the hazy blur of the brand new day

Usually this space at about this time is the Mystery Hunt wrap up where I talk about all the stuff we did and how we still didn’t come in first place anyhow. This time is no different except I was less helpful than usual. For some reason — planetary alignment, bad juju, overconfidence — instead of being a rock-solid team member for the Codex gang, I was struck down early with “I don’t feel so good.” I headed back to my sister’s house on Saturday evening via a subway ride I barely remember. I helped her move some stuff around at her place (inhaling nasty attic gasses) and then headed speedily and feverishly back to Vermont Sunday evening in order to teach a few in-service classes at the high school on Monday. The puzzle hunt didn’t end until late late Sunday night/Monday morning. We came in second, again. It was not my best planned weekend. As 2009 goes, it’s certainly been the worst.

I taught two classes on Monday which went pretty well and then came home and crashed and have been sleeping pretty much on and off since then, watching my fever eke down from 100.9 to 99.2. It’s now Wednesday lunchtime. I’m mostly awake. At about 9:30 pm last night water started to come through the roof of my bedroom and puddle on the floor. I don’t quite understand the mechanics of ice dams except that they can be relied upon to inflict distress at the least convenient times. I called my landlady, moved my bedding into the living room, and went quickly from the “woe is me” outlook to the “this is so over the top it’s approaching comedy” perspective. As someone said as I was mentioning this in my facebook status “If a raccoon gets in your house, then you’ve got all three acts covered.” Indeed.

I slept through the Inaguration and all of the attendant hubub, though I managed to read Obama’s speech and a lot of running Twitter commentary. I know he’s the president, the rest is details. I know many people are having a worse January than I am. I can feel the dull thuds of the guy knocking the ice off the roof and I’m thinking now might be the time to go down to the post office and see what else has been happening in the world outside of my rainy treehouse.


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.