement up to the 4th floor.  I think my team had sent a group out to try to solve it earlier in the day, they were gone for 3 hours, they came back with maybe 2/3 of the locations, and no solution.  The middle 12 photos of the 29 (with 7 before and 10 after) each have one obvious letter missing from the photo, and those obvious letters spell out SCRIPTWRITER.  The other 17 photos do not have obvious letters missing, and are taken at weird intersections of photos where it's not clear there's a next letter or anything, but we had a spreadsheet where they were at least still trying to get a letter per photo.

I decided to go out and just find the other 17 photos and take photos of their wider areas to see what I could see.  After about 3 or 4 of them I had come to the following conclusions:

1. The photo content didn't matter at all outside SCRIPTWRITER, it must be the locations
2. We had wrong or ambiguous location data for like half of them in our spreadsheet
3. We were definitely going to have to draw these into some kind of script drawing in 3D
4. This was going to be a pain in the ass to validate
5. My knees were already killing me after Vagabond Tours (which led me to tweet I HATE THESE FRAIL PATELLAE)

Note that I was doing this alone, traipsing through basements and weird badly-lit hallways by myself at 3am.  It was only mildly creepy.

On the other hand, I ran into a whole bunch of friends while doing this.  (Which is at least why *I* was out there for 3 hours.)  Or I made new friends.  For example, I ran into Lance Nathan from IIF twice while trolling around the Building 8 side of things, and finally it was just like HI WHO ARE YOU WHY DO I KEEP RUNNING INTO YOU and we stopped and chatted for like 15 minutes which was really cool because he told me lots of old Hunt stories and stuff.  Then while looking for a goddamn elevator to get up to the 4th floor I saw Glenn and some other people from Rage out in the 8-16-26 area and ended up talking to them for a while (best part of that: they were telling me how, when the hunt started an hour late due to technical difficulties, they were all twitching with flashbacks of 2013).  I also seem to recall I ran into Dan and Nick from Left Out on their way back to the Kendall -- funny thing there is that Nick had started the hunt in California and then flew to Boston to continue puzzling there.

I eventually found a good elevator by using the ones in Building 10 and covered all of the 4th floor (finding, infact, that again, we had some wrong locations as the corridor kind of forks in Building 7 up there)

I was too tired to stand up anymore and still had to do half of the basement, but instead I went back to our room to check in on people and sit down for a bit because holy CRAP did my feet and legs hurt by then.

I got back and helped Kenny figure out the final parts of It's A Long Story.  (Oddly we thought it was more that so many words had palindromes than repeated letters.)

We also unlocked Randolph Carter around then.  I was excited when I saw The Gibbous, Non-Euclidean Program because FORTRAN!  (I spent the summer of my junior-senior year of high school writing CM Fortran at PGSS.) I wrote a Perl script to reverse and format the Fortran program properly, then started filling in the typos and corrections in a spreadsheet, and then uh, I started falling asleep staring at the screen after getting about 70 lines in.  Seriously.  I feel kind of terrible about that, but it was also like 6am.  I started getting ready to leave, then saw Rena and Kenny and Rich working on the Tenebrous, Stygian Test of Knowledge and was like HEY I'VE BEEN TO A BUNCH OF THOSE PLACES so I was able to identify St Martins, Drury Lane, Abbey Road, Parliament Square off the top of my head, and Marylebone and Putney with a little Streetview, and then I was like OKAY I HAVE TO SLEEP and left.

Wait, you think I stopped puzzling then?  Nah, I went downstairs in building 4 and took photos of the Waypoint F location (4-017), the "Illegal to prop open door / MP ROOM" door at 8-004, and "733797 Fan Exhaust Hood" next to the door of 8-014.  Then when I got back to my hotel room I got out Google Docs on my phone and added those to our spreadsheet for Field Scribe.  THEN I went to sleep.

(Someone finished Field Scribe while I was asleep!  Hooray for correct data!)

