This is going to be a weird write-up because this was kind of a weird Mystery Hunt weekend. As most of you know already, Hunt "ended" at 4:30am Saturday when Death and Mayhem found the coin, making it the shortest hunt in history, and even the team I was playing on finished on Saturday evening, leaving us with an extra day in Boston to fill.
But anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself.
This year I decided to switch Hunt teams for a few reasons, and I think for the sake of everybody it would be better if I don't go into a discussion of it here. The upshot is that after the dust settled I ended up joining Metaphysical Plant, which I guess is a move most people expected to happen at some point anyway after I married Chris. Plus, half the team was involved in my wedding anyway (even some of whom weren't there in person, because we asked people not to give us gifts and instead to write us puzzles for our wedding, Iron Puzzler style, and had a board games and puzzle hunt party the night before the wedding, so that we could have pinball machines at the actual wedding, but that is another story and shall be told another time).
Many people on Plant this year greeted me like "So you finally decided to join us," and I'd reply, "Yeah, now that Chris and I are married, it seemed like I could finally make this kind of commitment..."
(It was funny the first few times, at least. I pointed out that he'd brought me home to meet his Mystery Hunt team waaaaay before I actually met his dad or any other relatives.)
Also, I don't have nearly as many decent photos as I would of hunt for three reasons: 1) I felt a little weird taking pictures of people since I just joined the team so tried to avoid that, and 2) Hunt was a lot shorter, and 3) I only brought my Nexus 5X and it sometimes just decides to not actually take photos when you want it to. I guess maybe I should start bringing a point-and-shoot camera again.
This year I also flew into Boston TWO days early, to work from the Google Cambridge office! Since I switched to working on Tensorflow last summer I actually have relevant colleagues in Boston, so it was great to sit with them for two days instead of having to video chat! Unfortunately, though, the redeye was really really turbulent coming out of SFO and into Boston and for most of the trip as well, so I only got one hour of sleep, so I was in an interesting mental state for most of Wednesday, and spent most of the day talking to people in order to stay awake. On the other hand, I ran into many friends in the office, having breakfast with Rochberg and his wife, and lunch with a bunch of people in my org, and "crossword coffee" with Shabsin and DKK and McMillen and others. During crosswords we decided to have a Google Mystery Hunt lunch on Thursday, which was also interesting, with a wide variety of people representing various teams. So basically, in two days in the office I got to meet a bunch of people that I work with and a bunch of people that I do puzzles with. Exciting! And I even got some real relevant work done, too.
Wednesday I went to dinner with some of my old Up Late teammates at a surprisingly empty Cambridge Brewing Company, and spent most of the evening comparing Pokemon with A&D's 4-year-old son. Thursday I went to dinner with my new Plant teammates and spent most of the evening comparing notes on the southern hemisphere with Koi and Bryan.
Also, through the magic of the Kendall hotel lobby, I got to catch up with other puzzle friends either in the evenings or at breakfasts, so that was good too. This year Left Out moved from Building 1 to 2 so I wasn't going to see any of them in the halls anyway, so it worked out.
I slept REALLY well on Wednesday night having not really slept the night before (whereas Chris, who didn't take the redeye, was up until 3am), but could NOT get to sleep on Thursday night; I think I fell asleep around 4am, and we woke up at 9am to go down and get breakfast and all. I had told Kate and Andrew that we'd try to be at Building 46 by 10am to help unload the car and set up things, but we didn't make it there until 10:30ish. There were still things to be carried and things to be set up, so we helped out a bit and then hung out a bit, and around 11:20 I got a group to walk over to 26-100, knowing that my most frantic part of Hunt is often kickoff and wrapup since I have a bazillion people I want to talk to.
I had Chris save me a seat on the aisle, and then I did indeed spend 20 minutes going around and chatting with people. The only major detail to be noted here is that Sarah gave me an invitation to Left As An Exercise To The Reader's 10th Birthday party (an actual kid's birthday invitation card with a bright balloon decor), which was Saturday afternoon. I said straight out that I had no idea if I'd be able to make it due to building logistics, but I'd do my best. In past years I've often visited LAAETTR for their cookies and ice cream parties, but I knew things would be a little different this time around.
Kickoff can viewed on Youtube, so I don't really need to describe it for you -- you can just watch it yourself, and you should. Summary, though: in a D&D game, a powerful sorcerer named Mystereo Cantos posesses the soul of
Dan Katz the dungeon master and traps the players in the game world forever, and so their characters go forth to try to figure out how to save them, Tron-style, from "Monsters et Manus, the roleplaying game of elves and engineers, where you can level up by solving puzzles".
Puzzles would be released at 1pm, so everyone went to various places to grab lunch, and by the time we had lunch and were all back in our big room in building 46, puzzles were out!
