EDIT Feburary 3: Added a bit about a certain clue in "Magic: The Tappening".
OK, so by this point you've probably all heard about how this year's Mystery Hunt was a bit of a fiasco. (Too many puzzles, too difficult, lack of editing, etc.) Well, I'm not going to go into all that here. I'm just going to go over some of the puzzles I worked on or wanted to comment on, what happened on them, etc.
Oh! I should say. So I was solving for A Strange New Universe this year. This is basically the team consisting of the people who split off from Manic Sages because they didn't want to be on the writing team. Well, OK -- actually it was basically the MathCamp team, because Manic Sages usually is, but this year they were writing. But whatever, I was on it, because I'm a friend of Youlian's, so OK.
I tried to get some other people from Truth House to join in. Beatrix expressed interest, but was sick; Ryan Tea also, though he didn't join in till the end. Some others -- well, more on this later. Anyway, didn't get many people for very long, but they were helpful.
Anyway! To the puzzles!
I actually didn't do a lot this year -- once the team got massively stuck I mostly kind of tuned out, only working on it sporadically. Probably would have worked on it more, later but -- well, I'll get to that later.
Vertexillonomy: Helped out with this. We had Sea of Japan instead of East China Sea -- somehow I didn't realize that China doesn't border on the Sea of Japan -- but this was immaterial. Well, it means we missed ABCDE, but I still thought to order alphabetically by sea. I think we may have called in NIGHT though slightly *before* I noticed that, just because at that point it was either that or THING... (I guess we didn't notice that the T could also have been a W.)
Tuva or Bust: I don't think we thought to look up the quote, which made this harder. I didn't do a lot on this; most of it wasn't really doable remotely -- not without a more powerful setup, anyway. (Google Wave?) But I did at least help figure out the possibilities for some of the relations.
Funny Story: Oh boy. Angus and I were the ones who solved most of the initial clues here -- after solving one (because I'd seen a joke with that punchline before) and realizing it was about puns, I called in Angus. Well, actually, his lack of knowledge of English idioms meant he wasn't as useful as I had hoped, but, oh well. He got #8, basically. Marc also tried to help with this one a little but didn't get anywhere. Anyway, so with all the initial clues solved... then what? This one was "Stuck: Needs extraction" for the entire rest of the hunt. Various people worked on it after that but I don't think any came close to the real solution.
Angus then stuck around and worked on other puzzles as well. I don't remember what else that might have been unfortunately.
Integer and Sequence: Worked on this one. We weren't sure just how legal moves for the black king were being counted, so we didn't get that one, but we got the rest of the letters, and narrowed down the letter from the last sequence to either I or R. I don't know how we ultimately figured out what order they went in; it may have just been guessing anagrams at that point.
Complaint Letter: By the time I looked at this, the first two paragraphs had been solved, while the third we had no idea on. I didn't either. On seeing that the first two parts spelled out "MAMMOTH CAVE" and "CONCERT HALL", I suggested maybe we should call in "OLE BULL", which we did. And it seems I wasn't too far off! As for the actual solution to the third paragraph... holy hell, how was anyone supposed to come up with that? (Also: One person on the team noted that the answers to the first two paragraphs were each 7-4, in terms of word length. I really thought that was going to be significant, but apparently that was just a coincidence.)
Random Walk: Ah, the puzzle that destroyed my sleep schedule. I wasn't intending to stay up all night Friday night for Mystery Hunt, but I ended up staying up for this one. Then of course I had to stay up all night Saturday, and ended up staying up about 27 hours in total that day before going to sleep Sunday night. Maybe not a great idea. But that did get my sleep schedule back on track; meanwhile, I'm pretty sure I saw someone I know saying on Facebook that they stayed up for nearly the whole hunt...
Anyway. When I got to this one, they'd all been solved except for numbers 6 and 9. Someone had written a (very slow) computer program and had set it loose on 6 and 9. I figured I'd try it by hand, because, why not.
Number 6 I didn't get very far with; that one I found pretty hard. And eventually the computer check of #6 finished, so I turned my attention to number 9.
Number 9 was surprisingly more tractable. (But due to its increased size, the computer wouldn't finish with it until the next day.) So it seemed I was actually being helpful. After spending a long time working with it, I reached... a contradiction? Dammit. Time to start over. Trying it again, I reached... a different contradiction. I'd found the original error in my reasoning, but not the new one. I started over and tried twice more -- I was doing this with pencil and paper, mind you -- and each time, I got essentially the same contradiction I got the second time. This thing is possible, right? At that point I was openly suggesting maybe it wasn't. Finally I gave it one last shot, noticed the error in my reasoning from the previous 3 attempts, and... encountered a third contradiction. At that point I said to hell with it and went to sleep because it was like 7 in the morning. (Looking at the answer now, I think I see what the final mistake in my reasoning was. Oh well.)
Magic: The Tappening: So, detour. At some point Strange New Universe decided that since they wanted to solve at least 1 meta, they were going to pick just one and focus on that one, and that one was Richard Feynman. Now everyone mentions that this year's puzzles were too hard, but I'd like to point out another problem -- the metapuzzles this year required you to solve too many other puzzles in order to solve them. Often there was just a single meta that *all* the puzzles in that section fed into directly. Contrast to, say, 2011, where each round had 1 metameta, and a number of smaller metas. (And sometimes puzzles would feed into multiple metas.) The result was that even getting started on a meta was hard, and backsolving... oh man. Were any puzzles backsolved this year? I don't recall hearing of any.
