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[personal profile] dr_whom
This is the time of year when I write a review of the Mystery Hunt, and so despite how distracted & distraught I am by what else is going on in the world, here's my thoughts on the 2017 Mystery Hunt.

The Hunt this year was excellent but short! The winning team found the coin after less than 16 hours—which is not only the earliest coin find in modern-era Mystery Hunt history (I don't know about, like, the '80s), but by such a margin that my team, coming in 7th in about 30 hours, also finished the Hunt earlier than the coin was found in any other modern-era Hunt.

And that's... fine, I guess? I mean, one of the main reasons it was so short was just because the puzzles were all really clean and elegant: there were no, or almost no, long broken frustrating puzzles that took forever to solve, which is what often prolongs the Hunt. So it was short in part as a result of good puzzle design! And it's great that the Hunt was short enough that as many as 17 teams were able to finish it. And it was a fun novelty to be able to hang out with my team in a relaxed atmosphere on Sunday without solving puzzles; I so rarely see these people in a non-solving context.

But also, I go to the Mystery Hunt because I like solving puzzles, you know? Especially long, complex, creative puzzles. And a Hunt ending so early means there's just less puzzle-solving to do, which is disappointing. I especially feel bad for people on leading teams who couldn't be there on Friday (which is, after all, a workday) and showed up on Saturday morning to find that the Hunt was over already. And although the puzzles were all clean and elegant, it's also the case that some were just flat-out easy, in a way that seemed too simplistic for the Mystery Hunt. I'm on record as having said that I think the Hunt should contain some easy puzzles, and I know that Setec's goal was for the puzzles in the six character rounds to be comparable to the round of easy "School of Fish" puzzles in the 2015 Hunt; but even given that, I feel like the average puzzle difficulty level in this Hunt was pitched a little low. (I mean, I guess it must have been, since the Hunt was finished in 16 hours.) I assume Setec overestimated puzzle difficulty somewhere in the test-solving process; I wonder if this might have been a case of the thought process "Setec Astronomy consists of better-than-average solvers; therefore we should assume our puzzles are more difficult in actuality than our test-solvers perceive them to be."

This year's Hunt points to a potential problem that's been looming on the horizon of the Mystery Hunt for some time: As the sizes and/or skill levels of the top teams increase, is it still possible to write a Hunt that can give top teams a full weekend of solving, while still being fun for everyone else and short enough for a team to write in a year? Signs are pointing toward no, which is distressing.

I don't have a lot to say about the Hunt structure. It didn't seem particularly groundbreaking, though the use of levels from the character puzzles to unlock puzzles in the quest rounds was kind of interesting, and a good way to keep puzzles in solved rounds relevant. Dungeons & Dragons was a Hunt theme that had to happen eventually, and they pulled it off excellently. Oh, and the anagram "Mystereo Cantos" was a very good find.

I think I might sound a bit down on this Hunt in this post, since I spent so much space talking about how short/easy it was. That's not an accurate reflection of how I actually feel about it though! I had a really great time and thought it was an absolutely first-rate Hunt; I just wish there had been more of it!

In a later post, I'll talk about specific puzzles!

Date: 2017-01-22 11:32 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] qnmark.livejournal.com
I actually think there was a big problem with the hunt structure this time. It wasn't transparent from the website (unlike last year), but it was there if you were solving a lot of puzzles early: there were bottlenecks. For example, if you solved every puzzle except the first quest meta, you were still stuck with no new puzzles until the first event. Getting to the very end required waiting until the last event; for top teams who solved everything up to the bottleneck, Setec ran private versions of the events, but the rest of us were frustrated with having maybe 4 open puzzles, all of which we were definitionally stuck on.

Also, we got the first quest meta purely from flavortext and from the number of puzzles in that round. (There is no way in hell we'd have solved that meta properly.) The metas just weren't that hard - only about as hard as the more difficult object puzzles.

Date: 2017-01-23 12:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dan katz (from livejournal.com)
You made the same comment about the first quest meta on my blog, and according to other people on your team who also commented (who weren't remote), the team members onsite solved it using the actual mechanism as intended. I think that as a remote solver you may not have understood what was going on with the rest of the team, and given that, I think it's unfair to say there's no way your team would have solved it properly (because apparently they did!).

Date: 2017-01-23 05:06 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dan katz (from livejournal.com)
I have an epic four-part writeup on my blog. Come on by and join the discussion (and feel free to link to your writeup in the comments!).


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