Of course, with 20 people and only 3 or 4 puzzles at the time, we had big groups working on each puzzle. The first one I worked on was Puzzling Is My Middle Name, with Molly and Chris and Cat and Paul, and then I worked on Crossing Your Arms, and then a whole bunch of us sat around listening to and identifying the songs in Before and After Mash (spoiler, it's all things like someone singing the tune of the theme from Orange is the New Black while the lyrics are about Agent Orange, so you end up with Agent Orange Is The New Black, but some of them are really really funny and I highly recommend you go listen to them)
It was about 2:30pm, I recall, when I printed out The Leaning Tower of Sheshach, and said "I hope I don't regret this, but I'm going to at least cut these out so we can start figuring out what's up..." and it took me about 15 minutes to cut them all out by myself. Then I started looking at all the words and translating the ones I could, figuring out that we had at the very least Italian, French, German, and Polish words (and Reid came over like "ok, these 5 are Swedish..."). Chris and some others also helped making a table of translating the words from language to language, and we did know about Atbash but weren't quite there yet while I was working on it - it was clear we'd have to put the squares together and make a tower, but how?
In the meantime, we opened up some of the little go-and-do-things interactions, so the first one was "Rescue the Linguist!", and since Aaron is an actual honest-to-god linguist, he wanted to go do it, and since I am an actual... well, nothing in particular, but my theory on Mystery Hunt is generally that "I flew to Boston and therefore I want to do things that I wouldn't do if I was just in some room in another city, dammit" and so I asked to come along. Plus, I know MIT campus incredibly well for someone who never attended MIT, so that helps.
(But I'd only set foot in Building 46 once ever before this year, so amusingly, I was able to navigate Aaron and myself over to the basement of Building 13 with no trouble whatsoever, but when we got back to the building after the event, I had no idea how to get back to our room. Go figure.)
Anyway, rescuing the linguist involved this thing where they had a big scary box in a classroom, and terminals on either side of it, and one terminal was spouting passwords, and the other terminal was waiting for you to enter those passwords, the catch being that one person had to read them out to the other person, and you only had 30 seconds to enter each password correctly, and the REAL catch was that all of the passwords were things like "
(You can see video clips of it being done at wrap-up, starting at 57:20)
However, as I mentioned, Aaron is a linguist. I have spent a few years of my life teaching English in Japan. He figured out pretty quickly how to communicate what was being sent, and I managed to have pretty good intuition on what he was going for, and so it only took us maybe 5 attempts to get 3 passwords done.
When that happened, we rescued the Linguist, who had transformed from the adult we saw sitting at the table in the opening skit into a little girl who gave us a Linguist token and a copy of one of the puzzles in the Linguist round called Dot Matrix (appropriately printed out on a dot matrix printer).
So, back to the room. I had volunteered to go to the "Charisma" event at 7:30 (there were four events for the weekend, one to test your Charisma, one your Constitution, one your Strength and Dexterity, and one your Wisdom and Intelligence). To be fair, we were blocked on unlocking puzzles at that point and needed either to go to the event or to finish the scavenger hunt. (It turns out we might have been better off just making items for most of the things rather than having Andrew go home and fetch things, but whatever, it's not like we were trying to win.) But, we did have puzzles open at that point, just that we needed the push to level up our characters to unlock the next few puzzles.
In the meantime, I worked on a puzzle called Heirplay with a bunch of people (which, at the time, we were convinced was written by Tanis, but now I see it was written by Dan Katz, huh). This one took us quite a while. It had this flavortext about how the emperor liked songs that reminded him of his son, but wanted to say goodbye to ones he didn't like. We figured out the themes for the groups of liked songs pretty quickly -- birds, dairy, cars, baseball, etc -- figured out some of the weirder ones a bit later like John Candy movies -- and then it was a matter of, WTF do we do with the unliked songs? We thought at first that maybe you had to find another song by the same artist that did fit the category, and this worked a little, but since some were by "Traditional" or "Ensemble" that didn't really seem to hold. We tried listening to the songs, tried thinking about the really constrained small sets, and maybe about an hour in I was like "Wait you guys, what if the bad song titles just describe the thing you fill into the lines? Like Feline would be 'cat', The Rockers could be 'band', umm..." and then a whole bunch of people contributed crossword answers, but it was still like, WTF? I was even like "Well, 'cat' is almost 'bat', isn't it...?" I forget who noticed that "Study Hard" could become CRAM which could become CREAM which would fit the dairy category, and then we spent a minute or two trying to do it to every word before someone noticed CAT BAND + E would be BAT DANCE, and then it was just a rush to figure out the rest of the words and the songs. Whoosh. It was nice to see that one fall since we'd had it open for a while on and off.
I looked at a bunch of other things that were open at that point, like Star Search, and marveled at the stuff people were doing working on Hexed Adventure (which was a text adventure cluing a Settlers of Catan game, apparently), but didn't really have enough time to be productive. Like, there was a Hamilton puzzle, but as mentioned, many people on Plant actually know musicals, so I didn't get to touch it.