Anyway, I was wondering if maybe focusing on Feynman was a mistake, since it seemed that *later* rounds *did* have some of the structure that was missing in the earlier rounds. But from what other people are telling me, no, that was not a mistake, because despite that, the later rounds were in fact even harder; most teams that solved just 1 meta, solved either Danny Ocean or Richard Feynman. (We ended up solving 0 metas.)
Anyway. The relevance of all this is, since we were focusing on Feynman, our team's Secretary General stopped adding puzzles from later rounds to the wiki. So when I saw Magic: The Tappening and decided I wanted to work on it, I was doing so alone. Well, OK -- the instructions actually said, if you want to work on another puzzle, go for it, add it to the wiki yourself, here's how; but then I read that, and I was like, I have to create a Google Doc? With a Google account? Man, to hell with this. And so I just worked on it alone. Yes, that was not very cooperative of me, but I was kind of tired and annoyed.
(The focus on Feynman was also a big part of why I tuned out of things so much; working on more different puzzles would have made it a little less frustrating, I think. Well -- for a short time, anyway.)
I mean, I had to work on this after largely soloing I'm Your Magic Man four years ago. Of course, the similarities here are superficial. For one thing, this time around, the actual cards in each hand matter, not just their colors. (And so this time it isn't a huge pain to determine what the cards are.)
Anyway. I listen to the 8 audio files. At first I think they're Morse code, but I quickly realize they're tap code. I spend a few minutes trying to decode the first one directly before realizing it would be much easier if I could just look at the waveform (hooray for the human visual system), and spend a few more minutes searching for a program to do this before realizing I could just open them in Audacity.
OK. So I got the encoded clues, solved all but two of them ("VAST PLAIN MERCURY COMPACT" and "RUN OVER BY A MERFOLK"). What to do now? OK, it seemed sensible that each card resulting from solving a clue corresponded to one of the hands -- some of them definitely had some sort of thematic correspondence, like Mistform Ultimus corresponding to the first hand (caring about creature types), and Lorescale Coatl corresponding to the 5th hand (they're all cantrips), but what exactly was the rule? I figured that you were supposed to play the cards in each hand, in order, on the creature, but to what end? (Although I thought it was right-to-left rather than left-to-right; I had come up with some argument why it had to be this way, but now that I check this argument was really just entirely wrong.) Apparently it was supposed to leave the creature alive, and not do anything illegal; the best I could come up with was that you were supposed to kill the creature exactly.
And oh man. It would have been hard to realize the condition was "leave the creature alive, don't do anything illegal", because, given a creature, this doesn't match it up with a unique hand. There's a unique way to match up *all* the creatures each with a hand, but that doesn't exactly clue things very heavily. Well -- maybe I could have figured it out if I had figured out Steppe Lynx and Wake Thrasher, since those two also have hands they "obviously" correspond to, and that would have given me more information to figure out the rule. And if I assume all the "obvious" correspondences are right, which they are, I've already narrowed it down to 4! possibilities, from 8! or 6!. (Although while I called Lorescale Coatl "obvious" above, in fact for a while I thought Student of Elements was supposed to go there. Remember, I was thinking right-to-left.)
By the way, I think the audio file clues on this puzzle could really have used some editing. Why were they so heterogenous? Five of them hinted at the name of the card, but one referred to what the card actually does, one referred to a well-known Magic deck the card was used in, and one referred to the flavor text of the card. This all seems a bit iffy to me. If five out of eight of the clues are going to hint at the name of the card, shouldn't the other three do so as well?
Addendum February 3: Oh, one thing I forgot to mention -- the official solution, in explaining the Student of Elements clue, links to a page about spelling elements with elements! But not my page on the subject. My thoughts on this:
A. I'm glad to see someone else has done this; I shouldn't be the only one to have thought of this.
B. Wow, that page is ugly.
C. Wait, why did they link to that? "COPPER PHOSPHORUS PUPIL" pretty clearly clues "Student of Elements" without thinking about spelling things with elements, and indeed I don't even see how spelling things with elements can even be made to fit in there.
Stakeout: Ryan Tea finally showed up to help Sunday night, and quickly focused on this one. Surprisingly, this one had just not been started at all, even at that late time. (Either that or it was all onsite people who weren't using the wiki.) He cut up the picture, arranged pieces together... now what?
Now, I had been solving in the basement -- that was where I had told people I would be, if they wanted to join in, and that was where Angus and Marc were helping out earlier -- but Ryan Tea was doing this in the dining room. And so Hannah who happened to be sitting next to him noticed that the pictures were all pieces of album covers. And here she had said there was no way she'd be able to help! Unfortunately, they didn't get any further than writing down what the albums were (and potentially relevant info about the albums), and, well, I had to sleep by this point (I'd been up about 27 hours, recall). I really doubt I could have figured out the next step, anyway; nobody else on the team did, either. But I like this puzzle. We didn't get it, but it doesn't seem at all unfair.
I think that is all the puzzles I have anything to say about. Now I'm going to go to sleep.
Well, those of you pay attention to Mystery Hunt, anyway.