After nearly 42 hours of time-travel, riddle-solving, and very little sleep, team Metaphysical Plant found the much coveted Mystery Hunt coin, concluding the annual MIT puzzle competition. An estimated 1000 MIT students, alumni, and unaffiliated puzzle solvers formed the 37 teams who participated in the event.
The coin was found on January 17 at 5:50 a.m. near the southeast gate of Old Ashdown, under roughly an inch of soil.
This year’s hunt began at last Friday at noon and was written by Beginner’s Luck, the winning team of last year’s competition. At the beginning of the hunt, teams were faced with one round of ten puzzles and one “meta”-puzzle, a more complex puzzle requiring the use of several previous puzzles’ solutions to solve. As the Hunt progressed, teams unlocked additional challenges, adding ten more rounds and 92 puzzles to the Hunt.
Inspired by the 30th anniversary of Mystery Hunt, the theme this year was time travel. In keeping with that theme, teams learned that time had “warped” so that they were competing on the 300th anniversary of the Hunt, not the 30th, as they solved the first meta-puzzle of the hunt,
The warp in time led to the creation of multiple “lost rounds” from previous Mystery Hunts. These lost rounds included a round from 2009, closely based on last year’s theme of “Escape from Zyzzlvaria” and rounds from supposed hunts as early as 1710.
As part of the theme, completing every additional round caused a change in history that altered the original puzzles from the first round, requiring the first round to be solved twice. According Wesley Carroll ‘92, one of the writers of this year’s Hunt, “One of the things that is unusual about this hunt is we wrote a set of puzzles that with very small tweaks could be resolved for different puzzles.”
The design of this year’s coin was also tied to the theme of the Hunt. The coin was designed to appear like a pocket watch, with one side bearing the number 30 and the inscriptions “2010 MIT History Mystery Hunt” and “It’s About Time” in a ring around the outside of the coin. On the opposite side of the coin was the number “300,” with the years of the lost rounds in a ring along the edge.
Metaphysical Plant was composed mainly of Hunt veterans and included roughly 75 people. “Physical Plant” — a previous incarnation of Metaphysical Plant — won Mystery Hunt in 2005, but had roughly 25 more members, many of whom were alumni from Random Hall. Of that 100, about 50 stayed with the team to write the 2006 Hunt. It was those 50 that made up the core of this year’s winning team.
Andrew Thomas ’03, one of this year’s winners and a winner in 2005, said this year’s Hunt was “one of the more smoothly flowing and better executed hunts in recent history.”
Though most of the team had been involved in Mystery Hunt before, some members of the team had never previously participated in Mystery Hunt.
Winning is just the beginning for Metaphysical Plant — the prize for winning Mystery Hunt is writing next years Hunt. Writing the Hunt is a process that takes an entire year, and involves writing puzzles as well as working out the relevant Mystery Hunt administrative details. Beginner’s Luck finalized their theme by February and finished a complete concept by May. Once a concept was finalized, members of the team began submitting puzzles to a team of editors. The writing of the puzzles continued throughout the year.
Thomas, who was involved in the writing of the 2006 hunt, said writing Mystery Hunt is like “[having] a second job for the year.”