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Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

Time Event
Puzzles (including spoilers)
These are the puzzles I'll remember from the MIT Mystery Hunt.


The puzzle was presented as two paragraphs of text, one defining many terms and the other laying out directions for how to manipulation a string of characters. The input string of characters was "2008 MIT Mystery Hunt", which was printed between the two paragraphs. The X2 title suggested that the directions would need to be applied twice. Doug ran through the directions on the initial string once but ended with gibberish. I found a bug in his manual effort, still gibberish. I wrote code to do the same (28 steps), writing which took twice the time than Doug's manual edits, but still gibberish. Doug and I looked at the code on and off for many hours with no obvious errors coming forth. The end result we got every time was 011808NYT61A30D31D or some such. Nothing.

Finally, with a breath of fresh air from Martin's deck overlooking the Castro in San Francisco Doug observed the significance of the digits: 011808 was the date of the start of the puzzle hunt, and NYT probably was the New York Times. John Owens added that the A and D numbers were probably across and down clues to the crossword. Those clues yielded some other term, which when run through the same directions as we'd run earlier, produced the final answer. Nice.

The puzzle was very good, as these follow-lots-of-tedious-directions puzzles go, and it's sorta cool that the directions would transform the two very different inputs in two very different ways but still end with a meaningful string. Apparently GC had gotten cooperation from Will Shortz, the editor of the NYT crosswords, in order to place their clues. That we didn't solve the puzzle sooner was our own fault, as we had the 011808 "gibberish" for a while. Funnier still, Doug and I both had used the mnemonic "New York Times" when reading NYT in the string, but never considered that it was *actually* the paper being referenced.

. . . . .

Image Search

I liked this puzzle because it was doable with the "right" amount of effort. The presentation was as an 11 x 11 grid of images, each square, and each appearing to be part of some larger image (ie, each square was a unit cell from a grid that was overlaid some other image). I started identifying the images: the comic strip Foxtrot, Papa smurf, a guy wearing a uniform. Someone from across the room yelled out the insight I hadn't yet had: radio letters. Indeed: each image was that of one of the words in the radio alphabet (eg, alpha, bravo, charlie, delta). The same image was used in many parts of the grid so you could piece them together in order to identify them. Oh, and that was the sort of cute but tricky thing: the images were tiny -- maybe 70x70 pixels, so it was hard to figure out the subject by looking at just one. It was easy enough to put several together, though, and then it's much easier to identify. The end result is than an 11 x 11 grid of letters. Some words appear readily: alpha and lima. So, the last step is a word search. The letters in the grid not used to spell all the radio alphabet words spelled out the answer.

. . . . .

World of Comics

This puzzle was presented as a sheet of comic strip panels, packed together on the page densely but without overlap. The comics included Dilbert, Zippy the pinhead, and, er, others that I don't recall anymore. The panels were jumbled around the page but it was easy to reassemble each strip. The text from the strips was missing many letters; these, too, were easy to replace. With some anagramming of these letters (often triplets, one from each panel) we assembled the message CHARACTER WEARING SUSPENDERS. Great: just find the character on this sheet who's wearing suspenders. No dice: no such character found. We've invested about 20 minutes into the puzzle so far, it's been a fun and easy solve so far, and we're sure we're close to having the final answer, but we're at a brick wall. This feeling could be applied to many puzzles in the hunt, it turned out, and fortunately for us this puzzle took only 20 minutes for us to reach this point. For other puzzles it took many hours before we reached the brick wall so close to the finish.

Each comic strip was dated 1/18, the start of the Mystery Hunt, which we thought may have been important but may have just been put there as though to say "these are all the same dates; no information here." At the game wrap-up I learned what really happened here. The strips really were each from January 18th, from some year, although not from 2008. All the strips also appear in the Boston Globe. If you looked at the Boston Globe comics page for January 18th you would find a character wearing suspenders: Earl, from Doonesbury. We actually guessed Earl during the event (and Urkel, which GC asked me to spell several times before saying it was incorrect), so we got credit for this puzzle, but I don't know where our guess came from. Needless to say, I would have been far more gratified had the puzzle been self-contained. And, with the exception of demonstrating the power that they can bend the universe for the Mystery Hunt (GC got the cooperation of Garry Trudeau for this puzzle) the external linkage didn't add to the puzzle. *shrug*

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