Yves here. I thought readers might enjoy a change from our regular programming. One of the members of the NC team has been participating in the MIT Mystery Hunt for years and was even on a winning team, and pointed us to this video. For you puzzle fans, this is the iron man triathlon version!
This sounds like the hunt in the Da Vinci Code write large. Where is Professor Robert Langdon when you need him? This seems to be good training and education for the students doing the Hunt and I am wondering if those students that study liberal arts have an edge over STEM students because of the reliance of general, if not esoteric knowledge required. Certainly that guy is right about those ah-ha moments when everything snaps into place and you understand something hidden. It gives you a rush and when you experience one you always remember it. It can feel like you are walking on air at the time. That prize for the MIT Mystery Hunt where you have to design the following years Hunt sounds like a booby-trapped prize though. I wonder what second prize was. A set of steak knives?
I’m on Alex’s team. I can tell you that the ‘prize’ of creating an MIT puzzle hunt is an exhilarating and heady experience. I get to collaborate with about 50 of the most interesting and talented people I know on a year-long project. Making and running a hunt requires the creation of a cohesive plotline (prior hunts were centered on role-playing games, famous books and movies, murder mysteries, and alternate realities), which is then realized through incredible tech skills, art design, puzzle creating, editing and testing, logistics, prop-making and fund-raising. There’s an estimate that about 30,000 hours of volunteer time go into the making of a hunt. I feel lucky to have been involved in this aspect. And there is NO way that our team wants to win again anytime soon.
I’ve been participating in the MIT Mystery Hunt for about 10 years now (been on a few second-place teams — the prize, for most, is a predictable combination of aaagh+relief). In my experience there’s no particular advantage for liberal arts vs STEM students … wordplay-level facility with English doesn’t really correlate with academic disciplines, and while there are always a fair number of science/mathematics puzzles that only advanced STEM students will be able to solve, those are really just particular examples of the esoteric topics on offer. A physicist or historian is certainly likely to contribute, but your background is just as likely to be useful if you are a cook, or a cricketer, or a birdwatcher. Or somebody who watches a lot of TV, or follows pop stars on twitter, or makes costumes to wear to conventions. It’s a big boat.
The real skill, it seems to me, is being able to conceive the outward appearances of objects and easily rearrange them to bring to the fore, and recognize, common attributes. If you’re inclined to take that in a philosophical direction, it can be a real behind-the-veil-of-maya experience, but that’s by no means baked in the cake; I have a number of skilled teammates who are breathless consumers of propaganda in real life, and some who are happy to put their talents to work in the weaving industry, so to speak.
You learn a lot about humans as biological and social organisms, too. Brains with a mission involving a more or less regular dopamine payout get naked fast anyway, and when sleep goes out the window you get down to really bare-bones personalities, motor, and conditioning. Watching myself perform under the influence of sugar vs. attempted regular meals, or an all-niter vs. attempted nightly sleep, has been revealing. I had a real eye-opener one year watching my 11-year-old in frictionless, high-fiving mind-meld with a couple of grad students who were clearly speeding. Aha is a hell of a drug.
If these puzzles sound at all interesting to you, I recommend browsing the archives of past hunts kept under https://web.mit.edu/puzzle/www/, especially via devjoe’s index here:
That’s a quick way to find the intersection of puzzles with the esoterica in which you yourself happen to have an interest. There’s a puzzle hidden in the TED video, too.
I think that should be ‘nec plus ultra’.
In French it is “ne plus ultra” and the French reference is much more common than the Latin.
In the past, our friends sponsored a “Road Rally” — a contest which featured a pre-determined route for vehicles on streets and highways in town and country, made up of clues known only to the “Rally Masters”. Participants were given a printed handout of instructions and were to follow the clues to complete the path. The winner was determined by time and the number of clues answered correctly. It must have been lots of work for the mappers and it certainly was a fun and intense experience and a thrill for our team to have been two-time winners.
It does remind me a little of some obsessive Burners I know, who use the brief 51 week respite between Burning Man to conjure up some amazing stuff.
Thank you for this tidbit. Delightful.
Computer games have progressed very little for quite some time. More and more beautiful graphics at higher and higher resolutions reach their endpoint. The puzzle making facilities of the MIT teams might well spend their energies on mystery games. We are well past the time for some advances. Mystery stories are not far behind, and may exceed, the place of romances in our popular literatures and many romances contain more than a small aspect of mystery in their appeal to readers.