Gotta Catch Them All

Somewhere toward the end of the 2014 Mystery Hunt, my team, Palindrome, reached the runaround — a final series of puzzles even more dastardly than the puzzles we had experienced all weekend. We knew that another team had already won the event, finding a coin hidden on campus and earning the right and responsibility to organize the 2015 hunt. But this year’s organizing team was generous enough to keep the hunt going even after crowning a winner, and Palindrome, having struggled through the solving of 100+ diabolical puzzles all weekend, wanted to experience the endgame.

The problem was, we also had to clean up our headquarters and convert it back into plain old ordinary MIT classrooms, and part of that meant packing up our phone. So I did what any good team captain would do — I made my cell phone the new Official Team Phone. And while we waited for the runaround to begin, we kept plugging away on the puzzles we hadn’t managed to solve. Eventually there were only three such puzzles… and then two… and then one.

The final hole in our list of completed puzzles was called “One Tequila, Two Tequila, Three Tequila, Floor,” and it involved watching clips of a popular Web series called “My Drunk Kitchen.” The audio for the clips didn’t match what was happening on screen, and the puzzle was to figure out the correlation between the video and the audio track — somehow there was a way to use this information to arrive at an answer. We couldn’t figure it out. We called in what felt like a hundred guesses, some of them educated, some of them borderline random. My cell phone rang more in those few hours than in the entire previous year. Again and again I would answer and hear, “Hello, is this Palindrome?” “Hello, is this Palindrome?” “Hello, is this Palindrome?” Followed by the bad news that we had the wrong answer yet again.

One solitary hole out of over a hundred puzzles, and we couldn’t fill it no matter what we tried to do.

Well, fine. Instead we packed up our stuff and went on the runaround. Mystery Hunt puzzles cover a wide range of subjects, from pop culture to science, from linguistics to who-knows-what. Most of them are essentially paper puzzles — you download them from a Web site and print them out if you want to. The puzzles in the endgame, however, have recently become supersized, leaping off the computer screen. This year we had to get a record player working without electricity and without a phonograph needle; we had to dismantle a gigantic, impressively constructed puzzle box; we had to assemble three chessboards and then solve the chess problems thereupon, using the peculiar rules of “Alice Chess.” (The entire weekend was themed to Alice in Wonderland.)

And then, the grand finale -– a lifesize logic maze. Alice and the White Rabbit were traveling around this maze according to certain rules. We had to figure out how to get Alice out while keeping the Rabbit in. (There was really a young lady dressed in a blue pinafore, and an actor in long white rabbit ears.) It took over an hour and several failed attempts. There was real jubilation when Alice finally stepped out of the maze sans rabbit -– we had done it! We were one of only eight teams to see the Hunt all the way to the end.

We tried not to think about that one puzzle that had gotten away from us, the slight stain on our victory. “One Tequila, Two Tequila, Three Tequila, Floor!” What on earth had we missed in that puzzle? Why had it eluded us? Lord, was it irksome, thinking of that one small hole on a blackboard covered with solved puzzles. Oh well, you can’t win them all.

After the Hunt, there is always a wrapup -– hundreds of satisfied puzzlers gather in a large auditorium to hear from the constructors and swap anecdotes. I am rarely able to attend the wrapup, and this year was no exception. It was held the following day, shortly before I had to make a train. But my friend Mike managed to get a livestream of the event going on his laptop, so we watched for a while from our hotel room. On the screen, the audience murmured, waiting for things to start.

My cell phone rang. I answered it. A voice said, “Hello, is this Palindrome?”

“Uh,” I said. The Hunt had ended the previous day. How was I still getting these calls? “Are you kidding?” I asked.

“Not at all!” said the voice. “Is this Palindrome?”

“Yes,” I said. “I guess so.” In the background on the phone, I could hear the same murmuring sounds of an audience waiting for the wrapup to start. My caller was calling me from that very auditorium.

“This is Alice Shrugged.” That was the name of the organizing team. “And I’m calling to verify your answer to ‘One Tequila.’”

“Someone called in an answer?” I repeat that the Hunt had ended the previous day.

“Yes, indeed!” said the caller. “And your answer… is correct!”

I couldn’t believe it. “Our answer is correct? We solved the last puzzle?”

“You did! Congratulations!”

A moment later, on my friend’s laptop screen, I heard that same guy say into the microphone, “Palindrome has officially solved 100% of this year’s Hunt puzzles!” And the audience erupted into cheers.

Okay, there should probably be an asterisk by that statistic, seeing as the last answer was called in after the official end of the Hunt, but if the Hunt organizers themselves are cool with it, then who am I to argue?

Every. Puzzle. Solved!

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  1. Ken Stern / Cazique
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    Eric’s Recaps(TM) – the next best thing to being there yourself!


  2. Posted January 21, 2014 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    As a member of Immoral, Illegal, and Fattening, the other team with a claim for sixth or seventh place, I think our team generally agrees that you earned sixth place despite completing the endgame after us. At least, from what we heard, you had to wait a few hours after solving your last meta to start the endgame, as all the Cheshire Cats were asleep, while we, having solved our last meta around 2 PM on Sunday, didn’t have much of a delay. However, this fact didn’t stop us from wearing our “Sixth Place” ribbons that someone had thoughtfully pre-ordered (no lie!) on our badges with pride.

    And congratulations on your team’s puzzle complete!


  3. joon
    Posted January 21, 2014 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    our team log says we solved the knights meta at 8:01 am sunday, so we had to wait about 6 hours to start the runaround. during that time we solved 10 of the remaining 11 unsolved puzzles (well, backsolved, in many cases, but not all).


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