I told my friend James that the puzzle hunt was like nerd Easter because everyone gets dressed up in their nerd finery and congregates at the nerd holy land (MIT) and gets to geek out together. We laughed about it at the time. The next day, after we’d all had a little sleep, James came up to me and said “You know, your metaphor is not quite right…” and explained why it wasn’t [churches are local to a region, we had people from all over the place and remote people]. We thought a little bit about better metaphors but didn’t come up with one. It was a big thinky weekend.

So last weekend was the MIT Mystery Hunt which, you may remember, I did last year. Last year our team came in second, this year we were third. I don’t know how many teams there were last year. This year I heard there were thirty-seven. That’s not bad, though really we’d like to win. I took more of a leadership role this year and did a lot of the exciting “calling in to headquarters to confirm answers” and “updating the wiki” parts. It was more fun than it sounded. We had a team of somewhere between 100-200 people. The hunt started on Friday at noon and, unlike last year’s hunt which was over by about 2 am Saturday night, this one ended at 8 pm Sunday. This meant the wrap-up was on Monday and I got home late Monday night, just in time to be around for one drop-in time (two students) and some un/re-packing and then I left early Wednesday to head back to the airport to go to SFO.

Almost everyone on our team had a really good time. We had several librarians, a lot of programmers, at least one lawyer and a few students. Our team had absorbed another team and so there were a lot of new faces both locally and remotely. We kept our work and communications on a combination of a mailing list, a giant wiki, a series of jabber chat rooms, Google docs and spreadsheets, about ten chalboards, some whiteboard material stuck to the chalkboards, and bits of paper scattered all over the place. The team running the hunt communicated with us by phone, email, their web site, and in person. It was a busy net of data transfer. This was especially so for me. I’m used to all the data buzzing back and forth in my day to day life, but not so used to sending and receiving it in a room full of people typing.

My one regret — besides the fact that I don’t live my whole life like this — was that I could not figure out what was necessary to swim in the inviting pool that I passed on my way to the classroom/clubhouse. From what I hear, it’s the robot pool, a pool for aquatic robotics, but I bet I could find a way to swim there. Next year.

Update: a few other posts about the hunt with more details.

What do you think?


  1. I’ve never heard of the mystery hunt before, but 100-200 people on a team! Were all the teams this big? I was thinking it was like a religious pilgrimage as well.

  2. I enjoy your puzzle hunt posts so much – this sounds like a great thing to be part of. Wish I was smart (and in the US) enough to participate one day…

  3. “Robot Swimming Pool” sounds like something I would daydream about. Swimming with the robots would be so much fun.