Mystery Hunt 2022: Puzzles I Edited/Loved

This is part of a series of posts on my contributions to the 2022 MIT Mystery Hunt – as such, there may be spoilers for some puzzles, so proceed at your own risk.

Find the puzzles I wrote here, and details on how I made the Alexei Lewis costume here

Editing

One of the other major areas I contributed to 2022’s Hunt was as an editor. My goals as part of our editorial team were pretty similar to my goals as a writer: work with as wide a swath of people as I could, and nurture some cool, creative ideas into the best versions of themselves they could be. Again, I feel like I succeeded – there’s a lot of my fingerprints all over the Hunt, even where I wasn’t directly involved with the writing of the main puzzle. Here’s what I edited:

Star Rats: The Rescuers

(author: Jenny Gutbezahl)

Star Rats: Frankie & Benjy

(author: Foggy Brume)

The Investigation: The Missing Piece

(author: Joe Cabrera)

part of the fun of editing this one was figuring out a way to turn what was testing as a very solid 15-20 minute puzzle into something slightly more robust without then turning the dial the opposite direction too far.

there was a brief moment when we were playing with the idea of making this a swag puzzle where teams would be sent a physical version of all the nametags in an envelope. Doing the mental math of making somewhere like 400 sets of extremely precisely punched nametags made us walk back from that, since the pay-off didn’t feel worth that much effort.

The Ministry: Go The F*** To Sleep

(author: Foggy Brume)

my main memory of this one was Foggy looking for an editor and asking if I had any problems with strong language. I don’t, and I’m happy I was able to suggest that we add some more MIT flavor to this with an IHTFP reference. It only felt right.

The Ministry: Crewel

(Author: Steve Kaltenbaugh)

I really love how this one turned out – it feels so smooth. Steve had the idea of taking a clueing a bunch of small words and turning them into world capitals minus a letter, and I was the one who suggested interweaving the clues as well rather than doing something griddy.

The Ministry: The Talking Tree

(author: James Sugrono)

I had such a good time working with James on both of the puzzles where I was editor. This one was outside of my general knowledge base, though that’s true for a LOT of the puzzles I edited, but I liked seeing our testsolvers figure out what was going on with parsing the sentences for this.

The Ministry/New You City: Book Reports

(authors: Jen McTeague, Wil Zambole, Ben Smith, additional editing by Sandy Weisz)

a bunch of my contributions towards the end of when we were writing Hunt are both as editor AND writer – I tend to be decent at taking a step back and looking at something I’ve written/co-written objectively enough to kill my darlings.

Sandy’s guidance as an additional editor was great – he helped Jen, Wil, and I put soldi constraints on the various tasks here so that solvers gave us what we were looking for, and made things entertaining for both teams and evaluators

Noirleans: Please Prove You Are Human

(author: James Sugrono)

This was James and I’s first collaboration, and watching this go from something that was testing waaaaaaay too fast (we had a 7 minute solve, y’all. In a round where we were aiming for puzzles to take 4-6 solvers at least an hour) and turning it into something that I thought was SUPER memorable

this has a fun cameo appearance by me as the NATO letters

I think about this puzzle every time I get a particularly tricky CaPTCHA after testing the final version and needing to have serious reflection on whether I knew what photos of an island look like

Lake Eerie: Lord of the Flies

(author: Matt Zinno)

Anywhere where I wasn’t super familiar with a dataset being used (for instance: I still haven’t watched a full episode of Survivor), the main area I tried to help as editor was making sure that the rest of the puzzle felt accessible and fun to the team that would eventually be solving this, especially if they also didn’t have a person with that knowledge base. Because this one has a lot going on under the hood after you solve the acrostic, I tried to make sure the acrostic itself didn’t get too esoteric, which could get tricky with the specific nature some of its clues needed to have.

Lake Eerie: Scream

(authors: Gavin Edwards and Eric Berlin)

I thought this one was going to fall through at multiple points throughout the year – the audio element on its own seemed too hard, but then we learned Shazam (a program, it turns out, that’s very good at identifying really processed audio of rock vocals over a bunch of noise) could make mincemeat of our samples and make the puzzle far too easy. Props to Gavin for adding the Jaws music, and props to both authors for ignoring my suggestion that we find a title/flavortext that played on the addition of that theme.

