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.
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.