02:25 pm - Hunt (Part 1)
I've never really been the write-up type, regardless of how good or bad I may be at it, so I'll just toss out some anecdotes on puzzles from last weekend's MIT Mystery Hunt and what comes comes. Spoilers abound, so read at your own risk:
- Blackout: This is where I started - and oofta, was it a doozy for a starting-round puzzle (Scott Handelman, who came up with the concept and half the subpuzzles, agrees it was inappropriate there, so no foul on es part). I got the Braille "aha" right away, or so I'd thought; it took a couple more minutes staring at the Nurikabe to convince myself that yes, it does run that deeply, through the whole damn grid. It would have to. In fact, at one point I entertained the idea it would have to run even deeper than that, generating 5×5 word squares out of the result! That, for better or worse, quickly proved false. I'm surprised so many definable patterns came up - it really was a matter of learning the "rules" of the Braille alphabet, such as requiring at least one of the top two cells in each 2×3 block (as well as at least one among the top-left corner and the one below it). Even knowing all this, the puzzles were STILL a pain in the ass to finish! Jasters and I went back and forth on the Nurikabe, piece by piece, until the whole thing fell; Ertchin made mincemeat of the Tapa; Tyler was on a sine wave of progress with the Pentomino Minesweeper until hitting a wall - but when the first two puzzles finished, we were able to guess the 'Z' and the group finished it all off in short order. Good fun, and good team effort.
- Winning Conditions: I love the concept behind this. I'm not so keen on the execution. For starters, I spent a good twenty-plus minutes getting it to work right on Gabby's laptop (though to be fair, quite a bit browser-related seemed to be not working on there). But during that time, and indeed for hours afterward, the entire team only saw Rule 10 appear ONCE. It popped up pretty much as a fluke when devjoe was toying with it, and we just could...not...get...it...again! I spent HOURS studying combinations trying to get it to reappear; apparently I had the right words, but was inputting them at the wrong time! It's something of a Catch-22: to learn the rules, you have to break them when they're enforced, but to know when that is, you need to know the rules! You have to, to a certain extent, get lucky to crack this one, and I don't much care for that. Nonetheless, it's an utterly fascinating puzzle concept. I don't know who ended up finishing this one off, but it wasn't me.
- Audio Games: If Brad Friedman ever attends the Funspot tourney, they'd all better look out when it comes to the Name That Tune competition, because HOLY CRAP is e FAST at naming games! Unfortunately, that's where I stopped being useful on this one. I saw the whole "26-second" thing going on, so I knew I was listening for one stand-out element in each recording, but curiously enough I was thinking in terms of just about everything EXCEPT the original games themselves. I tried picking out unique sound effects, shifts in music... The 'U' goes below the line and the rest above, Adam. [looks at the whiteboard]
- B.J. Blazkowicz in ‘Wintertime for Hitler’: Brad was getting a big kick out of this. E was clearly disappointed when it was backsolved. Before that happened, e noted the alteration of the starting positions, and I did just what the author thought I'd do and defended against (only the save games have the changes, so a level editor won't help). When I finally got a chance to play myself, I caught the change in contents of the secret rooms... ALL secret rooms! So much for "reduce potential red herrings" - that ADDED to our searchspace. With that said, knowing the answer now, I do think the "find the matching poster" mechanic was perfectly fair and frankly rather clever.
- Zugzwaang: I learned of Arimaa literally the day before the Hunt. I knew my Chess4 set would prove useful! (The black/white pieces were used later as well for the Alice Chess meta.) It would have been even better if I'd brought my copy of Zillions of Games, but I failed to do so: "I could bring a flash drive with games on it... pah, it could only be a distraction, what use would it be?" Adam, you twat. ZoG is a must-bring and you know it.
- Tax... in... Space: This unlocked at the same time as Equal Billing. I looked at both as they were printed out, and I knew exactly what was going to happen, so I figured I may as well speed things up: "Is Thomas Snyder online?" I ask. When told e was, I said, "Tell him Equal Billing is his. I'm going to do Tax in Space." Everyone else in the room that looked at this puzzle recoiled. I knew that, perhaps unfortunately, I was the perfect man for the job, as I'm the most anal motherfucker I know, and I'm the sort who could solve this monster with just the paper it's printed out on, a pencil, and my calculator watch, without making a single misstep anywhere along the way. And that's exactly what I did. My favorite part was the 'in' instead of the usual 'of' that meant NOT counting all the letters in the document - what a delightfully simple tactic leading to a MASSIVE trap! I wonder how many fell in. I know I wasn't among them. Poor Mike Booth: I was sounding out parts of the puzzle to keep things straight, and I was (distractingly) cracking em up! When I finished, Brad said I should get a CPA, and several said they'd buy me drinks. [They apparently forgot I'm a teetotaler.] The funny thing was that I finished it at pretty much the same time Thomas finished Equal Billing. ...I should go solve that. My turn now.
- Sovereignty: My first ever backsolve! I'm not sure if this or that last one could be called my crowning achievement this year. I wasn't keyed in to the existence of a Dominion puzzle right away - I'd been concentrating on metas at the time - but once I learned it was there, it grabbed my attention real quick. The Sheila Sunshine meta this puzzle was adherent to required the solution to have exactly eleven letters, with eight letters of the alphabet banned. It was a good old-fashioned toaplan that gave me the answer: I was on the toilet when it hit me that the answer was almost certainly the name of a Dominion card. Guess how many Dominion card titles fit those requirements! Yep - exactly one. ...It's almost a little shameful that this puzzle was circumventible so easily. Perhaps sometime I'll go back and actually try to deduce all the cards.
This is getting a bit long - I'll cover metas in a following entry. I could also offer a more personal take on it all, but I'm not particularly motivated to do so; I reserve the right to do so anyhow at a later date. - ZM
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