Lake Eerie: Rack ‘Em Up

(author: Eric Berlin)

I really liked working as editor with our more experienced authors like Eric and Foggy, partially just to see how their brain seemingly effortlessly pulls together a concept like this, but also to push them to play with their wordlists just enough to find the best set of words to be clued.

New You City: My Dinner with Big Boi

(authors: Sandy Weisz, Ben Smith)

Sandy and I were tossing ideas for a different New You City answer back and forth, but that needed to be swapped out with this one, so we wrote something more straightforward and thematic. I contributed more as an editor than a writer on this one, trying to make sure the references in the script felt straightforward enough (which meant killing some of my own clues that weren’t working) but still read as a mostly-coherent script when placed end to end.

Recipeoria: Drive Through Dilemma

(author: Maree Cassidy)

Maree came with this idea fully formed, and I helped give it some thematic flavortext, and swapping out one nonsense language for Ubby-Dubby, which had a nice local tie-in since Zoom was filmed at WGBH.

We briefly suggested adding enough audio processing to make it sound like it was coming through a drive-through speaker, and while that would have been fun thematically, the content is already encoded enough and the extra static was literally too much noise on an otherwise clean puzzle

Recipeoria: Sunday Dinner

(authors: Foggy Brume, Peter Gwinn, Ben Smith)

Foggy doesn’t need too much editing, and is really good at identifying what’s not working with a puzzle, so my main work as editor here was saying “if this is going to be an audio puzzle, is it worth asking Will Shortz if he wants to play himself?”, and then making that audio element actually happen.

The “how did you get Will Shortz to agree to this” story is very boring – I’m on the board of the National Puzzlers’ League as Vice-President. Will is historian. I spent too long writing an email explaining the puzzle and he emailed me back 5 minutes later saying it sounded fun. Then we had a Zoom.

From a post-prod perspective (since I did a bunch of that too), it felt important to just give solvers the full script on copy to clipboard. It might sort of undermine the presentation as just a bunch of audio files (especially since hey, that’s Actual Will Shortz), but it made the puzzle more accessible.

Heartford: Tryst of Fate

(Author: Yao Yu)

I picked this one up from another editor after some of the original development had already happened, and since this one has a lot of moving parts, made sure we tested every one of them thoroughly. It’s a tough puzzle (and one I think from a solving perspective benefits from a “relay” solve where the logic team passes things over to the “okay now what do we do with this data” team), but really clever, and I love all the terrible dating profile details.

I think I also suggested the final title on this one?

Whoston: THIS IS NOW A PUZZLE

(Authors: Jen McTeague, Steve Kaltenbaugh, Justin Ladia, Jacob Ford, Ben Smith)

Sometimes editing a puzzle means seeing a very good conversation happening in your team’s main Discord channel, starting a side conversation with the people having it, and making sure everything gets captured in the puzzle idea tracking software you’re using.

Reference Point: The Mlystery Hunt, As Told By A Thief of The Bases

(authors: Jen McTeague, Steve Kaltenbaugh)

We didn’t have an editor who was a Blaseball fan, so I volunteered as tribute since this felt like a puzzle full of Jenanigans and I was happy to wrangle that into what felt like a very fun puzzle. Again, as non-subject matter expert (and realizing that our team ALSO didn’t have any Blaseball people beyond the creators of the puzzle), I made sure the final product here had entry points for people who had no previous knowledge, and made sure a draft was done with as much time as possible for Jen to actually film and edit the videos to their best possible version.

Reference Point: Diced Turkey Hash

(author: Gavin Edwards, dice: Ben Smith)

As mentioned on my previous post about puzzles I wrote/had a hand in the construction of, all of the puzzle text here is Gavin, with helpful nudges from me after testsolves as to what “aha”s we thought were obvious that teams weren’t getting. I took the initial set of dice images we used in testing and used The Noun Project to find a clean set of icons that didn’t violate IP and would look good on teeny tiny die faces.

SciFicisco: Star Wars Cosplay

(authors: Joon Pahk, Brandon Cunningham)

Another one where the individual dots were good (a disguised celebrities puzzle! Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club band!), we just needed to find a way to make the connection between them work. The process of working on this made “why is this puzzle that seems to be about [x] actually about [y]?” part of my Have You Tried checklist when stuck on puzzles going forward.

