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MIT staff blogger Matt McGann '00

Mystery Hunt 2007 by Matt McGann '00

A final report from this year's awesome IAP puzzling solving funfest.

I’m finally recovered from the Mystery Hunt… here’s the “official synopsis” of how the Hunt went down:

The hunt began with teams gathered in Lobby 7. The Evil Midnight Bombers What Bomb at Midnight announced the hunt would contain 270–no, 271–no 271 1/2 puzzles, all in keeping with the first unpardonable activity of gathering the assembled puzzlers into a massive sudoku grid. The motivational speaker Michael Fauntleroy came in to save the day, offering the teams the opportunity to get the coin and win the hunt in a mere 25–no, 15–no, 5 puzzles, if they’d only sign a simple contract with some unreadable fine print.

After nearly all teams found the coin within a few hours of starting the hunt, they realized that by signing the contract, they had sold their collective souls to Michael Fauntleroy Stopheles (M.F. Stopheles, for short) for a mere penny. To get their souls back, they would have to complete his course of videos on how to be really really evil in various fields, and all the puzzles therein. This would raise their Evilometers to a level where they could rise in power for a showdown with the devil.

Along the way, they also had to complete a series of unfortunate events that would show how proficient they were in each of the seven deadly sins. These helped unlock their seven Sin Meters, which each were linked to certain thematic puzzles. Filling their Evilometers to a certain level unlocked a Hell Runaround, which led them on a goose chase through the halls of MIT and down into hell. There they received seven Hell Puzzles, all completely unsolvable without an additional instruction page gained by unlocking the appropriate Sin Meters.

Finally, at each stage, the teams received a certificate of their evil achievement. These certificates were used in the final epic battle with the devil, after which the teams regained their souls and triumphed over evil.

I played on team “Lego My Ego,” based out of the Simmons Hall dormitory (you know, the one with 5,538 windows). Simmons looks like it was made from Legos and is referred to as the Space Waffle, and the Mystery Hunt puzzles are quite humbling, hence “Lego My Ego.”

So, at noon in Lobby 7, our team gathered beneath our team sign.


As advertised, after we solved the first five Mystery Hunt puzzles, we determined the location of the coin: the Alumni Pool!

So, we raced over to the Alumni Pool, only to learn that yes, we had sold our souls to the devil. We were now at the “Mephistophelean Institute of Turpitude.” We were given a certificate that read: “Certificate of Really Really Evil Achievement: We hereby laud and recognize Lego My Ego regarding outstanding efforts in the Evil Discipline of selling one’s soul.”

This opened up a whole new series of puzzles, which kept us working all night. One of the really cool things about Mystery Hunt is how, in some senses, it is a microcosm of MIT: students and professors (and alumni and friends) collaborate to solve problems. Here’s some of our teammates collaborating on a puzzle:

One of the classic puzzles of any Hunt with Dan Katz ’03 is the Duck Konundrum. This Hunt’s version was D4: Ducks Playing Poker. Here’s the description:

Duck Poker is a rarely practiced poker variant; it is not popular among humans because the outcome is entirely predetermined… however, ducks like it, because they enjoy watching humans helplessly follow directions.

And, here are teammates, well, helplessly following directions:

Here’s the complete set of Duck Konundra:

The Duck Konundrum

D2: The Mighty Duck Konundrum (during which a wrench was instructed to be thrown at my head)

D3: The Fellowship Of The Duck

D4: Ducks Playing Poker

Here’s a nice close-up of Duck Poker:

Another puzzle you may enoy looking at is this dance puzzle starring Hunt co-organizer and my former Baker House dormmate Jenn. It’s worth watching the Quicktime video for the puzzle and the amusement:

In the end, we solved 70 puzzles (according to the solving graph) and solved more meta puzzles than we ever had before. You can check out all of the puzzles yourself here. Here’s a part of our solved puzzle wall of fame (of course, since it’s Simmons Hall, the wall is curvy):

So, what’s the verdict? I’d say that this was certainly on of the best Hunts ever (if not the best). it was a hunt clearly written for the enjoyment of all of the nearly 40 teams participating, and worked equally well, I think for rookie and veteran Hunters alike. I hope that many of you will get a chance to take part in next year’s Hunt. I’m hopeful that the winning team, Palindrome (Dr. Awkward), will write another amazing weekend of puzzling fun!