Then it was about time to run off to Lobdell for the Charisma event. I had a bit of trouble finding someone else to come along but eventually Lee came with me. We got there around 7:30, and got seated at a table, and then ended up waiting like 15-20 minutes for all the people to file in and get seated. The other two at our table were from a team that I cannot for the life of me remember the name of their team, but the guy was Dave and the girl said her name was Codex ("Oh, you guys are on Codex?" "No, my NAME is Codex... well... I mean, my online name is Codex and that's what everyone calls me..."). Their team was playing the Hunt for the very first time, and they only had 3 people on campus at the time with another 2 joining them on Saturday, and they were all meeting in person for the first time but knew each other from some online game. Which is kind of awesome. So when they heard that Lee and I have been doing this stuff for years and years and years they asked us a bunch of questions about puzzling in general and that's pretty much how we spent the 15 minutes waiting for the damn event to start.
The Charisma event was "Super-Speed Dating", except what happened was, they gave everybody a card with an emotion printed on the back. Ostensibly there were pairs of all of these emotion cards, one red, one blue. Lee got a blue card and I got a red card. Red cards were supposed to stay seated and blue cards were supposed to get up and move, sequentially, from table to table. The idea was that you'd meet someone, and you'd chat, and you'd act out the emotion on your card, BUT you weren't allowed to say that word. After 30 seconds if the two of you decided you thought you had the same card, you'd go up to the front, show the gamemasters your cards (without confirming them with each other), and if you were a match, you were done. Otherwise, blue card would move on, and repeat until you had found a match.
Well, my word was "AWESTRUCK".
As far as I can tell most of the other words were things like FORGETFUL, PARANOID, ANGRY, LAIDBACK, TWITCHY, MISOGYNISTIC, PESSIMISTIC, etc, and not very positive things. So usually something would happen like:
Person: "Uh, hi." [looks around nervously] "Tell me all about yourself."
Me [awestruck] "Me? I. love. everything. Look at this room. Isn't this room amazing? Can you imagine them getting us all in here, in this great event, where we meet so many fabulous people? Just, wow."
Person: "I see. But there are so many suspicious people in this room. I need to get away from them. NOW."
Me: "But the people here are great, so very very smart. And Boston. Wow, Boston. How did Boston know that I was coming and that it should be 60 degrees today? It's so amazing!"
Person: "Boston is a huge fucking conspiracy. Also I don't think we're compatible."
Me, out of character: "Yeah, you seem paranoid. Bye, good luck!"
Occasionally it would be like:
Person, doesn't even bother sitting down: "I saw you talking to her. We're incompatible. Sorry."
Me, still in character: "Wow... that's so splendid how you are in touch with your feelings, that you are so forthcoming with emotion. Just, wow. I'm so impressed with you!"
Person, moving on: [looks at me funny]
Occasionally I would get people who had more positive things, but it'd be clear that they weren't awestruck. I think one person was just BOUNCY or perhaps HYPER. Another person may have just been POSITIVE. So, I was one of the last people to get paired up with my other AWESTRUCK companion (who, to be fair, by that point, seemed kinda EXHAUSTRUCK instead).
(The setup was supposed to be for "romantic speed dating" but it was really just kind of "dark and creepy".)
(These were the cards we were given.)
I was also STARVING at that point since it was around 8:30pm, so I got a sandwich from Subway, and we headed back to the room. I was going to eat my sandwich outside with Julie except that suddenly all these people showed up from Setec to do stuff with our team and that was exciting! So I put off my sandwich for a bit.
First we had the Rescue the Economist interaction, which was playing The Price is Right, bidding on "this lovely Lego chalice!" Every group of 4 people would bid on it, using Price is Right rules (and Allen found a clip of The Price is Right to play the music in the background). Every time the person who "won" would go away and we'd get a new "contestant", and eventually through several iterations they all got to the exact number the Economist needed to be broken out of his repeat cycle.
(Of course almost everybody wrote 17 as their first guess.)
Then, the people who were there to check our items for Replenish the Treasury, aka the scavenger hunt, also showed up to do that. (I went outside and finished my sandwich then.)
These two things unlocked a whole bunch of puzzles! So, I sat down to work on one called Matchbox Twenty. This year had a lot of music puzzles, and apparently Plant has a lot of people who are musical, and also into musicals, however, I think since I'm a few years older than everyone, I had a slightly better skill check on identifying 80's music, so I managed to get around 10 of them ID'ed on my own, and then Joel, Paul, Chris, etc jumped in on the spreadsheet and filled in the rest. Working together we also filled out the boxes and got the answer. It was a fun little puzzle and took about half an hour.
In the meantime, a few things had happened while I was gone. First, Noah and Ari and people had figured out how The Leaning Tower of Sheshach worked, at least, the mechanism to translate the words to each other's languages and then Atbash them. They had made a tower, but it wasn't really spelling anything out (we were getting the words TORSA and LEGNI which meant like, "twisted woodwinds" so we called in SAXOPHONES but that was wrong). I assume that at some point later people either backsolved it or adjusted it to actually have the correct phrase line up -- I don't honestly know.