Other Puzzles I Loved

and then since this isn’t enough content already, here are a few other puzzles I had nothing to do with the writing/editing on that I loved:

  • There was a moment while testing Dinotopia where I had to explain a particular bad movie reference to everyone in our testsolve.
  • Kevin Wald wrote a staggering amount of puzzles in the Hunt, but The Thin Pan is my particular favorite because of the a-ha of who’s doing the talking in the script.
  • Justin did the amazing site artwork for everything, but also wrote some killer puzzles. I loved all the intricate little bits of 🔔🦇🦇🦇 as a testsolver.
  • Black box puzzles aren’t always my thing, but Sorcery for Dummies is a very good black box puzzle.
  • Proof by Induction is a feat of construction that I somehow never encountered over the course of this year’s many many testsolves, and I regret that.
  • Also in that bucket: Swingin’, a puzzle that is so totally my type of puzzle, the type I would happily find during Hunt and mostly solo solve
  • Board Members is truly one of my favorite testsolving experiences from the year – it’s such a visually cute puzzle and once you realize how it ties in with its final answer, it’s a very smooth solving experience.
  • On an aesthetic level, the individual art pieces for How to Install a Handle are very good and I would absolutely buy a poster or print that was just all of them.
  • I only encountered Red Herring as a post-prodder and was absolutely blown away by the intricate level of what’s going on under the hood of an otherwise simple-looking puzzle.
  • Cheers has the perfect level of ahas, and also did a lovely thing with teaching me about two new interesting sets of data at once that Mystery Hunt so often does.

Mystery Hunt 2022: Stuff I Wrote

I did a lot of stuff for the 2022 Mystery Hunt. Before Palindrome won, I had realized that the growth of online puzzlehunts had meant that I didn’t need to necessarily keep my ideas as just “Hunt puzzles” and could probably write something where they could appear, and had made a sense of peace with potentially never writing for an actual Hunt.

Anyways, then Palindrome won the Hunt in 2021. It was a uniquely good year for me to be able to write, and since I already didn’t think I was going to get to do this and the fact I did made it feel like a gift, I threw myself into the process as though I was never going to get the chance to do it again.

One of my personal goals for the Hunt was to collaborate with as many people on Palindrome that I hadn’t collaborated with before, whether as a writer, editor, or in other regards. I absolutely excelled at that goal.

Here’s a list of the things I hand a hand in writing/creating for Hunt. I plan to make a few separate posts for the things I worked on as editor (because I also edited a LOT of things and want to shout out all of the awesome things my friends made), other areas in Hunt I helped out (to shout out all the behind-the-scenes stuff that isn’t necessarily the most visible but needs to happen), and some thoughts on the Hunt in general.


Star Rats Prologue: Splinter

I had made a tweet sometime in the last year that was just this image:

I’m very grateful Mike Nothnagel reminded me of that and wanted to write a puzzle riffing on that which ended up getting used in the prologue Hunt we wrote. Here are some other behind-the-scenes images:

The Investigation: Ada Twist, Scientist

I’ve written puzzles with Jenny Gutbezahl for a few local BAPHLs, and we always manage to work in a reference to 1980’s terrible Xanadu. This was where we slotted that in for Mystery Hunt now that we were both on the writing team.

The Ministry: Billie Barker (Meta)

A crew of us worked on this meta idea together after Shai Nir suggested it, so a bunch of our collective suggestions (including mine) made the final cut.

Fruit Around: The Nonsense Show (mini-puzzle)

Jen McTeague knows I love writing parodies of the William Carlos Williams poem “This is Just to Say”, and once she realized she needed some for our post-metameta “runaround” for smaller teams, reached out to have me create a puzzle around that idea. I was mentally blocked on finalizing some of the other puzzles on this list, so having this one just flow out in a few hours helped me get my writing mojo back when I needed it.

Book Reports

Writing a scavenger hunt for Mystery Hunt is hard. Jen McTeague, Wil Zambole, and I all collaborated on this in an effort to make something thematic to the Hunt that was fun for teams to do for us (since this felt much more in the “do some things for us” scavenger hunt genre than the “bring us a lot of items” genre), but also fun/easier for us to evaluate for teams.

