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Solutions are up for this year's Mystery Hunt -- or mostly up; metas, metametas, and a few scattered others appear to be lacking them. Well, whatever.

EDIT: Quantum Minesweeper solution is now up, so I've updated this entry accordingly.
EDIT 1/23: I've added some more stuff now that a few of the meta solutions are up.
BIG EDIT 1/26: It turns out out there's a good reason why the hunt software was lacking its usual capabilities here! [livejournal.com profile] devjoe, who was on Team Luck, goes into it here.

So this year I was on Donner Party (again). Seems a few of my other friends joined Donner Party this year; Kevin defected from Codex, and Nic was on it too.

Results don't seem to be up yet so I don't know just how behind we were. I assumed we must be really behind all the time; I think we reached every round on a timer. (We didn't solve any of the round metas or metametas, and only one or two of the sub-round metas.) On the other hand, we were already on the Endymion round by the time the coin was found (along with everybody else I guess), so maybe we weren't as behind as I thought. Still, I feel like one of these years I need to get back on a bigger team; Mystery Hunt is considerably more fun when you're actually in contention for the win, you know? Also when you stay up all night and there are actually a good number of other people staying up all night with you. (Due to my staying up all night, I ended up going to bed on Sunday shortly before 7 PM... and about 5 minutes before the coin was found. It was probably found while I was, like, brushing my teeth or something.)

I tried to get people from Baker House (where I now live; I guess I haven't mentioned that) to join in but none did. Melissa mentioned that her brother does Mystery Hunt but didn't join in herself for whatever reason. I did however recruit Adam Funk from Truth House for the Hunt; after the first day, when other Bakerites failed to join in, I spent much of my solving time in his room instead of in public areas of Baker like I'd intended. Unfortunately these past two weeks have been quite busy for me and so I wasn't able to prepare Adam, or others, as much as I should have, but he still contributed quite a bit, I think.

Before I talk about the individual puzzles, I want to talk about how just how the Hunt was run this year, and in particular the hunt website/software. Simply put, I didn't like it. The Hunt for the past few years had used the same software for its website and it worked really well. This one... didn't. Not in the sense that it was buggy, but in the sense that it was just lacking the (even basic) features I'd come to expect from the past few years. It wouldn't show you which puzzles you'd already solved; you had to keep track of that yourself. (Because I started late, I initially assumed the check marks in the dog show round indicated the puzzles we'd solved. Nope.) It wouldn't show you what wrong answers you'd already submitted; you had to keep track of that yourself. There was nothing explaining how round advancement worked or anything like that, let alone showing your current score (were there scores? I don't know) or time left until next unlock. (When I said above we advanced to every round on a timer, that was an inference.) No list of all puzzles unlocked so far. Etc. Fancy 3D animations are not much of a replacment for actual functionality.

Not to mention the most obvious annoyance of all -- every time you made it to a new round, you had to go to a different website! One with crazy long unprouncable strings of letters in them that you couldn't just easily tell someone. Part of what I want in the Hunt is to be able to easily recruit people during Hunt-time and bring them in without having to get them officially added to the team. Being able to just tell them the website, here's our username, here's our password, works really well for that. This doesn't.

Which brings me to a different point -- I'm not sure I like how Donner Party organized things this year. In the past I'd solved for Manic Sages and Codex, who each used (IIRC) a combination of IRC and a MediaWiki-based wiki. This worked really well; I could let someone else use my account for the wiki, and anyone can use IRC. More recently on Strange New Universe and Donner Party we'd used (IIRC agin) IRC (still pretty straightforward) and Google Docs. The latter is a bit more of a pain, I can't just *tell* someone something, I have to use the software to share them on it.

This year we used Google Docs, Trello (acting like the "list of puzzles" page on a wiki), and Slack (substituting for IRC). This... oy. (It was especially a pain combined with the Hunt website address issue I've mentioned above.) Trello was a good addition organization-wise, but I had some trouble adding Adam. (Actually we were using a team account, but I forgot that. Oops.) Still, it eventually worked. Slack, I couldn't figure out how to add him to the chat at all.

Like I said, what I want is to be able to quickly and unofficially add people mid-Hunt. This means either any accounts used should be team ones and I can just give them the username and password, or should be throwaway ones (like on a specialized wiki, rather than on Trello as a whole) that I can also give away. The Trello + Google Docs system was good, about on par with using a wiki, but slightly more troublesome to add people. But Slack seems like a definite downgrade from IRC; having a channel history is a plus but not being able to add Adam is a problem.

