Mystery Hunt just wrapped up again. It was so fun! I think my post from last year still mostly holds true. If you want some examples, they’re at http://www.mit.edu/~puzzle/2020/. Some of my favorites this year:
Story (you will need to know that there is a co-op house at MIT called “Pika”; this website will help at some point)
Tunnel of Love
Creatures from Outer Space
If this interests you, I’d be happy to walk you through any of these!
1. I went to Cambridge (Boston) this year to do it. That’s been pretty cool. We all rented a house together; some ppl stayed in the house, others (including me) stayed in a nearby hotel. But we spent all day in the house, sitting around on our laptops, cooking meals and stuff. It felt extreme in the way that putting on theater shows as an undergrad felt extreme: staying up late, suffering through periods of being stuck together, having to do the necessities to keep your body healthy but just because you have to and not because breakfast is the high point of your day.
2. It’s nice to get to know some of these folks more. It’s less social than you might think; it’s so focused on doing the thing that you sometimes end up not really socializing. Also, it’s very sober; not that you need to be in mildly-altered states to build up relationships quickly, but it often helps. But being in a place with people for 36 hours, you’re going to get to know them at least a bit.
3. But though puzzling doesn’t strike me as super social, it’s still really communal. It’s weird; I imagined it being like an Ocean’s Eleven kind of thing where one person smooth-talks the guards, one person hacks into the mainframe, one person does the laser dance, etc. And maybe it is, accidentally - like, if you don’t like doing laser dances and you open a puzzle and the way to solve it is to do a laser dance, then you’ll just close it and ignore it. But there’s very little explicit division of labor. There’s also very little attribution of glory; when you solve a puzzle everyone celebrates for like 10 seconds and then moves on. I tried to dish out props as much as possible but nobody seemed to care. Nobody talks about great insights they had afterward.
This… might be healthy? Like, you could go very ego-tripping on this, and like build up identities about how good you are at this, because it seems pretty connected to some kind of pretty-general intelligence, and we nerds love being good at intelligence. So, if the cultural default is not to ego trip, then great!
OTOH I wanna get better and/or get specialized so that some time they can be like “a laser maze! we need someone to dance through the lasers!” and I show up and do the thing with the music playing and everyone loves it and I feel important. Some basic human desires don’t go away overnight.
4. Seriously, though, there seems to be a big difference between “being competitive” and not. We were definitely not, for a few reasons: our team (Threemoji) is only ~40 ppl instead of 100+, we’ve only been around for 3 years, and … I mean, we’re not that good. Which is not to say we’re not good; I witnessed many feats of advanced black-belt level 9000 puzzle-solving this weekend, and it was awesome, but we still got about halfway through the thing by the time the winners had finished it. It’s like someone was telling me about chess: “the difference between the #1 and #50 chess masters is bigger than the difference between the #50 chess master and you or me.” (I don’t know if that’s true about chess, but let’s believe it for now.)
To be competitive, we’d have to practice and we’d have to grow. (We’d also have to be willing to write an entire puzzle hunt if we did win; the winning team writes all the puzzles the next year, and that takes a long time.) So we’re explicitly not being competitive, now.
And that’s great - I don’t really even want to be competitive. It feels like it’d make it stressful instead of fun. But I want to get better, mostly because getting better is fun. It’s like being very fluent at a programming language - you can just think, less-hampered by needing to google function names. And just-thinking is so joyful; the higher-level (because you’re fluent at so many lower levels), the better. So basically, I’d love for Puzzle Dojo to exist.
5. I’ve got an ongoing hypothesis that one reason I’m depressed, in general, is that I spend too much time thinking/in my head/in my ego, and not enough time feeling/in my body/just being. In that case, just thinking real hard for a whole weekend is going to set me way back! Should I not focus so hard on thinking-type events like this because they’re going to reinforce this big thinking-focused way of life that only feels good after coffee?
For the meantime my response is: nah, let’s not overthink it here, puzzling is great. Mind/body might be like biceps/triceps or quads/hamstrings. If you exercise only one, you’ll be sad… but like, you can’t make your biceps stronger by skipping your tricep exercises! To improve the body, just improve the body, don’t give up on the mind.
But it’s also possible that mind/body is like weights on a scale: if you’re too developed in the mind, quit putting weights on that side of the scale. I’m keeping my mind (hah) open to this hypothesis.
6. A trip to Boston was a great excuse to see 4 really good friends outside the puzzling world, and I should continue to find excuses to do this. There’s very little that’s as good as old friends.
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