14 Feb 2012 cananian   » (Master)

2012 Mystery Hunt

This year I was a member of Codex, the writing team for the 2012 Mystery Hunt. I'm going to describe some of the puzzles I wrote for "The Producers" hunt, in release order. BEWARE SPOILERS!

  1. One of the early theme proposals for our hunt was "Alice in Wonderland." Casting about for novel meta ideas, I hit upon the idea of a round with purely numeric answers, 1 through 29,394, which would resolve to words via "looking glass numbers"—that is, numbering all the words in "Through the Looking Glass". It occurred to me that you could make your numbering system self-descriptive if you used certain words; for example, if you wanted to make clear that hyphenated words should be counted as one (instead of two), you could include "great" and "half" on either side of "arm-chair". The numbering of "great" (164) and "half" (166) would make it clear that "arm-chair" should be treated as a single number (165).

    This didn't survive as a meta, but it eventually became a puzzle, called 1207 1370 (which translates to "Looking-Glass Words" using its enumeration system). It also served to ensure that teams had a good wordlist by the time they got to the Charles Dodgson meta...

  2. Blinkenlights. A recursive-structured puzzle inspired by (but not reaching the greatness of) Derek Kisman's Maze from Setec's '05 Hunt. If anyone is mourning the lack of Jonathan Coulton-related puzzles from this year's hunt, blame me: I stole the answer PROTECTORS which Andrew Lin had earmarked for a JoCo puzzle. ("Did I say overlords?")

  3. Caterpillars. I like giving physical objects to teams. This was another failed meta—you would have assembled the pieces out of words, then would have to assemble the jigsaw from the word-pieces. The location of the caterpillars' heads in the final assembly would spell out the final meta answer using an overlay. But the puzzle is more fun with tangible pieces, I think.

  4. B.J. Blazkowicz in ‘Wintertime for Hitler’. I was writing the meta for this round and trying to find non-dictionary words. I needed "CAR..." as a prefix to make the chess game work, which suggested CARMACK as an answer, and the puzzle just wrote itself from there. Scott Handelman contributed the title. This puzzle was going to be distributed on 3.5" disks (remember how I said I like giving teams physical objects?), but the last 3.5" floppy disk puzzle was Blue Steel in '06. (Redundant Obsolescence doesn't count, since the 5 1/4" disk was redundant.) The past six years have not been kind to the 3.5" floppy; ultimately we decided we didn't want to deny teams the pleasure of playing the game because they couldn't locate a floppy drive. It's more important that puzzles be fun than hard!

  5. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson meta. I began writing this puzzle immediately after the 2011 hunt, dissatisfied with the mechanism and final clue phrase of that year's Racking Your Brains. I thought I could write a better puzzle using Scrabble Solitaire as a mechanism.

    Slightly later it became part of the "Alice in Wonderland" theme proposal, with Jabberwocky words. Then I spent a couple of months away from the hunt, getting married.

    Upon returning we badly needed critic metas so I dusted off the puzzle, adding an Alice chess frontend yielding the tile string in order to make it a shell meta. The puzzle can still be solved as pure Scrabble Solitaire (ie, without the given "scores after each play") but it's easier for humans to solve with the frequent checkpoints given. For what it's worth, I constructed the chess game with a reasonably-deep alpha-beta search, so all the moves "make sense" as much as is possible given the constraints of the puzzle. And it ends in a clean checkmate, obviously... I have no idea how BENOISY snuck in there.

  6. Ben Bitdiddle meta. The idea of making an electronic circuit which was impossible to assemble incorrectly had been in my "Mystery Hunt ideas" folder for years. A coworker at OLPC mentioned the odd power-pin configuration of the PIC chips one day, which gave me the "flip" mechanism. Brainstorming with Andrew Lin brought it the rest of the way.

    I promise never to abuse an optoisolator in this way again.

    (Of course it turned out when constructing this puzzle that Ben Bitdiddle really needed to use the show answers CARPAL and THESOUTH because of their length in morse code, so I ended up having to rewrite parts of Dodgson to make Bitdiddle work. In the rewrite CARPAL became CARMACK... and B.J. Blazkowitcz was born.)

  7. JFK SHAGS A SAD SLIM LASS. One of my earliest puzzle submissions was, "A puzzle contained only in its title." Again, the fabulous Codex editor team turned this into a real puzzle.

Some puzzles I enjoyed editing:

  1. Revisiting History — I commissioned a Doctor Who-themed puzzle for the answer TORCHWOOD (see the final clue phrase for the reason why) and contributed the "location of the word 'who'" mechanism.

  2. Gibberish and More Gibberish. I liked the idea for this puzzle enough that I shoehorned a suitable answer into the Charles Dodgson meta... and then had to do some heavy lifting to get the puzzle finished and into the hunt.

  3. Sounds Good to Me. It was immediately obvious this was a brilliant idea from Seth Schoen. But the twin barriers of toki pona and hiragana threatened to make it unsolvable. I'd like to think I played a role in making this an accessible and solvable puzzle.

  4. Itinerant People of America. Same deal. Squiggles had bequeathed the world the facial expression described as, "That's my brain leaving out the back door while my face distracts you." My contribution here was solely instilling the fear of God into the authors. Scott Handleman describes how he and Emily Morgan took that advice and constructed a kick-ass puzzle.

And that's it for my puzzles! I also did a heck of a lot of other stuff for the hunt; I hope y'all enjoyed it. (My own favorite part was the wrap-up, since all my responsibilities had been discharged by then. I could just watch Patrick rock my hat and accordion, play along on ukulele, and sing tenor with Francis at the end.)

Syndicated 2012-01-18 23:09:41 (Updated 2012-01-18 23:11:16) from Dr. C. Scott Ananian

Latest blog entries     Older blog entries

New Advogato Features

New HTML Parser: The long-awaited libxml2 based HTML parser code is live. It needs further work but already handles most markup better than the original parser.

Keep up with the latest Advogato features by reading the Advogato status blog.

If you're a C programmer with some spare time, take a look at the mod_virgule project page and help us with one of the tasks on the ToDo list!