I woke up Sunday at god knows what time and didn't really care how fast I got to campus.  Sorry, but that's just how it is when you're getting near the end of hunt, and not finishing any time soon, and your entire body hurts like hell from walking back and forth across the infinite corridor 17 times.  I think I got to 1-134 around maybe 2pm?  And then I found Matt Lahut working on a puzzle called Disappointment and was like OMG THERMO SUDOKU YAAAAAY SOMETHING I LOVE!  Matt told me at the time that each Thermo had one thermometer that was a lie, and that nobody had solved the last two of them yet, so I went ahead and solved them.  That was super-fun!  But then what?  We noticed that each "lying" thermometer ACTUALLY functioned as an Arrow Sudoku arrow instead.  We tried a few things like constructing a new sudoku out of those arrows, and then we let it sit for a while.

Or more like, I went to get lunch from LaVerdes, even though it was like 3pm by then.  It worked out okay.  I had a FANTASTIC sandwich from the deli and was really happy about it.

We then called in for hints/help with ISIS -- have I mentioned that Matt and I had the Masyu grid for the Sleeping Beauty meta set up sometime Saturday morning/afternoon, but totally couldn't do a damn thing with it because we were missing ISIS, Blocks and Blocks, and Zodiac Quest, and couldn't quite constrain the two corners?  (We didn't need B&B because we knew where the ZZ had to be in that answer.)  We thought that basically having an answer for ZQ or ISIS would constrain the grid enough for us, so we called for help help help with ISIS.

(I must say, though, that in reality, Matt realized after the hunt that had we just gone ahead and tried to narrow down the 6 possible loop variants, and gotten the right one, and extracted properly, without missing any circles, we would have had from our existing answers the string "kissaur_ra__th_us_o".  So maybe we could have gotten it with 3 open.  I dunno.  Nutrimatic suggests that we should have.)

EDIT> looking back upon this entry, gosh, no, I have not really managed to talk about how not solving ISIS or Sleeping Beauty haunted me all weekend.  It really was looming over us for so long.  In retrospect I wonder if I should have just holed up somewhere for several hours to work out Zodiac Quest instead.  I was kind of expecting Seattle to solve it since they kept putting stuff in the spreadsheet.

Someone from HQ came to 1-132 to help us with ISIS.  Sadly, he told us exactly what we needed to do, and confirmed our identification of the 29 pictures, but... John, a physics guy from UC Berkeley, had been working on this, and he'd written some code to even work with the Ackerman numbers, but... yeah, I dunno, super-log pun intended, we gave up on slogging through it.  Sigh.  It's worse when you know exactly what you need to do but just can't really push through to do it.  I think if we'd had some more serious math people on our team and banged at it more on Saturday it might have been better than trying to do it Sunday.  And no, there was no way to just buy answers, I asked the running team and they said they had decided against that this year.

While watching John work on his logic for calculating Knuth arrows and stuff, though, I solved two other puzzles instead:

1) I went back to looking at the Thermo/Arrow Sudoku and realized that the arrows were pointing at numbers towards the outside of the grid.  Namely, 19, 9, 3, 11, 2, 1, 25.  I was like "That totally spells out SICKBAY wait I wonder if Matt noticed," so I called it in and then went over to tell him.

2) I poked around at some puzzles in Sleeping Gypsy and I found the spreadsheet for Triangular Intrigue, which I had thought looked cool but didn't need more people cutting/taping at the time.  By this point they had extracted the phrases and the TRI clues.  This is going to sound really funny, but they had put in "ventricle" instead of "atrium" for place a defibrillator goes, and in the index line of their spreadsheet had the string "ROMVNWARSHIP" so I came into 1-134 like "HEY WHO IS WORKING ON THE TRIANGLES?" and Jeff/Jess were like "Us, why?" and I'm like "Dude did you realize you have something that looks like "romulan warship" in that column?" and they were like "whoa WHAT" and we realized the one word mistake and that it was really ROMAN WARSHIP.

So, that was good.  But we never did get ISIS and I don't know how to feel about that.  Maybe we are just bad at math.