(Also, getting back to the Hunt itself, is it just me or were there a lot of unnecessary PDFs this year?)

Anyway, enough about that; time to talk about individual puzzles!


Mad Dogs -- I worked on this one a little; a lot of the basic idea had already been established. I don't think anyone on my team thought of looking at the seed number, though. Especially since I'm not even sure we noticed they were all in round 1.

The Dogged Pursuit of Justice, AKA: Caught Red-Handed -- The solution mentions that they needed to put a date in the flavortext, but I don't see any date in the flavortext here. Was there one? Is the version here different from the hunt version? I honestly don't remember.

Anyway, I worked on this one, I figured out a lot of the card nicknames; but we basically never got past that. We figured that the Obscene Fourteen had to be the fourteen who were neither dead nor captured, but we certainly never tied it to The Blacklist (I'd never even heard of this show) or basically anything past getting the cards for each character.

Gaming the System -- I didn't do anything on this one; I came in, saw the current progress, and had no idea where to go from there. I feel like this one might be insufficiently clued; I don't think video games, as a general category, clues the Konami code. Like, all the correct answers should have been Konami games in order to clue it, y'know?

The Contest -- Uh... this is not a very explanatory solution. But OK, I think I get what's going on. That said, there seems to be a mistake in this puzzle; you can't make "KAZMIER" in the first box.

Before and After -- Oh, this one! I came in when the clues had already been solved and most of the before-and-afters had been as well. I was the one who noticed that every word could be combined with "fore" or "after", allowing the final clue to be extracted. Nic also worked on this one.

See Spot Run -- I don't think anyone noticed here that the characters being imitated were played by actors who did voiceovers for the corresponding commercials. You'd think that wouldn't be fatal but somehow we didn't end up solving this one.

Obedience meta: Oh man, we were so close on this! We didn't solve "See Spot Run", though, so we ended up guessing the more conventional "FOOLPROOF BREEDERS".

Crimes Against Cruciverbalism -- We got this one, though not till after I had stopped working on it; I helped with the final stages of the crossword but that was mostly it. I started grouping things by error category but didn't really follow through with it; I certainly didn't notice the increasing numbers. The "grammar/tense issues" category was a bit broad and so a bit hard to pin down and I may have messed it up. Well, OK -- it was a pretty coherent category. But we initially hadn't classified it all as one like we should have.

ASCII Characters -- Yikes. I tried reading from the top, not from the center, which gets you some of the pictures but works generally less well... fortunately other people on the team got this...

The Case of the Dangerous Game -- Oh geez, this one. We solved a number of the clues; we got at least VATICIDE, MUREX, TURNSOLE, AGNOMEN, COYPU, YCLEPT, ILEX, ALDOSE, and we had ALOOF listed as a possibility for the final one. (One of the clues actually appears to be incorrect -- the alphabetically first Q-no-U word is not FQRIR but rather CINQ, and the plural CINQUES (which is what we had there), like FAKEERS, is also seven letters ending in an S.) However we were stuck on two points: Firstly, we were unable to solve the first clue, and without that, we couldn't really start placing things on the board. I and another team member both tried looking up words for various cranial nerves and seeing what anagrams they had; neither of us thought of taking VAGUS and pluralizing it to get VAGI. Secondly, the disagreement; we couldn't pin it down. One team member thought it was purely a scoring disagreement, about which they were correct; however, his suggestion was that, say, one player thought that bonus squares could be reused. I thought maybe the players disagreed on what order the words were played in, which would be very hard to pull off; of course, I was entirely wrong there.

Roller Coaster -- Oh man. So me and one other person were working on this one for quite a while. However, we mistakenly convinced ourselves it was unsolvable, because we ignored the possibility that one of the segments in the second row could go in the opposite direction from the others. The other person, whose name I forget, suggested that perhaps we should allow the path to intersect itself, but A. this makes little sense if numbers represent heights and B. allowing this actually didn't solve the problem. Fortunately later other people corrected this mistake and solved it. I later tried to solve this myself for the fun of it, though I occasionally still ended up convincing myself it was impossible and having to peek at our solution for hints. Even once I found the correct path, a silly arithmetic error left me unable to complete the Latin square. Oy oy oy...

One note: The correct path never passes through any of the shaded squares, but it's not clear whether that's meant to be a rule of the puzzle or not; it's solvable without that assumption, after all, and the shaded squares are precisely the ones with given numbers, so there's no reason shadedness couldn't just indicate "this number is a given". Not sure what to make of this.