19 responses to “Mystery Hunt 2007”

  1. milena says:

    heyy matt, I have a question… I got a call yesterday from MIT offering to pay for my plane ticket for CPW and they said that I’d be getting a package on the mail with all the information I need… And I was wondering if that is just like a prank or if it’s real!

  2. Jillian says:

    That sounds like so much fun! I hope to participate next year…

  3. Anonymous says:

    Of course. Admissions is need blind. Unless its not.

  4. Only at MIT. Awesome.

    Amusingly, looking at the graph, several teams’ plots eventually “flatline” somewhere between 12 and 5 on the first morning, while others continue to shoot upward for the duration of the event.
    I wonder just how much caffeine gets consumed during one of these… :-D

  5. abhijit says:

    hey melina

    r u qualified for early action

  6. Solomon says:

    Fearfully fascinating and intriguing.

  7. Anonymous says:

    nice! 1st comment…

  8. Joe says:

    That was the most fun I’ve ever had! I’m in one of those pictures, btw =D A quick run down of my experience includes staying up for ~ 40 hours straight (probably not the best idea, but I wasn’t all that tired), trekking around Cambridge from 3:30 am – 6:00 am Saturday morning, eating a ton of food, and attempting to solve tons of puzzles!

    Can’t wait until next year!

  9. Awesome

    MIT i’m coming this year…………….

  10. Anonymous says:

    Hey Matt,

    Can you please start blogging about Regular Applicants’ Admissions and Decisions?? Really tensed and worried!!

  11. Sabina says:

    Hi Matt,
    As an international student, I was just wondering what, ususally, is the academic credentials of an admitted international student? I mean scores or GPA of an international student.

  12. bhushan says:

    thats reallllllyyyyy realllllllyyyyy ………..
    awe……………so…………….m………..
    eee………………

  13. Int. says:

    please answer
    if u hav 85 on TOEFL iBT r u auto disqalified

  14. Ritchie, as a parent of an MIT ’09 student, I can give you my experience. Parents have plenty to do on their own, and will probably not see you after drop-off until it’s time to meet up and leave on Sunday. I was there to learn a lot of things about MIT, to get a feel for the campus, to tour the dorms, to hear about things like student health, financials, and meal plans, and to meet other parents of admitted students. I did all those things and more, and saw my kid once in passing during the weekend, which was just fine. There was never a moment when I was bored: in fact, I could have used TWO of me to do and see all the things I wanted to do and see!

    There aren’t really any activities for younger siblings, as I recall: it’s meant as a chance for admitted students to have fun and see the place, and for parents to learn and be reassured. (Family Weekend in October is the time to bring a sibling, not CPW!) You will want to have the opportunity to explore the dorms and classes and get to know your potential classmates on your own, it’s a great time. Enjoy!

  15. Ritchie says:

    Thanks for the help leftcoast mom, that takes care of one thing.

    But I still can’t really leave my little sister behind here in Tennessee- well, unless only one of my parents comes, but I think they both want to come…what a predicament…

  16. Then maybe one of them could take your sister on a tour of Boston, go to some museums, etc. while the other goes to the sessions for parents, and then swap off.

    Seriously, Family Weekend is a fun time with activities meant for younger sibs. CPW is not that at all — I don’t recall the stats but I think only about half the CPW participants come with a parent, and the year I attended, almost none had both parents attending. Might be worth having just one parent attend CPW, and then the whole crew coming up for Family Weekend: that would save money, too!

  17. Anonymous says:

    blog admissions someone plz

  18. bhushan says:

    Hey Matt,
    please can we put our nose now in some serious blogging of asmission coz things r getting worse

  19. Ritchie says:

    Hey Matt,

    I have a question about this year’s CPW. The registration form thing online asks if your parents are coming, and mine are. But there is not a space for listing siblings on the form- does that mean siblings are not allowed to come? Also, are the activities for both students and parents are the same, or if you pretty much don’t see each other the whole time. Either way doesn’t matter to me, I just want to know whether or not my parents are gonna be bored or anything like that haha.

    Thanks, Ritchie