IMG_6540
Jess and Jeff after solving TRI.  (And Jess's baby inside the icosahedron since it fit so perfectly.)
IMG_6542
PUNCHED CARDS YAAAAAY

Oh yeah, so remember that Fortran puzzle?  In the meantime, Doug had taken my stuff from the night before and corrected typos in the code itself and replaced the Hollerith constants so gfortran would be happier and run the program.  There was some garbled output at first and then I think someone in Seattle fixed whatever bug was in there and got "OVERPUNCH TYPOS AND CORRECTIONS, THEN OVERLAY".  I mentioned we had punched cards, so we went and researched specifically how the IBM 5081 cards worked, since those were the ones we had.  Oddly, while devjoe thinks that the cards were backwards, Wikipedia seems to indicate that they are just fine.  I dunno.

Doug and I both started writing code to do the punched cards overlay... but keep in mind that this was around 6:30pm already.  I had something that would at least output a punched card after a few minutes (using X[A-J] Y[K-R] 0[*S-Z]), but around the time when I thought I had the logic to output the overlays, we got the email saying Setec had found the coin.  So.

Oh, speaking of the final.  Left Out went to start the final runaround sometime around what, 5:30-6pm?  They said they'd need their entire team to do it and would any of us be willing to watch their stuff while they left?  I said "Sure!  Give me the answer to ISIS and I'll do whatever!"  They were like "Ha ha very funny no".  In the end, some Luck staffers came by to watch their room while they did the final tasks anyway.  It seems they were about 5-10 minutes behind Setec at the end.  Very close.

Will and Todd and Nick and Dan from Left Out were nice and recapped the final runaround for me after they got back, too.  Sounds like it was a lot shorter this year, too (appropriate since the hunt was so much longer).

Hunt HQ said they'd be open till 9pm and taking submissions, but I had sort of planned to go over to Random Hall with Chris since he said they were having a reunion thing at 7:47pm and since I'm supposed to marry him I figured I should meet some of the people coming to our wedding.  Also since he never stops talking about it, I figured it'd be good to actually see the place.  So I met up with Chris at the hotel and we walked over to Random in the snow and whined^H^H^H^H^H^Hcompared notes about puzzle solving.

Random party was fun, I got to meet and re-meet a bunch of people (occasionally being like "You were the jellyfish!/octopus!/rainbowfish!/etcfish! last year"), compare notes with Josh about the Cardboard puzzle, tour the dorm and see all of the different floors and decorations, take a photo of the Milk (Molly: "It turned 21 this year, it's old enough to drink!" Me: "Uhh... I am pretty sure that it is WAY too old to drink..."), fail to eat ice cream, etc.  We only stayed there for an hour or so and then went to Building 46 where I ended up helping Plant clean up their room and load stuff into their car, and then we finally eventually convinced people to go get food.  Chris and I went to the Marriott restaurant and after like 15 minutes finally everyone else showed up (we told the host that we'd have like 15 people and they'd be there "any minute!") and so we had dinner.

Monday was wrap-up.  We got up in time to check out of the hotel and grab lunch from Legal before heading over to 26-100, where I ended up sitting with Chris and an intersection of people from like 5 different teams, after going up to Kiran to both congratulate him and say "WTF!".  Probably the most amusing part of the wrap-up was when they pointed out how their Supplementary Info in the 2010 hunt had included "Setec found the coin at 6:59pm" -- since they found it at 6:53pm for real this time.  Undoubtedly the saddest part of the wrap-up was the tribute to Maso.  (Thomas Gazzola, who died when a drunk driver hit him this summer.  I only knew him from DASH as he was Portland's GC this year; the last email I have from him is asking me about Quidditch at DASH7 since I'd co-written it.)  Given only a year to put together the event, losing a major writer/editor/all-around-awesome-person is pretty awful.  Other funnier things involved tales of technical woe, and stories of funny submissions, and prizes for best dogs and whatnot, and funny grails, and things like that.  I think wrap-up was streamed so unlike my personal accounting of the rest of the hunt, most people reading this experienced the same thing I did (or didn't watch and thus probably don't care).