Unimaginably Twisted Files -- Here's the thing: I didn't have to correct any errors to read this file. Because, you see, Vim will read overlong UTF-8 just fine. I didn't get anything beyond the initial message, but another person later solved the rest (while I was going down the wrong trail -- I thought you had to convert the whole thing to one-overlong UTF-8, and then read it in some yet other encoding...)

Zodiac Quest -- My contribution to this one was coming up with a list of possible syntheses for the various monuments. I didn't worry about cost or the path or anything; I was just trying to find syntheses that didn't outright conflict. A few of the necessary syntheses were ones I missed, actually; I didn't think of LIBRARIAN → LIBRARIANS → LIBRA (or for that matter of LIBRARIANS → LIBRA at all), of SCRAP to SCORPIO, and certainly not of PIECES to PISCES... that one seems a little fishy, honestly. But, oh well. (Also I was convinced you had to make CAPRICORN, which was wrong, but like I said I never got beyond listing syntheses.)

Also: When reading the puzzle earlier I totally didn't make the connection between dropping paper and preventing it from vanishing. Not that I ever got far enough for that to be relevant, once again...

Blocks and Blocks -- Asilata figured out that this involved mathematicians and called for math people to come and help, but I wasn't really able to do anything.

identify, SORT, index, solve -- I just want to say, despite having done Mystery Hunt for several years, and this being a pretty standard puzzle type (admittedly, usually with less emphasis on the sorting), I didn't realize it had a name, and hadn't actually congealed it in my head as a distinct category. Now I have.

Is That Even Music? -- I didn't work on this, but Adam did. He noticed that none of the notes were sharps or flats, and had the interesting idea of converting them to letters not in the obvious way but by labelling the white keys of a piano with A through Z, twice (there are 52 white keys on a piano). Apparently, that wasn't part of the solution.

It's So Obvious! -- A puzzle based largely around "Dare to be Stupid" and I entirely missed this connection?? Gah! (I didn't get the Wheel of Fish reference either, but then, I haven't seen "UHF" in probably over a decade.)

To Serve and Protect -- I didn't work on this at all, I just thought it was pretty clever and wanted to point it out.

Worrying Ziggurats -- Oh geez, this one. I was able to get quite far on this one, most of it on my own, despite having never listented to "Welcome to Night Vale". Searching on the recurrent "WtNV" in the Welcoming Ziggurats indicated it -- or at least that Ziggurat -- was probably about Welcome to Night Vale, and I was able to get pretty far from there. (My initial thought was that the flavor text "Things like this tend to sort themselves out over the span of a half an hour or so." was indicating that this is about TV shows.)

Once I found a site with links to episode transcripts, a lot of this was pretty straightforward. I got the Welcoming Ziggurat, the Weathered Ziggurat (getting this one, by searching on the lyrics to find the songs, and turning up that they appeared in Welcome to Night Vale, was what convinced me the whole puzzle was about the show), and the Sponsored Ziggurat. The Proverbial Ziggurat had the problem that I didn't know anything about knitting. Fortunately, someone else on the team named Emily did, and she was able to get the words there. (She miscounted on the third one, actually, yielding nonsense, but by that time I had picked up how it worked and was able to fix it myself rather than her having to go back and do it.) Getting the episodes here was complicated by the fact that some of the transcripts I was using omitted the daily proverb for no apparent reason; fortunately I found a list of all of them.

The Approaching Ziggurat however was a stumper. My best guess was that it had to do with the "Do Not Approach the Dog Park" segment. As there seemed to be exactly 6 episodes numbered 26 or less that mentioned the dog park, I figured those had to be the episodes, even if I didn't know the order. Of course, this was wrong. That said, the puzzle might well be solvable without the Approaching Ziggurat, had I put the letters I did have in the correct order. I didn't -- I neither put the letters in horizontally lined-up triangles, nor attempted to arrange the ziggurats in the correct order. Oh well.

Blocks -- Oh geez this one. I am actually kind of annoyed about this one. Let me tell you. So, when I got there, someone had already solved all the "blocks" clues, as well as most of the clues on the bottom; however, they hadn't realized any of what was going on in the puzzle, in particular, that the blocks answers were Magic set codenames. (I said they'd gotten all the blocks clues, but actually they hadn't gotten JELLY, as there's not really any way to get that one without noticing that fact.) I noticed this and stated in chat it was a Magic puzzle which got Nic and Kevin to show up.

So OK. I've identified the sets, we start solving the remaining clues and identifying the cards, all is well. Now we've done that and there's the problem of where to go from there. I think it was Kevin who suggested adding the given numbers to the ratio of power to toughness. OK, we do that. Now what?