(Wait, you're saying TORSA LEGNI HORHA isn't a phrase?)
Also in the meantime Reid had apparently been solving metas with only 3-4 answers, so we had a few of those done, like the Fighter and the Despondent Dynast.
And, we had unlocked a runaround puzzle!!! I always get psyched when I see anything that has "Start in Lobby 7" on it, but this one, Running Mates, looked even cooler as you had to do it with two people and have their paths meet up in various spots. Bryan told me "We unlocked a runaround and I've heard you like those and I'm willing to do it with you but I'm working on this Seven Wonders thing right now, so after?" An hour or two later he came up to me like "Hey, I gave up on Seven Wonders, do you want to runaround?" but by that point someone had already backsolved it -- that was from the ABAA fighters round, after all, so the answers were pretty constrained.
(The Seven Wonders thing, aka Marvels of the Ancient World, was basically reconstructing a game of Seven Wonders, and it had unlocked right before my Charisma event, and Chris apparently went to borrow a copy of the game from the Google cafe, and people were working on it all evening and finally solved it after I went to sleep.)
I also helped solve the Wizard meta around then. Ari had been thinking the words we had up to that point ("Send Flying", "Unlock", "Buzz", "Waterproof", etc) were going to be Magic the Gathering cards -- or maybe wizard spells from D&D? We debated that for a bit, like Knock, Fireball, etc, which edition were they from canonically, etc, and Paul was like, "wait a minute, Send Flying, isn't that going to be something like Wingardium Leviosa?" And someone else is like "You mean LevioSA?" and then everyone's like OH OF COURSE THAT'S THE WIZARD HA HA. So we started listing out Harry Potter spells -- many of them we just knew off the top of our head like Accio, Muffliato, Alohomora, etc, and so we're sitting there with _W__AMI_IA_ and I'm like "Two familiars?" and everyone else is like "OWL FAMILIAR! DUH!"
We also unlocked Rescue the Chemist around then, and it said to go to 32-D463 and bring two members who like mixing chemicals together, so Paul and I went over there to do that.
When we arrived at the room they told us to go wash our hands and come back, and we did that. There was another team there at the time, and what was going on was, the Chemist was stuck in a terrible spell of ennui, and the only way to get her out of it was to mix her a good drink, where you'd be graded based on appearance, flavor, adherence to name, and maybe a bonus point for coolness. We also had to make another drink for ourselves to drink (I guess this was to prevent the actor playing the chemist from having to drink anything too digusting). The team before us was trying to present her with a Funky Elfin Castle, which made her feel better for a bit... but immediately sank back into her funk, so of course we had to make her a drink as well.
The words we drew were "Old-fashioned Leather Dragon".
Well, I don't drink alcohol at all, so I don't know much about mixing drinks, but I do know about arts and crafts, so basically, Paul started working on figuring out how to make the proper drink, with things like "Prune juice is pretty old-fashioned, right?" "Yeah, nobody drinks it except my grandparents." and I went about making a dragon out of the supplies they had there -- I cut up a parasol to make wings, made a dragon body and tail out of a big mint leaf, and then used another toothpick as fire-breathing. In the meantime, Paul mixed up whatever the drink was (I really don't remember, oops!) and we presented it, and we got good marks, including a bonus point for an actual dragon, and we got a Chemist chip and went home.
(The scene we encountered upon entering -- another team presenting a drink.)
(They had cards with the adjectives/etc to make up a drink name.)
(Paul was really hamming up on presentation)
(I swear I intended to make a dragon but it really does kind of look more like a parrot, huh)
I got back, saw a few puzzles that had been unlocked, but then Chris said "I have to bring someone root beer for the Most Interesting Man puzzle," so I was like "There's a lot of soda machines between 26 and 16, I know they had root beer in the past, can we just swing by there on the way?" so we went and did that, and... goddamnit, no root beer. So we bought a Coke and brought it over like "Oh, come on, you guys must be sick of root beer by now, we thought you'd like something different," and they harrassed us a bit but gave us the answer to the puzzle, so that was good.
After that I poked around the new unlocked puzzles and saw a few puzzles I was interested in. Tricky Wicket looked like a cricket puzzle, and Chris and I just spent a few weeks in Australia on our honeymoon and actually went to a cricket game! Intercity Rail was obviously some kind of international subway puzzle (although had I known it was written by Philip Loh, after his shenanigans with The Voyage of the Dawn Treader at MSPH16, I would have preemptively run away screaming), which of course would normally be right up my alley, given my international train nerddom.