I have some larger thoughts about the Ubiquitous Mystery Hunt Scavenger Hunt I’ll save for another post, but I was really pleased with the positive feedback we were getting for this.

Lake Eerie: Trust Nobody

Mike Nothnagel and I have wanted to write a puzzle about WIDM for y e a r s, and I’m glad we finally got the opportunity, as well as that I got to mash it up with my love of Dutch’s weird false friends, since that fed nicely into the theme of the puzzle.

Noirleans: SparksNotes

I really wanted to write something with Shai Nir Hana, so when he mentioned he had just seen Edgar Wright’s documentary about the band Sparks, I jokingly suggested we should write a puzzle with a bunch of Sparks audio clips where you had to determine, based on when it was released, whether Ron Mael’s mustache was a pencil mustache or a toothbrush mustache and use that as Morse. That wouldn’t have worked for a few reasons, but I really like the surreal photocollages he created for what we ended up with.

The Quest Coast: Magically Delicious

If this had been a normal in-person Hunt, I would have written a puzzle where the answer was something like BRING BEN SMITH ONE DOZEN COOKIES, since I’ve built my reputation in Hunt as being Palindrome’s Cookie Guy. Obviously, this was not a normal in-person Hunt, so I channeled my love of cookies with a co-author into a logic puzzle.

New You City: ❤️ & ☮️

I assume any of my puzzle friends that saw this one open up knew exactly who had written it.

I have wanted to write a Eurovision puzzle for Hunt for about a decade. Because it’s such a rich dataset, I’ve also been very quiet about that. The structure of New You City is super fun, and I knew that if I wanted teams to send good pastiches, they needed to see the best, so the puzzle became a way to make sure teams watched Love Love Peace Peace before they sent us their videos.

Anyways, like I said, it’s a really good dataset, so I look forward to solving many more Eurovision puzzles to come.

New You City: My Dinner With Big Boi

One of the collaborators on Palindrome I really wanted to work with was Sandy Weisz. We kicked around multiple ideas this Hunt, many of which didn’t go that far, but once we needed to swap out an answer so that Book Reports could have it, this fell together really quickly and has a great performance by his daughter in the accompanying video.

New You City: Lentalgram

What can I say, I’m apparently really good at writing puzzles for unusual prompts from teams?

Once we had the Pokémon answer in this round, I knew I wanted to work with Joe Cabrera, Palindrome’s resident Pokémon expert, and then once New Pokémon Snap came out, getting an excuse to play it while working on Mystery Hunt stuff was very appealing. We finalized the idea for this while both in DC for the National Puzzlers’ League convention, and then I did a bunch of data crunching afterwards.

Recipeoria: The Salt-N-Pepa Diner

This is another one that I think people knew was one of mine if they know me at all. I helped with filling in songs for the jukebox’s listing and editing together the special audio files.

Recipeoria: Sunday Dinner

I joined this one after all the main content had been written, but helped pull together all the audio, including reaching out to Will Shortz to see if he’d be interested in playing the role of himself on the audio clips. I’m a ghost in the machine on most of the audio here – I recorded all of Will’s audio with me playing the contestants, then all of the contestants with me playing “Will”, then editing things together.

Whoston: A Handful of Dishes

One of my favorite episodes of Reply All is one where their Super Tech Support team works out what characters in podcast names are affecting the audio player in a listener’s car. One of the fake podcasts they create is called “> = <“, and features Samin Nosrat instructing one of the hosts how to make a clafouti without using any specific measurements.

That felt like a puzzle idea, and this was one of the first puzzles I pitched to our editors in chief besides the Eurovision puzzle. I decided to make a fake podcast of my own, which required writing the puzzle with my collaborator, recording the podcast (including sound effects!) together, editing all of the podcasts, and getting them set up to release over the course of 14 weeks leading up to the start of Hunt.

The podcast will still be online for a few months, but a post-Hunt version of the puzzle will have all of the audio on the page. Still, it was fun to watch the stats chart for the podcast have a dramatic increase in listenership over the course of the weekend, and we even managed to place on the Apple Podcasts chart in Malaysia for “How-To” podcasts:

also, all of the recipes from this are real recipes, slightly modified. I am so excited to bring a Rupjmaizes Kartoujums to every party I get invited to this year now that I’ve learned how delicious it is and how easy it is to make (spoilers on the puzzle at that link).

