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Crowds gather in Lobby 7 to view the beginning ceremony of the 2011 Mystery Hunt. Codex Alimentarius won this year’s hunt in 42 hours.
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Disaster interrupted the wedding of Mario and Princess Peach. Guests watched as Princess Peach was kidnapped by Bowser, they then went into teams to solve the Mystery Hunt puzzles to help Mario find Peach and, in turn, to win the Hunt.

After almost 42 hours of grueling puzzle solving, team Codex Alimentarius (Codex) beat the other teams to rescue Peach at 5:58am on Sunday, finding the coveted Mystery Hunt “coin” (Peach’s captive friend) and winning the 2011 MIT Mystery Hunt as well as the right to design next year’s contest.

Metaphysical Plant, last year’s Hunt winners (and the 2005 winners), designed and organized this year’s video game-themed Hunt.

Codex hunted this year with approximately 60 people solving on site and another 40 or so solving remotely, according to member Jeff Jakubowski, who otherwise has no affiliation with MIT. Most members of Codex are not affiliated with MIT.

Veterans revamp the Hunt

Julian West PhD ’90, a member of Metaphysical Plant, said that work commenced on this year’s Hunt the day after the wrap-up last year. He said that the main difference between organizing the Hunt and participating in it is the amount of time involved. “I think [organizing] a Hunt once every five years is the right amount,” West said, adding that he was a little saddened he couldn’t participate this year.

This year’s Hunt featured optional events where participants had the chance to win free answers. The five optional events ranged from a Mario Kart-style race to a cooking competition with coffee as the secret ingredient. Another new feature was the awarding of “achievements,” which, similar to the Xbox 360 console achievement system, rewarded teams for completing special tasks. For example, team The Team Your Team Could Smell Like won the “Warp Whistle” achievement for solving a metapuzzle — puzzles that require answers from previous puzzles — out of order. Other achievements included calling in an answer containing a Q not followed by a U or turning in five wrong answers.

To make the Hunt puzzles more accessible, the multimedia required for solving a puzzle were all placed on the same web site, accessible by almost any device. Teams submitted answers via a web form, which partially eliminated the need for spelling their answers out over the phone. Confirmed answers for each team were also available online.

This year, the organizers were able to place a clue on the web site of rhythm game developer Harmonix. The company placed the clue on their message board for their weekly Rock Band song release announcements. Comic author Randall Munroe of xkcd.com also wrote a strip for the Hunt, posted on the main xkcd website. The title “Stingray Nebula” was the answer to an xkcd-themed metapuzzle.

Although he claims that he does very little solving, Jakubowski admired this year’s Hunt: “It was very well run, very smooth,” he commented, adding that the structure this year was unique.

For the most part, the Hunt went according to plan. There was one online puzzle that malfunctioned due to a server jam; however, a backup puzzle was quickly put in place.

West attributed much credit to the test solvers, who he believed made the Hunt as smooth as it was. Each puzzle was tested at least twice for anything that would confuse the actual solvers.

Hunting in five worlds

Structurally, the Hunt was split into five distinct “worlds” — Mario, Mega Man, Legend of Zelda, Civilization, and Katamari Damacy — each placing Mario into a different video game. Teams unlocked these worlds sequentially by increasing their score, which was based on both how many puzzles the team had solved and how long the team had been participating. In each world, the puzzles and metapuzzles were laid out according to how the video game was traditionally played. For instance, the Mega Man world required players to defeat different “bosses” by solving puzzles, whose answers were used against other bosses in the world. This process is similar to how Mega Man fights his bosses in the original video game.

Finally, during the “runaround” part of the Hunt, players met their final match, GLaDOS, the evil artificial intelligence from the Portal series. Around 50 members of Codex were instructed to roam the halls of MIT looking for both Peach and the “friend” she had made while being held captive: the Hunt coin, hidden in a Mario question block. This year’s coin was a Companion Cube, an iconic object from Portal, and the Hunt concluded with a wrap-up session in 26-100, followed by a reception in Lobby 13 on Sunday evening.

For creating next year’s hunt, Jakubowski claimed team Codex has “a million ideas.”

“It’s just a matter of whether or not they are doable,” he said.

The solution to every puzzle, as well as puzzles created but not used, are now available online at the Hunt website, http://web.mit.edu/puzzle.