Mar 12, 2013
Admissions Decisions and Mystery Hunt
Two years and 363 days ago I was on a plane home from Tenerife, two days after my eighteenth birthday and a few hours after MIT decisions were released. On the drive home I considered calling someone to check my decision for me and I might have hunted for wifi at intersections. When we got home I brought some luggage in to delay the inevitable, or maybe I didn’t, carried my laptop up to my room, checked either my MIT or Caltech decision, ran downstairs to tell my parents I got in, ran back upstairs, ran back downstairs to tell them I got in to the other. The feeling was relief and triumph, like when you find your phone in the washer and it still works. I felt that I had passed a crossroads.
For about six years MIT was my dream. I’d never been to MIT and my only link to MIT was the blogs, but I knew that if I got into MIT I would be happy, and I knew that if I got into MIT I would be the person I wanted to be.
That’s not true. Happiness is not a place.
In the following months I went to CPW, shopped for college stuff, and cried about leaving home. My parents dropped me and my stuff off at Random and left and finally I was alone with my boxes and my new life. The whole time I waited for some sign. This is it, it was going to say, I made it. Sometimes while walking through campus I notice the scenes I used to only see in photographs, and I remember how desperately I wanted to be here. This is MIT, and I am here. I taste the words and let them roll through my mind. All of my dreams have come true. Have I made it? Am I happy?
You are super-cool. In the past 18 or so years you’ve already done amazing things, and you’ve learned a lot about yourself and your interests and where you might fit into this world. Over the next four years you will continue learning and doing amazing things, and you will continue to learn and do amazing things after you graduate. With luck, the amazing things you do will be much more impressive than getting into college.
I’ve realized over the past two years that the only thing I ever needed to be happy was my own permission. That isn’t something that MIT can give or take away, and it isn’t something that will appear or disappear because of what MIT tells you on Thursday. Regardless of your admissions decision, you will continue to be the good, intelligent person you are, and, if you let yourself, you can continue to be happy.
For the next two days, here’s some important advice from the decisions page:
We know that applying to college is stressful, and that the closer you get to receiving your admissions decisions, the easier it becomes to let that stress consume you. We encourage you to acknowledge it, embrace it, and then let it go. This is your last semester of high school, and your primary responsibility is to enjoy every remaining minute of this journey before you embark on the next.
Think about how you answered question 11a on our application ("what do you do purely for fun?"). Try to fill your days with that, and decisions will be here before you know it.
I was going to post some riddles to help you keep your mind off decisions, but then I realized that decades of MIT students have put a lot of energy into doing it for me. If you by any chance like to solve puzzles purely for fun, I recommend you explore the Mystery Hunt archives.
This year’s Mystery Hunt set at least two records: it was the longest hunt, at 73 hours and 18 minutes, and it also included the longest team name, the complete text of Atlas Shrugged, which ended up winning the hunt.
Hunt evolved from a chess game in 1981. It happens over Martin Luther King, Jr., weekend during IAP. Teams of people at MIT and people who just like puzzles solve puzzles all weekend long. Some of the puzzles are about languages, some of the puzzles are about songs, some of the puzzles are about math, and some of the puzzles require that you knit something. Some of the puzzles reveal more puzzles. There are metapuzzles, which are puzzles of puzzles, and there are also puzzles of puzzles of puzzles. At the end of the weekend, the puzzles culminate in an on-campus run-around puzzle to find a coin.
Mystery Hunt is a big deal at Random Hall. A friend of mine told me that Hunt is why she moved to Random, and that it was also one of the reasons she came to MIT. During Hunt, our dorm population increases from 93 to about 150. There’s a special headquarters within the dorm for reporting results, a special web site to facilitate communication throughout the team, and a special team of undergrads who cook a meal every six hours to accommodate round-the-clock puzzling.
This year’s Mystery Hunt is posted online here. If you’re looking for a place to start, below is a puzzle I enjoyed and worked on with my friend Catherine O. ‘12 (but didn’t end up solving), Czar Cycle:
None of us know Greek, one of us knows English, and the two of us know Russian, but we still can't understand this message.
You can also check out the decisions blog post I wrote last year, which is more insightful than this one and has links to more distractions. In addition, here are some kittens I found on the Internet playing with a Newton’s cradle, because when I’m stressed out I don’t actually do puzzles, I look at kittens.
You can do this. Everything will be wonderful.