Whoston: THIS IS NOW A PUZZLE

At the time we requested it, this was the last answer that needed a puzzle in the Hunt. Having seen the response that our teaser puzzle was getting online, a bunch of us were joking about changing THIS IS NOT A PUZZLE to THIS IS NOW A PUZZLE. I corralled the people having that chat into a side-chat, we worked out what the actual puzzle version of that would look like, and submitted it to our editors-in-chief expecting them to turn us down.

They didn’t, and I hope this provided a cleansing sorbet in the midst of some of the meatier courses in this round as a whole.

Reference Point: Diced Turkey Hash

Once Gavin Edwards had the idea for this and a provisional version had been testsolved a few times, I contributed by pulling together the final art and symbols used for the dice. The Noun Project was a tremendous help in finding representations for all of these, and the final product was beautiful. The process of getting this tested in time to make a production deadline to have the dice by early December was a journey.

Howtoona: How to Have It All

Justin Ladia was our fantastic Art Director for the Hunt, and I wanted to work with him on something. He had an idea to do something with pangrams, and we took that idea from its original place and managed to change every single element of it (title, framing for the clues, method of putting things together) except for the pangrams. This is a puzzle that’s meant to look imposing/overwhelming but quickly fall into place, and I think we succeeded.

Sci-FiCisco: Crow Facts 3000

Wil Zambole put the idea in my head about mashing up Crow Facts from the 2014 hunt with Crow from Mystery Science Theater 3000, a show I know waaaaaay more about than I did Game of Thrones. This was a chance to salute one of my favorite MST3k bits in a puzzle-y way.

Jen McTeague and I share a love of Crow Facts (please see our authors’ note on the solution), and she helped me figure out how to wrangle this into its final form, another puzzle that seems very imposing at first (especially when you hit what I described as the part where you “open a terrible door”) but quickly falls into an order once you read through what’s going on.


and that’s it for what I wrote! Again, it’s a lot. More soon on the puzzles I loved editing and the puzzles I loved testsolving.

Mystery Hunt 2022: Is Mr. Music Alexei Lewis Okay?

From the second we needed a Minister of Music for this year’s Mystery Hunt theme, I wanted to play them, largely because I had most of the outfit already.  I had one specific visual reference in mind:

There’s also bits of Mr. B. Natural and the Dean’s peanut bar rap from Community in how the character finally shook out, but I had built Mr. Music‘s outfit a few years ago for Quarantine Halloween and wanted to use it publicly for something.

I needed a project to stop from doomscrolling in September/October 2020, so this Halloween costume idea got bumped up to “let’s make this in 2020 anyways”.

For Mystery Hunt, to keep things distinct I grew out a super-scruffy beard (since I couldn’t find a decent fake moustache to keep half-hanging off of my upper lip) and et voila:

 

Anatomy of a Mr Music an Alexei Lewis costume

The Jacket

This was surprisingly easy!  This is a Ro Rox Men’s Parade Jacket Gothic Tailcoat in black.  It was $60 on Amazon when I bought it and appears to be more expensive now, so shop around.

Xylophone Bits

If you’re insane like me and want to affix ~2 pounds of metal to your jacket, you will need two of these from Amazon.  They are surprisingly easy to dismantle (despite claiming to be “TIGHT And PREOTECT THE BARS FROM REMOVING”) if you have a decent pair of pliers and need something to do with your hands other than doomscroll Twitter on your phone.

I originally affixed the xylophone pieces with some fashion fusion tape.  This worked for 2020 but I would hear various xylophone pieces plink-plink-plinking to the floor in my closet over the course of 2021.

The main update I made to this jacket for Mystery Hunt (after also testing and learning that hot glue was basically useless for fully affixing these) was getting a bunch of adhesive velcro coins and squares from Michael’s and using those to affix things, which appears to be working well and held up over the course of wearing this for 3 days.   That was under $15 total.

You could also probably, you know, sew them on?  I have many skills but that’s not one of them yet.

Patches

ETSY.  Etsy is a goldmine for patches and iron-ons.  I bought a few sizes of treble clef, and various music note configurations, all in gold.  The MUSIC shoulder patches appear to be some kind of easily findable template as well.  These were ironed on where possible and have been re-affixed over the past year with hot glue and velcro when they’ve really started coming off the jacket.