I did the first step of Tricky Wicket, which was to index the runs into the player names and get a message explaining what was going on with the puzzle, but after doing that I wasn't sure what to do next. And then Lee and I did a bunch of data gathering on Intercity Rail -- I was able to identify the kanji stations as being in Taipei and Shanghai, between us we found the ones in Philly and DC and Boston, we looked up the ones in Madrid, and Allen read the Russian names to find St. Petersburg, and we were making the lists of the cities and the station lines and all, but then I got sidetracked when Allen said that a puzzle required us to go deliver some gum drops, so I walked across campus with him to the same room that we'd taken the Coke to, but this time we gave them some Welch's Fruit Snacks (which are kinda like gum drops) and also had some gum which we just, you know, dropped, except then they dropped gum on us too. It was a pack of Wrigley's Doublemint gum which as far as we could tell was still sealed. We decided to walk back to HQ and then rip it apart, which was probably a good call as, naturally, it had somehow been resealed with a puzzle inside, a dropquote which I solved that referred to some episodes of Seinfeld.
When we got back, I saw a new unlocked puzzle called Pentoku and immediately fell in love, since it was basically a combination of pentominoes and sudoku (but sudoku 1-8 on a 8x8 grid, with 12 pentominoes and 4 leftover squares). There were three grids to solve, and I solved the first one really quickly, but the second one was a royal pain in the neck, and a remote solver was trying to work on it with me in our spreadsheet system and that was just weird (so I asked him to work on the third one instead).
Around this time Chris also wanted to go to sleep (it was nearing 3am), and I said to just give me a little while longer so I could finish that one grid, and basically I guess I finished it at the last possible second that he was willing to wait for me. It was a doozy, but the silly thing is that I was sad I didn't get to do the 3rd grid (and infact I am planning to do it just for fun at some point) -- they solved it overnight while I was asleep.
Speaking of being asleep. So, we fell asleep around 3:30am, and didn't set an alarm, and woke up around noon. I scanned Facebook and emails and found out that HOLY CRAP THREE TEAMS HAD ALREADY FINISHED THE HUNT? Oddly, the first thing I saw was a post from Mike Selinker saying how he "looked forward to Death and Mayhem's hunt beginning on Sunday morning", then I realized what that meant, looked at my email, and... yeah. I reloaded the Plant hunt sheet on my phone though and saw that we were clearly still solving puzzles and still had a few metas to go, though. So, showered, changed, grabbed lunch at Chipotle, and back we went to Plant HQ.
The table we'd been at on Friday had a whole new set of people sitting there, so we took empty seats at the table Cat and Paul and Reid were sitting at. Chris started looking at New Bridge Art, a basketball puzzle, and I noticed that Reid was looking at Tricky Wicket, and had superimposed a dartboard over it. As he explained, it wasn't a cricket puzzle, it was a darts puzzle (and he had even looked up all the names which were from some darts league, and he showed me a video from one of their matches, which made it even clearer). But, how were we supposed to find "near misses"? It looked like clearly anything on the pitch was a bullseye, and suddenly all of those other places were in the double scoring ring. We tried adjusting the dartboard a little to see if that helped. However, Ricky remotely had figured out the part about the Vigenere cipher, and looking at the phrase and the constraints I figured that "near" was just in there to make up the word Vigenere, and they looked up the Cricket darts game rules and solved the puzzle, but it was entertaining to sit in on.
Meanwhile, Chris was stuck on extraction in NBA, having identified a bunch of the years, but wasn't sure what to do next, with finals MVPs or season MVPs. He thought the ennumerations might be of teams, but no, sure enough, it was just indexing into the MVP's names, so I worked on that with him. We did have to redo the year for one of the Lakers years, embarrassingly, where the MVP was Kobe Bryant in 2010, go figure -- did you realize how many times the Celtics and Lakers have met in the finals? The main problem is that basketball teams have really similar colors, so seeing the difference between all of those oranges and blues on a screen is kind of hard.
(Also Molly called us over to identify Pokemon hidden in the text of The Puzzle At The End of This Book -- "I follow both of you on Facebook and I know what you do in your spare time!" -- but that is unfortunately the only involvement I had in that puzzle, which looked really cute!)
(This puzzle is adorable and you should go look at it)
(This is just a random picture of our solving room mid-afternoon)
I started looking at Special OPS, which was a baseball stats puzzle, and even created a custom table in Fangraphs to start downloading the data from, but I had a feeling it was going to be kinda tedious, even for me with my baseball background. But then Mystereo Cantos showed up to fight us in The Big Bad Battle, after people finished the Economist meta, our last character meta. Originally we thought we had to send 6 people to Setec HQ to play but no, they came to our room, which was nice because the whole team got to see it.