IMG_6790 IMG_6794IMG_6791 IMG_6799IMG_6814

After wrap-up there was a reception in Building 13, with pizza and stuff, although we'd already gotten lunch, so whatever.  We were there for about 2 hours, maybe?  I did get to talk to pretty much everyone I'd usually want to (I think, anyway) and say goodbye to people and all.  The best part was that I went up to Randall Munroe (I'd actually said hi to him in the hall when his team was doing Race Around The Block So So So Many Times and he gave me a look  like "should I know who you are...?") and explained that I met him at Google last year and had given him the XKCD puzzle I wrote for MSPH14!  And he remembered me then!  And we got into a long funny conversation about the almost-there-why-no-answer-yet-argh factor this year and about physics puzzles.  So that was exciting.  And then Erin and Jason from Knock Knock came up and that ended up starting a big circle of people for a while talking about all kinds of stuff.

Eventually we left to go to the airport.  We ran into my friend Daria (who'd been at Arisia) on the bus there, and at the gate it turned out we were on the same flight as Tyler and Jeremy from Luck, David and Tracy from Plant, Darby and Amos from Rage, Jesse from Left Out (and his cousin?), and teisenberger who I actually have no clue what team he plays with.  Our flight was delayed taking off for half an hour, which gave me a chance to chat with Jeremy (sitting a few rows ahead of us) about the cowbell puzzle and whatnot.  (And in the meantime, armed with a bunch of answers, I spent the flight partially at least solving metas.)  I watched a bunch of movies on the flight, but sadly, Inception wasn't available.  I guess I'll have to check it out one of these years.



I should probably edit this entry down, but it's already taken me bits and pieces of almost a week to write it, so I think I'll just post now and worry about coherency later.
Tags: mit mystery hunt, puzzle hunt
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I'm glad I made your day with Fortran. I knew somebody would appreciate it. Even if you looked at it at a time when you were too tired to finish your work on it.

As far as the backward cards go, you can find many, many pictures of punched cards around the web and in that article all cut on the left. That one (labeled as "from another manufacturer") is the only one in the article with them cut on the right, and you have to look through dozens of pictures of cards in google image search before you find any cut on the right. So maybe it wasn't really a backward thing so much as a manufacturer thing (somebody intentionally cutting their the other way so that people would have to use only theirs and not mix with another brand, perhaps). I had never seen them that way until I was handed a box full of right-cut punched cards.
Bah, "teisenberger" -- you should know that andrewids are only 8 letters! His name is Teisenbe! (Pronounced "TIES-n-bee".) And he's on Rage. At least, I'm assuming there was only one T. Eisenberger coming back from Mystery Hunt. Orange hair, yes?

Also:
"...there are definitely puzzles where if you just go look at the data set without looking at the entire puzzle from beginning to end, you're going to miss some things, especially if you assume that the data set is correct." -- Yes. Very yes.
"Judging when to actually start over can be difficult." -- My policy is "always." Which doesn't mean try to solve the puzzle blindly, but read the previous group's notes and then redo all their work to make sure it's right. I did one this year where it was a lot of work, and I violated the policy and skipped some of it. This was a mistake and it turned out to have been wrong.
Yup, orange hair. I met him at CMU once or twice but like 5 years ago, and I wasn't even sure he'd remember who I was if I said hi, so I didn't. He works at Google now apparently, which is how I at least backed up that I had the right name in my head for him.

I think it's possible we don't do a good job of leaving notes on everything. Sometimes we do. And yeah, sometimes it's a lot of work, which is what sucks. It feels like, "do I really want to just spend another N hours redoing all this?" But clearly that's sometimes what you have to do. I didn't mind rechecking work on Field Scribe for the most part, because I like going for walks and running into people and all, and quite frankly I think I'm pretty good at spotting things for runaround clues. Sometimes for normal data checking it just feels tedious though. But clearly necessary. I feel like because we had so many open puzzles at a time this year that it was harder to find people to work with at times too, like if I had wanted to just go back and tackle something, it'd probably be me doing it alone, which is also less fun.
We pretty much live and breathe Google Spreadsheets, so for any puzzle involving data collection, we have a google spreadsheet with one row per item of data we had to collect. And we already always have some sort of chat system, so you can usually reconstruct what happened by reading the spreadsheet and the chat logs. Or you can at least see who was working on it.

