The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 29.0°F | A Few Clouds

Setec Astronomy Wins French Armada’s Mystery Hunt, Sixty-Eight Hour Hunt Longest Game in Recent Memory

By Marissa Vogt


The 25th annual IAP Mystery Hunt began at noon this past Friday in Lobby 7, inspired by the movie “Time Bandits.”

The hunt kicked off with a Pirate-themed skit. Each team was given a skull made of plaster of Paris and a map that we would later find out was the “Map of All Space and Time.”

The hunt was run by the French Armada, the East Campus-based team that won last year’s hunt. Setec Astronomy, a team of MIT alumni and professional puzzle solvers, found the coin, the perennial final goal of the hunt, at 8:23 a.m. on Monday morning, thus winning the hunt and the right to create next year’s hunt. At just over 68 hours, this hunt was the longest on record.

Action Before Thought

My team, Action Before Thought, was a medium-sized team mostly comprised of residents of Third West of East Campus. We collected our laptops and gathered in our dorm lounge shortly after noon on Friday to begin working on the first round of puzzles.

Less than a day into the hunt our lounge began to resemble a disaster area, with papers strewn about and laptop cords monopolizing the right of way.

After a while we established shifts to cover the early morning hours, and one of our team members set up a Wiki, a Web page we could all easily modify, so that we could keep track of our progress during the hunt.

About half of the team would come and go from puzzling, taking breaks to sleep, eat, and shower, though many of us established a permanent presence in the lounge. From time to time someone would leave briefly to get sustenance or to visit the French Armada.

Because we were a fairly small team of mostly first-time hunters, we would usually attack puzzles in pairs or small groups and work on them relentlessly until they were solved. From time to time the French Armada would call us with hints, though we generally were left to rely on having one of those “A-ha!” moments.

Sanity levels were rapidly dropping by Sunday afternoon, after a weekend of very little sleep and working on a single puzzle for several straight hours. Our goal in the final hours of the hunt became to complete one meta puzzle, which we did by making an origami pirate’s hat early on Monday morning.

Puzzles difficult but fun

One puzzle that I particularly struggled with was “May This Ember Glow,” a picture of 14 celebrity couples. We finally noticed that the picture included famous cradle-robbers like Jerry Lee Lewis and Woody Allen, and we realized that the solution would have something to do with the large age difference for each “May-December” couple. Appropriately, the answer to that puzzle was “prefrosh.”

Other fun puzzles like “Worship of Zacazontli” sent several of our team members out trying to identify specific telephones around campus, and “Measure of Devotion” involved picking out letters from certain words in Lobby 10.

Structure of hunt explained

After sleeping all day Monday, our team went to the wrap-up in the evening, where the French Armada awarded prizes, shared anecdotes about certain teams, and explained the general structure of the hunt.

Each island from the Map of all Space and Time involved solving about fifteen puzzles, and each island had a meta puzzle that required the solutions to most or all of the fifteen puzzles. After all seven meta puzzles had been completed, teams had a boarding pass to the Titanic.

From there, teams began the final runaround, solving a series of seven puzzles that required the seven items -- including a skull, a small plastic gear, lock picks, a crystal, and a vial of rum -- that were given to teams as each island was unlocked. One of the prizes awarded at the wrap-up was an additional vial of rum for the Baker team, who drank theirs as soon as they got it.

After the final runaround, the teams were sent to 54-100, where they found the coin. Setec Astronomy found the coin first, though they were followed closely by PhysPlant, the team from Random Hall.

The recovery process

After thinking about nothing but Mystery Hunt for a good 68 straight hours, it’s bittersweet to find myself back in the routine of normal life.

Even on Monday evening I was still looking for patterns in everything I read, but I’ve mostly recovered by now. I’ve stopped answering the phone by saying “Arrr!” and I’ve relinquished my title as Captain.

Our team of mostly freshmen and sophomores felt overwhelmed at times, but I know we had a lot of fun and really enjoyed the experience. The French Armada especially did a good job of making sure all the teams were having a good time, providing us with hints when necessary. Even though I was only a second-year hunter, I felt like I had a much better understanding of the hunt this year, and so we’re hoping that our team will improve by next year.

In a lot of ways, I feel that the Mystery Hunt is representative of life here at MIT -- a wild, crazy ride with lots of interesting and difficult problems to solve. The first time you try it, you feel completely hosed, but it gets better as you go along and eventually someone helps you see the big picture. And in the end, it isn’t how many puzzles you solved or even whether or not you found the coin that matters, it’s what you learned in the process and the fun you had getting there.