The M.I.T. Hunt is generally considered for the 1% of 1% of puzzle solvers. The uber-elite, if you will. I mean heck not only will some participants become future employees at the N.S.A. and NASA, but there are participants who are already currently employed by them. Then when you throw in champion puzzle solvers and expert puzzle makers, the audience is pretty much jam-packed with geniuses. So the question becomes how hard can the hunt directors make these puzzles, and is that hard enough?
First off, the overall theme of the hunt was inspired. Team Metaphysical Fungus (last year's winner) put together a massive video-game themed meta, chockablock with humor and elegant touches. Take a moment to admire the slick website that was developed for the weekend. Bravo.
But about that difficulty issue. In my mind puzzles fell into two categories: hard and oblique to the point of I couldn't imagine where to even begin let alone how to finish it. How much of that has to do with my own inability to grok metas? Probably a decent chunk. But then again, I was a member of a team with a lot of top-flight puzzle solvers and even we felt, at times, just plain stumped.
Hard, by the way, isn't a bad thing at all. Take "Genius Test" for instance. All the answers are gettable, but there was enough at the "what now?" moment to make the puzzle satisfying. Only after talking ourselves out of the two red herrings (the movie "Real Genius," and something to do with number two pencils), were we able to draw upon the intended subject: Budweiser's "Real Men of Genius" ad campaign. Funny, clever, clear, hard, entertaining. Exactly what a puzzle like that should be.
Ditto for "Mountain Pass," which was a downs-only diagramless. Yikes. And if that wasn't hard enough, the biggest challenge was talking yourself into the untantalizing option that there were unchecked letters along the way. Wow. Hard, yet, I guess, fair when it was all said and done.
As for the oblique puzzles, where do I begin? How about "Favourites"? (I'll wait for you to click on it because there's no real way to explain all that's going on here). Yeah, we could identify all the 40 mp3s, but damned if we knew what the codes were intended to signal. And what's up with that British spelling? Never in a million years would we have ever guessed it referred to Nick Hornby's novel "High Fidelity." Methinks one more signal in the introductory text would have been nice.
Or, let's just say "One More Try." After polishing off the 25x25 crossword, we were flummoxed. Solving the puzzle was a slog, but we got it. And we caught onto the ten repeated entries, which we knew were all songs, but what to do with them? It was especially disturbing that at one point six professional crossword constructors were looking at the damned thing and we couldn't make head or tail of what to do with the thing. Only after I saw the solution did the puzzle writers explain that the groups in question were all two-hit wonders. I hate to cry foul here, but a few songs were so vague as to be non-existent. "Get Down" and "Suffocate?" I mean, there are a billion people who have songs called that. And on the other side of the coin, I challenge anyone to reject The Chordettes and the Beach Boys as the singers of "Lollipop" and "Barbara Ann" respectively. Sheesh. And the Beach Boys, last time I checked, had tons of hits. I mean, I'll take a few red herrings, but a whole damned tin full of them?
So how hard is too hard? Well, it clearly didn't stump Team Codex who cracked the whole thing by 6:00 a.m. Sunday morning, roughly 41 hours into the Hunt. Bravo to them. I'm in awe.
I wish I could talk about all the puzzles, but the nature of these things is that there are just too many damned puzzles, and our teams are so big, nobody's going to see all the puzzles. I, for instance, steered clear of most of the math/cryptogrammy stuff. And there was about a zero chance I was going to do a Tetris puzzle that ended up yielding a QR code. So really, if you have a second, poke around and see some of the other puzzles for yourself.
Or, you could look at a few puzzles that I thought were inspired: the bridge-themed: "Scrambling Attributes Yields Conundrum," the self-explanatory "Build Your Own Acrostic," the once-you-get-the-gimmick-"wow" in "A Modern Palimpsest," and the funny/tweaked pictionaries in "Painted Potshards."
Share the puzzle. New one tomorrow.