Now, the correct answer here is "index into the card name, and sort chronologically". But that's not what we did. Instead what we noticed was that these sums were in increasing order. Therefore, the remaining one had to be 6, since it was inbetween 6 and 6. (In fact it's 7.) Therefore, the remaining card had to be a creature from Born of the Gods with equal power and toughness, with a two-word name, with first word inbetween CARRION and FOXFIRE, and second word before IMP. Of course, the "equal power and toughness" part was wrong. (Actually we initially did it from Theros block as a whole; only later did we notice that the specific set was clued.)

Anyway, this left four candidates -- Charging Badger; Everflame Eidolon; Felhide Brawler; and Flitterstep Eidolon. As Charging Badger was the only one which seemed to be made of two real words, I figured that was probably it. We didn't know what it meant that our "extracted message" was CHARGING, but we shrugged it off and submitted BADGER for the answer. That wasn't it. So we submitted CHARGING BADGER. Also wrong. We could have tried the other three, but at that point I basically gave up and the others turned to more outlandish possibilities, none of which were correct.

Admittedly, the nonsensicalness of the "extracted message" clue, and the fact that we got four candidates rather than one, probably should ahve suggested to us earlier that we did something wrong. But I do feel like the increasingness was really misleading there; there should have been at least some monotonicity at some point in it, if they didn't want people thinking the whole thing was increasing.

1,2,3 -- Again, I did nothing on this one, I just thought it was neat and wanted to point it out.

Dreamtime Day 3 meta -- I got that wombat droppings were cubical, but I was thinking of cube numbers, so I missed what was going on here.

Toll Bridges -- This one, meanwhile, seems ridiculous. Not as easy out figure out the rules of as Roller Coaster, I imagine.

Quantum Minesweeper -- I spent some time on this but didn't really get anywhere. What's going on here is actually really simple, but somehow none of us picked up on it. I did figure correctly that it was probably merely "probabilistic Minesweeper" than properly quantum Minesweeper, and that the numbers were presumably expected values of adjacent mines, because duh. But I missed the basic mechanism of "If it is possible for you to survive, you do, and then condition on that assumption", and therefore didn't understand how the numbers were changing. Of course, I guess it still makes sense to include "quantum" in the title, because what's really going on here is that this is is quantum suicide Minesweeper; but putting "quantum suicide" in the title would give that away. I guess "anthropic Minesweeper" would be another appropriate description without using the word quantum (but again, it would be giving it away to outright say that).

Someone else did notice that certain squares always kill you, even on the first click (I'd already noticed that once a square definitely contains a mine, it continues to), and I made a map of these, finding four of them, but that was basically as far as we got. I'm still a little unclear on the extraction here; the solution's not very clear about what it means when it says "interpreting the configurations as binary bits".

The TV Puzzle -- Now here's one I spent a long time on. Kathy Zhang also worked a lot on this one (I'm pretty sure she's the who identified Perry Mason based on the "The Case of..." naming convention). This one... we got the basic idea pretty quickly, but the details posed us a lot of trouble. When I came in, someone else had already noticed that each was using the episode naming convention of some TV show, of which they'd filled in one or two, and had noticed that "The Gang Watches Kickpuncher" also related to Community, but had basically abandoned it at that. I come in and make two columns, "format show" and "content show" and get to work identifying them. Someone else shortly suggested writing down the actual episode of the content show being described; this turned out to be pretty crucial to the puzzle. We put down both the episode name and its number. I initially put down the overall episode number within the series, and while this turned out to be right, it seemed at the time to have some problems, so I later switched to putting season-and-episode, with the overall number in parentheses.

So let me tell you about a number of the problems we encountered solving this one. First off, identifying the show Desperate Housewives; we didn't get this one till basically the very end. Even once we'd filled in almost everything else and were tying up loose ends, we had one big mystery show on our hands that we couldn't get from either the format or the content. (I suggested that the left-behind screwdriver might be Doctor Who, but any such episode would be quite late in the show's run; by this point we had realized that we really did want absolute episode number.)

Second off, "In Which Sheldon is Grafted to a Tree". We were sure for so long that the content show here was Big Bang Theory (based on the name "Sheldon"), despite our inability to identify such an episode of the show, when in fact it was Hannibal. Nasty distractor there. Kathy (I think?) at first thought the Munchhausen Trilemma one was Scrubs, and later Private Practice (switching when I identified "The Hepatitis Scare" as Scrubs), when in fact this is the one that was The Big Bang Theory; correctly identifying this one is what made me realize that we had the tree one wrong.