The Big Bad Battle was fighting Mystereo on a wooden hex board, and each of us had to assume one of the characters in the hunt, aka Fighter, Cleric, Wizard, Economist, Linguist, and Chemist. I was the Cleric. We would move around to spaces on the board, and then he would pose a question where the answer was one of our meta solutions, and I feel bad I can't remember the exact question, but something like "Your next attack comes from an orc and a kobold at the same time, how do you react?" and the Fighter would have to step up by saying "I take them out with my ONE TWO COMBO!" The rules at that point were that the character would have to roll a d10, and answer 11 trivia questions minus whatever number they rolled, in 30 seconds. Help from the rest of the team was permitted but the answer had to come out of their mouth. Most of the rest of our team got lucky and rolled high numbers, but I rolled a 2, which meant I had to do 9 questions, and worse, mine was the hardest pattern to pick up on quickly (well, IMO anyway, maybe I'm just biased because I felt like I was under pressure!). Like, the Wizard's OWL FAMILIAR questions were all things with "Hoo" in them, like Cindy Lou Who, Herbert Hoover, etc. The Economist's ARCADE GAME INCOME meant that the answers were all like Quarter pounder, Dime a Dozen, Nickelback, etc. The Fighter's ONE TWO COMBO meant they got all Double Dare, Double Trouble, etc type answers. Mine, from SMART BALMS, meant that I got all... __A__ __A__ answers, that is, two words with an A in both words.
After each round of correct trivia, we would get to remove hexes from the board, which revealed lines underneath them, and after a few rounds, Koi figured out that the lines were making letters which spelled out HIVE MIND, which was the correct answer. Hooray! We had at least driven out the evil spirit long enough to get the list of trivia questions from him!
(They brought over the hex game in this huge cardboard covering.)
(This is one of my only photos of the Hexed Adventure still up on the whiteboard.)
(The Nexus 5X is a piece of crap and so this is the last photo I got of the board.)
We then went to look at the puzzles that had unlocked recently, and I zoomed in on one called Dispatches from the Foreign Service Units because it involved a bunch of UTF-8 alphabets including Japanese! Tracy was also looking at it (since she actually is of Japanese descent) and so I pulled over a chair next to her to work on it. We figured out that the Japanese part was Tokyo Disneyland and the blocked out letters were チケット pretty easily, and we called on Allen for the Russian again and he figured out the missing word was "Element", and I searched for the Hebrew to find that particular Bible chapter and it was Genesis 28, or כח, and we did some map searching and some IMDB searching and whatnot, and people identified the Phaistos disc, and Ari managed to find us the particular cross that the Greek letters were on. I'd identified the UTF-8 codes for all of the letters in the range that was empty on the puzzle grid, and so we found all of the letters (though it was a little weird since the Polish city Ełk used one weird Polish symbol but otherwise two normal English symbols). I plotted out a 3x16 grid with the letters in their UTF-8 table and got something that looked like this:
X X X X XXX X X X X X X X X XXX XXX
since I had made a slight error and not transcribed one of the squares, and squinted at it and called in HILO which was wrong, and by two minutes later when I realized what I did wrong, someone else already called in KILO. Heh.
In the meantime, Chris and Josh and Joel had all been working on Radio Alphabet, which had a grid of 72 radios, each of which played a clip of just the word "RADIO" from various songs. There were also accompanying images to help identify the song clips and also to associate each of them with a letter. So, I stepped in to identify more things (like Elvis Costello's "Radio Radio", Autograph's "Turn up the Radio", Wang Chung's "Everybody Have Fun Tonight", and after looking at the pictures, Lisa Loeb's "Stay" and a few others), and to also correct some of the data they already had, and then we got enough of the letters (I'm not sure we had "EXAHERTZ" but we figured out X-Ray anyway) to get the answer. I thought this was a cute puzzle because, as usual, the sound clips were way too short to Shazam, but the pictures gave you enough context to guess on some of them to find the songs that you didn't just recognize -- and also the common letters were all fairly popular songs like Radio Ga Ga, Brown Eyed Girl, Video Killed the Radio Star, etc that people should just be able to recognize. It was sort of amusing listening to the word Radio Radio Radio over and over again -- almost like "dog dog dog" from last year but not quite as pervasive.
Around then Allen also finished video production on our entry into the Elf/Dwarf Brawl. I didn't see the actual puzzle at all until much later, but it was a parody of the East/West Bowl from Key and Peele (another thing I'd never seen before), and when solved, you got the instruction to SEND TWO CLIPS USE MIT AND OLIN COLLEGE. I had seen email along the lines of "We need to make a video, any volunteers?" but was preoccupied or running aorund at the time, I forget which, so what happened is that Ari and Malia recorded a pretty amazing video, added with Allen's video editing skills. (I have no idea who else was involved in writing the script and/or coming up with the amazingly stupid names for it, so it's not that I mean to leave you out, I just don't know.) So they showed the video to the room and we were all very amused and impressed.
You can see their video in the Hunt Wrap-up as well, starting at 1:02:30. Since I wasn't answering phones I had no idea about this, but Andrew and Kate and others mentioned later that several staff members had been complimenting them on the video when calling back to confirm answers, so they weren't quite as surprised that our video got shown.