Shirt

When I was assembling the costume, I just wanted a disgusting sateen-y gold thing like the original costume.  Amazon has tons of these and you should not spend more than $20 on one. I went this this one.  I hate it and it’s perfect.

I put some music notes-y Washi tape I found at Michael’s that is barely holding on to this slippery-ass fabric.

For Mystery Hunt, I had a normal cotton button-down with black stars on it, partially because that felt more distinct character-wise and also because I knew I was going to be sweating and didn’t want to be in a gross fake sateen-y shirt for that long.

Pants

after not finding ANYTHING that looked like the Mr. Music pants from the Sack Lunch Bunch, when I put the jacket and glockenspiels in my Amazon cart, Amazon asked if I wanted to buy this BTS-ass suit which has what appear to be the actual pants?  Like most fashion-y things from Amazon, take a look at the size chart before ordering.

Alexei/Mr. Music on a Budget

If we had needed it, I was prepared to build another one of these jackets for our team, and this is what the “budget” version would have been:

  • Ro Rox parade jacket.  That’s kind of non-negotiable
  • doing the music notes on the jacket in a gold metallic sharpie/other fabric marker
  • getting a bunch of felt from a craft store in the appropriate colors and affixing it using fashion fusion tape/hot glue (you know, since you’re attempting to affix fabric to other fabric instead of metal to fabric) after cutting to size.
  • Find some stripe-y pants?  I was sitting down for most team interactions so honestly I could have been wearing sweatpants if I wanted.

I still feel very proud about this a year and a half later.  Go build your own (and shout me out on social media if you do)

Cranberry Carrot-Cake Muffins

So, the best thing I purchased in quarantine was the cold brew maker that lives in my fridge now, but the second best thing I picked up was Joshua McFadden’s cookbook Six Seasons: A New Way With Vegetables. It’s a rare cookbook where I want to make literally every recipe in it, and I’ve already given it to more than a few friends as gifts. I’m a big fan of McFadden’s approach to cooking (the book is veggie-focused, but not strictly vegetarian – there’s a killer lamb stew with eggplant, among other meat-y recipes), and I’m eagerly awaiting his second book out this fall on cooking/baking with whole grains.

All of this to say that I checked out a recipe he developed for All-Clad last month and it was a disappointment. I don’t put the blame entirely with him – this probably passed through editors and assistants and somewhere along the way, a bunch of the helpful information I expect from a recipe went missing (and I had 18 muffins worth of batter for a recipe that said it would make 12). I’m a skilled enough baker to have survived this Bake-Off Technical Challenge-level starkness in the recipe, but I wanted to make it better for the bakers that came after me. Here’s my take on how this should go.

Cranberry Carrot-Cake Muffins

B-Side
adapted from Joshua McFadden's recipe for All-Clad
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 25 mins
Course Breakfast, Dessert
Servings 18 muffins

Ingredients
  

  • cups all-purpose flour (300 g)
  • ½ cup brown sugar (107 g)
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar (150 g)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup grated carrots (99 g)
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries (99 g)
  • ½ cup crystallized ginger (92 g)
  • 12 oz cream cheese softened
  • 3 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp honey

Instructions
 

  • Preheat your oven to 400 F. Grease a 12-well muffin tin with butter or cooking spray.
  • In a small bowl, combine the cream cheese, vanilla, and honey until smooth. Set aside.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, both sugars, baking soda, baking powder, ground ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.
  • In another small bowl, whisk together the eggs, water, and olive oil.
  • Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients in the large bowl and add your wet ingredients. Mix together until dry ingredients are fully moistened and no dry spots remain.
  • Fold in the carrots, cranberries, and crystalized ginger.
  • Fill each well of the muffin tin with about 3 Tbsp of batter, then top with a large spoonful of cream cheese mixture on the center.
  • Bake, checking around the 18-22 minute mark with a toothpick. If the toothpick comes out clean, they are done. Cool on a rack and enjoy.

Cornmeal Lime Cookies

These are a recipe from Flour, a local bakery.  I make them better because the cookie is smaller and the glaze has more lime juice so there’s more of an interplay between sweet and sour.