For stuff that involves running around all over campus, yeah, I dunno know if I'd have the energy to verify... and of course, it makes sense to try to get things unstuck for a bit before redoing all the work. But e.g. with the ASCII puzzle, it turned out that one of the pictures we had was wrong, AND the set of pictures was incomplete. And I spent way too long staring at it, because it sounded like too much work to redo. (I should have twigged because the cutting and taping was sort of sloppy. Never do sloppy work in a puzzlehunt! ;-)
We live and breathe Google Spreadsheets too, but it's clear our chatlogs are lacking (they're not persistent if you use the in-sheet ones from Google, and our irc channel is just overall). There's talk of switching to Slack or something else next year. I often know who was working on something, but that doesn't always mean I can find that person to talk to them about it.

Also like, in my day, CMU userids were 4 characters only. I think I knew about the 8-letter limit when they changed but gosh darn that was such a long time ago I wasn't even sure that was still the case (wasn't it due to some archaic AFS thing?)
Oh haha, I hadn't thought about andrewids in your day being only 4 characters (duh!) Yeah, they're still limited to 8.

We have used many different chat systems, but we've had one (persistent) chat per puzzle for a number of years now. We had a couple of different homebrewed custom systems back on Sages, then as Rage we tried Zulip our first year, then a homebrew system I wrote last year, and Slack this year.

Slack was really solid and we plan to stick with it.

We yell at people over and over to never use the google spreadsheets chat. This year with Slack people finally mostly listened.
They're not persistent, like they don't keep history? wtf Google?
On Behind the Music, Codex was definitely one of the teams that got distracted by the number of times the character said "cut". We failed to notice the missed cowbell hits for exactly the reason you mention-- it wasn't clearly noticeable from the audio, because the drummer was playing in sync. (We never did manage to forward-solve the puzzle because of this.)

Aside from that, though, there were two other bits of completely coincidental noise in that puzzle that managed to throw us even further off.

The first of these was that Luck kept the original character name of Bruce Dickinson from the SNL sketch. This happens to have also been the name of a real member of the band Iron Maiden. We would have chalked this up to coincidence and ignored it... if it hadn't been for the fact that there were exactly as many songs in the puzzle as there are studio albums by Iron Maiden.

The second was that the songs used in the puzzle were recorded in a range of 26 years. But not just any range of 26 years-- it was specifically the range starting at 1965. Surely it had to be relevant that the range of recording dates just happened to correspond to the uppercase ASCII alphabet (mod 100)? Nope. This, too, was a coincidence.
Oh gosh, we saw that too (they start at 65!). I don't think we caught the range of 26 years. But yeah. We also wondered if the parody album covers at the beginning mattered at all.
Daria wasn't at Arisia, actually (although apparently briefly in the lobby, which I missed). Just visiting town.
Great write-up! [And it's nice to put some context behind the Hamilton shirt I commented on going into kickoff :) - 'envy' is dead on]. I am both amused and chagrined that I think I must be one of the 'older guys from Central Services'...

..damnit, I still *think* of myself as a grad student!
I am really sorry! I probably shouldn't have even put that part in, since it's totally not cool to refer to people as "those old guys on ____ team" but I think it sort of illustrates the simultaneous desperation and determination I had going on that day ("we MUST find a professor-type person! we MUST debug this code to calculate slogs for Ackermann numbers!") and my utter lack of remembering to edit this entry at all.

I did post a whole bunch of photos of myself so I'm accountable for obnoxious things I may have said or done during the weekend :) And I obviously have trouble coming to terms with the fact that all the current undergrads were born while I was in college, pretty much...

Not really anything to add here (I didn't work on the same puzzles as you, mostly, so I can't speak to your experiences other than to say that I'm not convinced that ISIS was a particularly good puzzle), other than: hi! Good to meet you!

--Lance
Well, you were clearly also working on the "wandering through the infinite corridor looking for things at 3am" puzzle :)

ISIS bugged me a lot because there's very little room for error whatsoever, in a mathematical area where there's lots of room for error. You pretty much have to sort all 29 of them properly. If any of them are out of order you'll get a garbled set of indices and a garbled string; even if you have the first half sorted properly, if you are out of order in the last half, you'll just get "THANKS A MILLION ANSWE..." and be even more pissed off. I feel like good puzzle design allows for at least a few things to be unidentified/sorted/whatever, and I just don't get how this is solvable with bugs.