After that Josh and I and a few others started staring at Horse Code, trying to figure out which letters we could pick out as substrings, and then somehow we figured out the hook that these were all the answers to "What does the fox say?" and so using that, we were separating out strings as wa-pa-pa-pa-pow and gering-a-ding-a-ringering and whatever, working out the individual letters -- and that is where we were when we finished the Curious Cube meta, our last, and found out that two things were happening:
1) we were ready to go on the final roundaround, except
2) we had to do the final hunt event first, which tested WISDOM and INTELLIGENCE
Setec had been running private versions of the events from the 2nd event onward for teams who were blocked by it, so we were going to get our own private version of the 4th event. (The 2nd event to test CONSTITUTION was similar to the Presidents Races at the Washington Nationals games, and the 3rd event to test STRENGTH and DEXTERITY was basically a huge game of Hungry Hungry Hippogriffs (aka people on carts being pushed by another person gathering letter balls) combined with Bananagrams -- you can also see pictures and footage of it on the final wrapup video, or here's a short video that was posted to Twitter).
Anyway, the 4th event was Pub Trivia but with a twist. The clues were quizbowl-style pyramid clues but they were always slightly off in a way. There were sets of 4, and you'd have to change each answer that you thought was correct in one of 4 ways for each set to get the subclued correct answer:
1) reverse initials (ie, Thomas Jefferson -> John Tyler)
2) anagram (ie, pool -> polo)
3) reverse the meaning (ie, Under the Sea -> Over the Rainbow)
4) take a substring (ie, chameleon -> Leo)
I really don't remember any of the clues exactly, but once we figured out these rules we didn't really get any of them wrong. Like I remember at one point being clued about the plot of Bye Bye Birdie but then mentioned being first performed on Broadway in 1964, so it was actually Hello Dolly. Or about the Golden State Warriors beating the record of this team and just blurting out Boston Celtics (the opposite of Chicago Bulls).
We had the option to either quit at 9 points and wait for an entire half hour to get credit, or we could just spend the entire half hour gaming the system for more quiz points for fun, so we opted to do that, and at 6:17 we were released to go start the real final runaround.
(Aaron volunteered to be our designated writer, but the entire room was calling out answers.)
The Forbidding Final Fortress runaround started (for us, at least) on the 3rd floor of Lobdell. We went into a room where there were 7 hexes arranged on the floor, or 6 surrounding a middle one. Mystereo Cantos showed up (we somehow lucked out that our Mystereo was always played by Roger Barkan; I had been joking for half the hunt that at some point we were going to have to face off against Dan Katz in a dark room, and we never did. I asked Roger about this at wrap-up and he said it was just luck of the draw) and stood on the middle hex, and the 6 people representing the 6 characters stood on the hexes around him, and this time he just fired off trivia questions at us, like, "What's my favorite Beatles song?" and the Economist had to think of Penny Lane because of the earlier answers all being coins, or "What magician am I thinking of?" to the Wizard, whose answers all involved HOO from his owl familiar, so Harry Houdini. Etc. As people answered questions they could turn over their hex which revealed a number (or 2 numbers, making a total of 8... it is true that at first we thought the number was 58 rather than 5 and 8), and we also had a list of our inventory of items after selling them to the merchant, so they were all like, the Wicked Cursed Broadsword -7, Calculator of Extrapolating +16, etc. Each one was tied in with a character, so if you took the phrase HIVE MIND and applied all of those item modifiers properly, you got the phrase GROUP HUG.
I am not sure that this was written up on their site so let me explain it more clearly:
Item Mod Char Hex num Wicked Cursed Broadsword -7 Fighter 3 Wand of Vanishing +9 Wizard 2 Holy Water of Blessing +7 Cleric 7 Dictionary of Translating +3 Linguist 5 8 Cursed Bunsen Burner -1 Chemist 1 6 Calculator of Extrapolating +16 Economist 4
Now take the original ability HIVE MIND and apply the modifiers to each letter based on which hexagon number the character had been standing on. The chemist was standing on 1, so H - 1 = G. Wizard on 2 meant I + 9 = R. Fighter was standing on 3 so V - 7 = O. (Hopefully I can stop there and you get the idea and see what it is spelling out.)
So we give Mystereo a group hug and he is banished and the DM comes back. We discover that under the DM's hex was the "final adventure" he wrote for his party to carry out, in the hopes that they would recover the two-sided die before Mystereo did, so we are off to do that, starting from a "magical gold dispensary, across from the ruins of an ancient treasury" near "a solemn stone chamber commemorating the parties that have fallen in the past", or in other words, the ATM next to Lobby 10 (where there used to be a bank, and where they list all of the MIT alumni who died in the military).
I'm not going to go into too much detail because really, the next half hour was spent walking over to the Sloan Building (E62), through corridors and streets described in D&D terms (like at some point they mentioned a bunch of ents having been placed into bondage which were trees with metal reinforcements, or like the Morris and Sophie Chang building was an old man and woman raising rods to produce a dazzling display of lights), and we found the coin behind one of the light towers, at 7:22pm.