Third off, "Chuck Versus His Nazi Grandfather". This is what prompted the switch to season-and-episode, thinking maybe it was episode number within the season that counted. (Once we identified it, "Seattle to Los Angeles" would eventually disconfirm that; the episode of Private Practice it was cluing was in fact a backdoor pilot for the show and not an in-season episode at all.) Why? Well, because I thought it was cluing episode 85, "Pop-Pop: The Final Solution", which does in fact focus on Dennis and Dee's Nazi grandfather. (I'd actually seen this episode, so finding it wasn't too hard.) And we'd noticed by this point that the other numbers were at most 26, but 85 was much larger, so maybe it wasn't absolute episode numbers that mattered. However actually it turns out the intended episode was episode 6, "The Gang Finds a Dead Guy", the one other episode dealing with Pop-Pop, which I hadn't seen, but which actually had a small enough number and which actually used the "The Gang..." naming convention.

Because of all these errors and several ambiguities (or apparent ambiguities), we had trouble extracting an answer until we really did have everything. Episode number within season, or absolute? Is it episode 4 or 5 of Mr. Robot that's being clued? (Episode 5, but I needed to find more detailed synopses to learn this.) Just which episode of Community is being clued? (Turns out that while Kickpuncher is often mentioned in the show, there's only one where they actually watch it.) Even after all this, we had the "T" in "OUT" swapped for a "G" because someone had mistakenly written down S1E7 for the episode rather than S2E7.

Fortunately we just went ahead and called in OUT FOR THE SEASON, rather than trying to "solve" it and call in ON HIATUS like I suggested.

The Foetid, Charnel Pie Charts -- I figured these were probably pie charts of flags, but got barely any further than that. The few flags I did identify weren't even right because I was looking at national flags. Other people later identified more flags, and at least certainly realized they weren't all national flags, but I don't think we ever actually solved it.

The Shunned, Cyclopean Postcards -- We actually tried indexing into the actor first, but that seemed to yield nonsense, so we then tried indexing into the character to get the message saying we should index into the actor. Someone asked whether the patterns of light and dark might be relevant; someone else said, nah, that's just to make them look like postcards. We generally agreed this seemed reasonable. I didn't really work on it beyond that, though I saw later that people had noticed that the letters A through U were each used exactly once; I don't think they got the next part though.

Cubism -- Just another neat puzzle I wanted to point out.

One Starry Night -- I feel like I could have done quite a bit on this one had I bothered to actually seriously read it. Unfortunately, I didn't and basically just skipped it over. One disadvantage of Trello/Google Docs compared to the wiki, I guess; harder to just browse through what your team has done already. Anyway, I think we eventually got this one; at least, I remember people talking about the final clue phrase in chat. If we got that but not the answer, that's worrying!

Believe -- Aha! I had most of the major insights on this one. When this one opened up a whole bunch of people focused on it, collecting the words and their point values. I was the one to point out that some of them, maybe all of them, were misspelled; and I was the one to later realize, wait, these aren't just misspelled words, these are words that were misspelled at the National Spelling Bee. Once you have that the rest is not hard. I even suggested sorting by year and then contestant number, though someone else might have also independently had that idea. I'm not the one who thought of indexing but like of course you index. :P

One thing worth noting: while we got a message that clued PARADOX -- and, more specifically, clued PARADOX as the word that Bernadette Miao misspelled -- it wasn't the one listed in the solution; evidently this puzzle must have had some last-minute changes. Actually we didn't get quite the right message; the "O" in MIAO somehow ended up in the middle of BERNADETTE to yield BERNADEOTTE, but it wasn't hard to correct the error. I'm not sure whether this is due to us using a slightly wrong sort order -- note that contrary to what I said above the correct sort order is actually order of elimination, or in other words, year, then round eliminated, then contestant number -- or due to Google Docs just screwing up the sorting somehow.

It Is What It Is -- I was super-tired at the time and didn't notice the Weird Al reference in the flavor text (which I assume is only relevant to the meta anyway). Now I notice it. Anyway I have nothing to say about the puzzle itself, I certainly didn't work on it or anything. It's also missing a solution at the moment.

Time Suck -- They made a puzzle out of a (slightly edited, naturally) 10-hour looping video of the Spongmonkeys singing "We Like the Moon". Dear God.

Trivial Mathematics -- I would have helped with this one, but, y'know, I had to sleep. (OK, actually, I did try to help with this one very briefly before sleeping, but it turned out that what I had to say wasn't helpful.)


Anyway, that's it for this year. Hopefully next year is a bit better-run. And maybe I really should see about joining a larger team...

-Harry

July 2017

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