On Friday the 13th, hundreds of students, alumni, and puzzle enthusiasts gathered anxiously in Lobby 7. At noon, the members of the 33 teams that came to compete in the 2012 Mystery Hunt were greeted by two familiar characters: the infamous Max and Leo from 1968 Mel Brooks film The Producers. The two introduced the premise of the hunt, which is an MIT annual puzzling event that dates back to 1980.
Keeping with Mystery Hunt tradition, this year’s hunt was planned by the winning team of last year’s Hunt — “Codex.” The hunt was themed around show business, and prominently featured Max and Leo from The Producers. The hunt commenced at noon on Friday and concluded on Saturday at 10:27 p.m. The winning team, “Manic Sages,” solved a series of showbiz-themed puzzles to discover the location of the “coin” — whichever team reaches the coin first claims victory This year’s coin was a Tony Award, which was hidden in Little Kresge.
A Tony Award, the highest accolade given to a stage production, served as the final prize this year because of the Producers premise for the entire hunt. Upon their return, Max and Leo planned to produce six more terrible musicals with the help of the hunters. These plays comprised the first part of the hunt — but it didn’t end there. Just as it happened in The Producers, the plays designed to flop became wildly successful. In the final round of the hunt, Max and Leo decided to produce one more hit. This play, unlike the others, became a huge disaster. In order to redeem their play, Max and Leo decided to steal a Tony Award for it. Thus, the hunters’ final assignment was to find the location of that Tony, which was hidden somewhere on campus.
The annual tradition of Mystery Hunt was started by MIT student Bradley Schaefer ’78 in 1980. The objective is to solve a series of puzzles and encrypted messages to finally find a hidden object. This year, the structure centered around six different plays and six theater critics. Teams solved puzzles specific to each critic and play, as well as meta-puzzles, which require answers from previous puzzles to be solved, and meta-meta puzzles, which needed all the meta puzzle answers. The winning team’s prize is to design the next year’s hunt.
There were also several events hosted during the hunt, which teams could attend in order to earn Bupkis, a type of currency that could be used to purchase clue answers during the hunt. One such event was “I’m Wet! I’m Hysterical and I’m Wet!” which was a pool party held at the Alumni Pool in Stata. Two members from each team were invited to attend, and were surprised by a pool full of rubber ducks. Each duck had markings on its bottom — revealing a giant, wet version of the popular card game Set. One member from each team participated at a time and had to collaborate with other teams to create a set of three rubber ducks. Other events included a cocktail mixer titled “Bringing Stars Together,” and a Name that Show Tune competition.
Teams came from all over the world to participate in the Mystery Hunt. Some teams were made up of MIT students and alums, others of puzzle enthusiasts from around the world. “Manic Sages,” the winning team, was comprised of about 150 members and is affiliated with Mathcamp and the Experimental Study Group at MIT.
This year marked the first hunt for a number of teams. “The Freshman 15,” made up of about 25 freshmen, most of whom knew each other from the Discover Electrical Engineering and Computer Science pre-orientation program, greatly enjoyed their first hunt despite the fact that they were facing much larger teams. Team leader Joanna K. So ’15 said that as members of a smaller team they had “more satisfaction because you had a greater input” in solving puzzles.
However, facing bigger and more experienced teams “is frustrating sometimes,” said Jennifer B. Tilton ’15, but the group agreed their team had “a lot of promise.” They plan to enter again next year with more members.
One of the larger, veteran teams in the hunt was “Too Big To Fail,” estimated to have between 100–150 members. Too Big To Fail has competed in every hunt since 1996, and has written the hunt before as well. In teams of this size, competing in the hunt is a mixture of recruiting new members — “we’re very open to people joining,” said one MIT alumni member — and using their familiarity with the hunt to become more efficient and prepared for each hunt. Too Big To Fail finished fourth in this year’s competition.
No matter the size or success of the teams, all enjoyed putting their minds to the test to solve some challenging puzzles. Puzzle hunters can look forward to next year’s hunt, which promises to be just as mind-boggling as this one. Statistics about each team’s progress during the hunt can be found online at http://web.mit.edu/puzzle/www/12/memos_from_the_management/solving_statistics/.