(Standing on hexes)
(Discovering the final runaround adventure hex text)
(Starting outside 10-105)
(One of the parts involved "the ceiling twinkling from boxes of gems in myriad colours")
("As you descend, you look back to see red, yellow, and pink flowers in a sea of blues and greens..")
(Finding the coin behind one of the "diamonds")
(We put the two-sided die on a light block so everyone could take photos of it)
(And here I am with the coin! Yay!)
Amusingly, on our way out of Lobdell we encountered the Hunches in Bunches team coming into Lobdell, to which I said "Well, THAT was random..." and everyone else groaned. Of course, right after we found the coin we took photos of it and hung out and then had to let Scott put it back in its place (we didn't get to keep the coin) for the next team to find, which was basically just in time as Hunches in Bunches arrived just as we were leaving yet again.
So, that was the end of Hunt. Except... we're not used to finishing on SATURDAY...
We went back to Building 46 and cleaned up the room and loaded all of the stuff into people's cars. A bunch of us went to Meadhall for dinner (it is difficult to find a place to eat with 15 people on a Saturday night when the Patriots are playing, see). When I got back to the hotel afterwards I opened my laptop because I wanted to finish Horse Code, only to find that Josh had finished translating all the letters (though he said that it helped when I pointed out which of his original letters weren't legit Morse) and had solved the puzzle. Of course, calling it in was hard because our team phone wasn't going to answer at 12:30am, but he sent in an interaction request to call his phone and sure enough it was correct.
On Sunday a bunch of us went to get dim sum at China Pearl downtown, and then a bigger bunch got together to play board games, and there was also a party that evening at Random Hall that some of us went to. It seems that most teams that finished on Saturday spent Sunday hanging out playing board games, as far as I can tell, with the exception of Dan Egnor and a few people from Left Out who had a minivan and went out to the suburbs and did some escape games. Chris and I had thought about the idea, but it was like, "how the hell are we going to book escape games in Boston on less than a day's notice, on a Sunday, when there are going to be 500 extra puzzlers in the city with nothing to do?" and didn't even try.
I had sent Sarah a text message asking what she was up to sometime Sunday afternoon, but her team was still solving, and it sounds like they were the 17th team to finish, at like 5:50pm or so. I think they did a pretty good job of Price Is Righting the hunt, really, being closest to solve without going over, and actually getting an entire weekend of Hunt. We ran into some people from their team while getting dinner at Friendly Toast and congratulated them.
After we got back from the party at Random a bunch of people were in the Kendall lobby hanging out, including James and Drew from Death and Mayhem, so I got to hear some fun stories from them, and they also were sharing a bunch of leftover cakes and cookies because that's what happens when you prepare snacks for a whole weekend and finish hunt in 15 hours. Derek and Dan and Jeff and Jessica were all around too, and eventually the half of Plant that went to dinner elsewhere also showed up and I hung out with them until around midnight.
We got to wrap-up super early as well since we'd just checked out of the hotel, and so I got to also talk to a bunch of people I hadn't seen yet like Kiran, and I also went up to find out the names of some staff people for Molly since our Economist had said "I recognize you from Twitter, we're in the same city!" but she didn't catch his name, and yeah, generally went around talking to people to fill in the time before wrap-up officially started. (I did warn Bryan and Chris that saving me a seat in the middle of a row was folly, but...)
As mentioned several times, wrap-up is on YouTube, so you can just go watch it if you want to hear what was said, better than I could report/transcribe it. I'd already figured out that we were 7th place after talking to people from all the other teams, but it was fun to see it on the slide (and given that the only other time I've finished hunt was 7th place with Up Late two years ago, now I guess I have a trend going...)
(I don't always finish Mystery Hunt, but when I do, I finish 7th.)
By the way, it should be noted that we did the Big Bad Battle at like 2:30pm and the Final Forboding Fortress at like 6:30pm, which is why at first I didn't really get the distinction between "29 teams finishing BBB and 17 teams finishing FFF" since they seemed so close together for us, but for most teams they probably weren't, we just had some pretty good meta-crackers that happened to get stuck on one of the BBB ones, basically.
This year there wasn't a lot of sponsored social events, or even a hunt t-shirt or anything like that, so after wrap-up people just dispersed to go to the airport or go home or whatever. We rode with Molly because her flight was around the same time as ours, got Legal Sea Foods for lunch in the airport (finally!) and paid for DirectTV on the flight so we could watch the Warriors beat the crap out of the Cavaliers.
Also, I feel like this would be an appropriate time to put in a plug for Francis Heaney's Progress for Puzzlers, if you haven't seen it yet (make a donation to organizations like Planned Parenthood and the ACLU and such, and get puzzles)
And on a less political note, Palindrome's practice hunt that they wrote is available online as well, if you have a Panda Magazine account.
And on a non-puzzle note, I'm going to hopefully get my act in gear and move over to Dreamwidth one of these days. Maybe I'll even start writing more than once every 2-3 months again, who knows.