The 2016 MIT Mystery Hunt is in progress

"MIT Mystery Hunt" Indian head pennyThe 2016 edition of the annual MIT Mystery Hunt started at 2pm yesterday, based in and around that famous university, associated with Boston in the USA.

A quick summary is that it’s, arguably, the world’s most extreme open-participation puzzle hunt; a low-four-digit-number of players form a few dozen teams (of maybe as few as five players or as many as 125) and spend up to, perhaps, two-and-a-bit days solving puzzles non-stop, taking as little sleep as they dare. There is no limit to the difficulty of puzzles; many of the world’s very best solvers take part, and many of the puzzles are written with this in mind. It’s a practical assumption that most teams will be able to directly or indirectly be able to contact a postdoctorate academic in virtually every subject under the sun, high-brow or low-brow, whether in person or online. For a longer description of the hunt, see last year’s article on the topic, complete with links to write-ups of what it feels like to participate and to some of the most spectacular puzzles.

The hunt does aim to offer such a variety of not just puzzles but also other activities in order to give as many people as possible the chance to join in the fun and contribute whatever their special expertise is. It’s practically guaranteed that there will be several puzzles which will get people out and about (example), there’s very likely to be a twisted variant on a scavenger hunt (example), and it’s virtually traditional for there to be a “bring some food to the team running the hunt” puzzle – with the gimmick that the larger the team, the more elaborate the requirement for the meal to be supplied (example). There are also live events as part of the hunt, with this year’s “Escape from Mars” event sounding rather like it might be relevant to this site’s interests.

If you aspire to play all in the world’s most remarkable puzzle challenges, the MIT Mystery Hunt is one for your bucket list. Being there in person for it must surely be spectacular, though helping a team remotely is the next best thing. (This site is aware of suggestion of at least one remote cell of solvers in London, and believes there may be cells – or at least individual solvers – in at least Cambridge and Manchester.) For the rest of us – and this site knows, the hard way, that the event is out of its league! – then the puzzles and their answers are usually released fairly soon after the event finishes, so that everyone may enjoy and admire their incredible design and artifice.

On the other hand, if the MIT Mystery Hunt isn’t out of your league, why not consider attending the UK Open Puzzle tournament next month? UK solvers can qualify for the country’s team at the World Puzzle Championship!

10 Comments

  1. Midnight on Saturday (so the Hunt is probably 3/4 over for the bigger teams, if not more) as I write this, and the medium-size team I’m remote solving with are probably about where we usually are at this stage, which is stuck on almost everything but determined not to ask for help… We never get near the later stages of the Hunt but we usually solve some metas. Currently we have seen 60 puzzles and have probably solved around half of them.

    Some puzzles I’ve been glad to be a part of solving, some have involved me admitting my geekdom more than I would perhaps wish (recognising Star Wars tie-novels from the covers without looking them up!) and some are still baffling even after I’ve seen the solution method. So par for the course really. 🙂

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    • Well, you say that, but fifty hours in and no sign of a winner. This is not “overstaying its welcome” territory – Is it Hunt Yet? still says YES rather than STILL, as per 2013 – but the suggestion that HQ would stay open until at least 6pm on Sunday and the recent years’ history of multiple teams getting to see everything that there is to see seem not to be likely to be so much of a factor this year.

      I have been working day shifts on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and so have seen 0 puzzles. Once I’ve got these night shifts over and done with, I look forward to enjoying them.

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      • I was just coming back to say “24 hours later and we’re still going…” 🙂
        So clearly there’s something going on. Then again, the organisers also had a last-minute crisis with their hunt running software which tracks solved puzzles for each team, which may be creating difficulties too, especially given the size of the thing (our team spreadsheet lists 120 puzzles now, and there are probably about twenty more that haven’t been unlocked for us yet.)
        That’s the dilemma, of course. The constructors have to cater for the sophisticated teams (not necessarily huge ones, of course!) to ensure that they have a decent weekend of it. But the rest of us can get a bit lost in the crush, especially when rock-hard metas can get in the way of progress.
        [My own opinion is that this year hasn’t felt as cohesive or clever as last year, although I have certainly enjoyed most of the puzzles I have tackled.]

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        • I’ve seen it suggested on Twitter that at least one team may be on the final runaround by now, but this hunt may yet have another trick or two up its sleeve!

          Very much looking forward to finding out how history treats this year’s edition and what impact it might have on what is set to come in future years.

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        • Setec Astronomy have won after just less than 53 hours. Wikipedia suggests they have won three times before but not for over ten years, so (modulo the massive amount of turnover that can happen in that time, particularly when a team wins time and again and thus sets time and again) they are clearly extremely well-versed in the form and may have been storing up ideas for years. Congratulations!

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          • Ironically, I was too tired to stop up much past my last message and thus just missed the announcement that it had ended! So I don’t think they weren’t that badly off in terms of overall length, in the end.
            But yeah, congratulations to Setec.

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          • Setec is a wonderful team, and their hunts were some of the best (although they did construct in an era which is a bit different than today). In my first seven years hunting, six years were either a Setec-won or a Setec-run hunt. They haven’t won since because they have had a policy against it, even going so far as to drink after big solves to slow themselves down. This policy was humorously referenced in the 2010 Hunt:
            http://web.mit.edu/puzzle/www/2010/puzzles/2009/solution.html
            http://web.mit.edu/puzzle/www/2010/images/si_2009_large.png
            But I overheard someone say at wrap-up today that they had been thinking of getting back in the game, so to speak, for a few years now that they have newer team members and an almost doubled size (from a crazy small 20 to 40). Good for us, I think!

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            • Thank you for dropping by and leaving a comment! I saw what purported to be a photo of Setec on Twitter, observed that there were 36 people in it and wondered just how many remote solvers they had in addition.

              Unrelatedly, I was amused and a little amazed to see poker mega high roller Scott Seiver good-naturedly grumble about his Mystery Hunt team only finishing second. It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that poker players could love the Hunt too!

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          • Setec is small (well, by current somewhat insane standards), but made up of truly amazing people, usually with several US or world champions in different kinds of puzzle competitions. They have been known to get drunk whenever they suspect they are in the lead, in order to avoid organising. Which is why they aren’t winning every other year, and why it was a surprise to hear of their first place. This year they got the coin before Left Out by solving less puzzles than them, but submitting the two final meta solutions within 5 minutes of each other and then not messing up the simultaneous photos.
            Stats: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1obRKVcCd71wVuQp7NfrIOhZSjvzOWQqvs-FjlWnxxL8/edit#gid=2136835959
            Temporary puzzle repository: http://huntception.com/
            Behind the scenes: http://devjoe.livejournal.com/51436.html

            Reply
            • Very good to know. I saw that photo and was looking for people who I might know, or might know of. Never sure whether this is a question that is considered impolite to ask or not, but who is who?

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