Flour often makes two of these into an oreo/moon pie sort of a deal with some creme in the middle.  You could do that too, if you wanted.

This makes 28-32 cookies

Ingredients:

for the cookies:

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup + 2 Tbsp (175 grams) granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated lime zest (about 4 limes)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups (280 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) medium-coarse yellow cornmeal
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt

for the glaze:

  • 1 cup (140 grams) powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 1/2 tsp finely grated lime zest (1-2 limes)

Steps:

  1. Position a rack in the center of your oven and preheat the oven to 350F
  2. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a handheld mixer), cream together the butter and granulated sugar on medium speed for about 5 minutes (10 minutes with a handheld mixer).  Yes, that’s a long time, you want this to get super light and fluffy.  Stop the mixer a few times and use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and the paddle to release any clinging butter and sugar.
  3. Add the lime zest and beat on medium speed for about 1 minute to release the lime flavor.  Add the eggs and vanilla and continue to beat on medium speed for 2-3 minutes, or until thoroughly combined.  Scrape the bowl and paddle again to ensure the eggs are fully incorporated.
  4. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt.  With your mixer on low speed, slowly add the flour mixture to the butter-sugar mixture and then mix until the flour is completely incorporated and the dough is evenly mixed.
  5. Drop the dough into 2 Tbsp portions (I use a medium-sized cookie scoop for this) onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing them about 2 inches apart.  Flatten each ball slightly with the palm of your hand.
  6. Bake for about 17-18 minutes, or until the cookies are pale brown on the edges and just firm to the touch in the center.  Be sure not to overbake the cookies until the tops are browned.
  7. Let cool on the baking sheet for 15-20 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool to room temperature for glazing.  If the cookies are too warm, your glaze won’t stick.
  8. Make the glaze: while the cookies are cooling, in a small bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, lime juice, and lime zest until smooth.  You should have about 1/2 cup of glaze.
  9. Brush the cookies with a thin layer of the glaze, then allow to set for 10 minutes before serving or storing.

The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.  The unbaked dough can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.

Oreo Cheesecake Cookies

These are a riff on a Cherry Cheesecake cookie America’s Test Kitchen featured in a Holiday Cookies issue.  If you really want to make these fancy, pick up a few cans of pie filling like the original recipe asks for and put 2-3 in a well in the center of each cookie.

This makes ~4 dozen cookies – I’ve typically made a batch and a half for Hunt.

Ingredients:

  • 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 (8 oz) packages of cream cheese, softened
  • 2 1/2 sticks butter (20 tablespoons), softened
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup of Oreo crumbs
    (I typically extract all the creme from half a package of oreos, then pulverize the wafers.  You could also probably get those Nabisco chocolate cookies that are basically just the outsides of an Oreo, I won’t tell anyone)

Steps:

  1. In a medium sized bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt.  Set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a mixer (or with an electric hand mixer), beat cream cheese, butter and sugar on medium-high for 2 minutes.  Add eggs and vanilla and mix until just combined.  Reduce mixer speed to low and slowly add flour mixture.  Divide dough in half, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours.
  3. Preheat oven to 350.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  4. Roll dough into 1 1/2 inch balls, then coat completely in Oreo crumbs.  Place 2 inches apart on baking sheet and gently flatten.
  5. Bake until cookies are cracked and set, about 12-13 minutes.
  6. Cool on baking sheets for 10 minutes, then transfer cookies to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Peppernuts

This is a family recipe that I was given under the strict promise to not give it to anyone.  In response to that, I have given it to everyone who’s asked.

DO NOT DOUBLE THIS BATCH, this makes enough teeny-tiny licorice-flavored cookies to fill a 9×13 gladware container.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 8 cups flour (yes.)
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 1 1/2 tsp anise oil (needs to be the oil, not extract)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda

Instructions

  1. With either a stand mixer or a hand mixer, cream butter and sugar together until fluffy.
  2. Add corn syrup and sour cream and combine.
  3. Add 4 cups flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, soda, and anise oil.
  4. Move to a counter or silicone baking mat and knead in other 4c flour.
  5. Roll out segments of the dough into rolls that are roughly the diameter of your index finger. Chill until firm.
  6. Slice and bake at 375 until golden brown, roughly 11-14 minutes.